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The 'Extremist' Next Door: Normalcy and Democratic Legitimacy in Germany


This ethnography analyzes the relationship between extremism and normativity in liberal democracies. For this project, I researched and analyzed a German political party, Alternative for Germany (AfD). My methodology included ethnographic methods such as observation, interviewing, and digital and sound ethnography. I argue that AfD members work against labels of extremism by performing normalcy and democratic legitimacy. Members invoke and play with German speech and performative codes to position themselves as mainstream, legitimate, and “normal.” Instead of viewing the AfD as an irregularity in Germany's history and contemporary political life, I contend that in many cases, AfD members emerge from and draw on mainstream notions.

Organizing my project around nodes of political conflict in Germany, I scrutinize how these nodes, juxtaposed against shifting domestic and transnational power centers, reveal schisms and skepticism about nation-building, liberal democracy, and national identity. The six conflict points through which these repetitive themes emerge are reconfiguring histories, materiality and linguistic changes, energy politics, normativity, democratic legitimacy, and collaboration. Within these conflict points, I research how AfD members craft their political messages alongside other participants crafting and disseminating their own political messages.

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