Talking to rather than about angry citizens

"It's important to take these critical people seriously"
Straat in Rotterdam in de zomer.
Straat in Rotterdam in de zomer.

Socioloog Roy Kemmers promoveerde op politiek onbehagen. Hij onderzocht de beweegredenen van een groep boze burgers door mét ze te spreken – in plaats van alleen óver hen. Hij vertelt in een interview met de Volkskrant hoe hij dit succesvol aanpakte en hoe zijn eigen achtergrond hier een rol in speelde: “Ik weet hoe het is om een arbeidersklassebestaan te hebben, net als veel respondenten.”

Kemmers did eighteen in-depth interviews with PVV and non-voters, including anarchists. He found the respondents mainly through internet forums, and he talked to them for hours in a place they felt comfortable, at home or in a cafe. But how did he get these people to participate in university studies?

“Sometimes there were reactions like: it is from the left-wing church. So not to be trusted. I tried to overcome that by saying that I was interested in what moved them personally, without judging. During the interviews, for example, I asked what the most important chapters in their lives were for them,” Kemmers tells the newspaper.

“It was about getting a picture of the motives that lived within the group of populism supporters, not about whether the mutual relations are representative of the entire group. Because of that approach, I discovered that the existing theory was not sufficient. In addition, I subsequently conducted extensive surveys among more than a thousand citizens.”

Forklift driver

The fact that he worked as a forklift truck driver for five years before his Sociology study, ensured that he moves easily into different social classes. “I know what it's like to have a working-class existence, as do many respondents. On the work floor of such a warehouse, people tell you what it is, if you make a mistake, there will soon be scolding.”

The group that Kemmers interviewed consisted partly of people who no longer vote. When asked whether they can be brought back to the polls, he says: “I think so. By trying to understand each other. (…) It is important to take these critical people seriously. Now policymakers are saying: we need to explain it better. But that's not how you keep people on board, it's also condescending. If people don't trust the source, then a leaflet about, say, vaccination won't work. It would be good if civil servants receive sensitivity training so that they learn to listen better and gain an understanding of what is going on in people."

More information

Read the entire interview (in Dutch) in De Volkskrant on Saturday 6 August.

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In zijn proefschrift brengt Roy Kemmers politiek onbehagen in kaart. Hiervoor ging hij onder meer in gesprek met kiezers.

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