With the resurgence of the far right across wide swathes of the European continent, Brexit and the US Elections of November 2016, populism has become a publishing cottage industry. A number of academics from various disciplines are being asked to pronounce upon the phenomenon from their different angles. I am afraid I am no exception. I am a Norwegian social anthropologist who has to date not undertaken any ethnographic research on right-wing populists. Since Norwegian right-wing populists know perfectly well by now through my work as a public anthropologist who I am and what I stand for in relation to their life-worlds and worldviews, undertaking such research would present any number of difficulties in terms of access for me. I am not alone in this either. True to my academic discipline’s long-rooted and often unthinking orientation towards exoticism, Norwegian social anthropologists have virtually flooded Norwegian mosques in search of proverbial Muslims to ‘understand’ and ‘explore’. But hardly a single Norwegian MA or PhD has been written on the lived worlds and experiences of one’s average Norwegian right-wing populist voter or sympathiser. It is not that these people are strangers to us: given that opinion poll support for the Norwegian far right Progress Party has varied between the 30 per cent recorded at the time of the so-called ‘cartoon crisis’ in 2005/6, to the 22.9 per cent recorded in the parliamentary elections of 2009 to the 13 to 15 per cent it currently records in opinion polls, it would be fair to assert that practically every white Norwegian citizen – educated or not – has some Progress Party supporters in their family ranks, close or distant, cousins or uncles or even the odd aunt. I certainly have.
In my youth, which I spent as an odd child born to middle-class parents in a then relatively bleak post-industrial working-class community which had turned into a commuter suburb to Norway’s second largest city of Bergen on the West Coast of Norway, the Progress Party voters and sympathisers were relatively readily discernible. In the working-class community in which I grew up, there were actually some real immigrants to be found, due to the fact that the community has long hosted an asylum reception centre. We kept our distance, though one of my female peers at school at a rather precocious age fell for a man at this reception centre, and ended up having children with him. Though I vividly recall a fellow school pupil showing up at the school grounds one morning sporting a Nazi swastika on his leather jacket sleave and promptly being escorted to the councillor, who no doubt told him that he would be facing expulsion if he failed to remove it by the next morning, the working-class community in which I grew up was not necessarily hostile to immigrants. There were to the best of my recollection few, if any, serious violent incidents to speak of. This community still remains a community in which the social democratic Labour Party is dominant; and in which the Progress Party, which increasingly touted itself from 1990s onwards as representing the interests of the ‘ordinary’ white working-class which had once been the core electoral constituency of the Labour Party, made limited headway.