Avery Gordon identified a problem with sociology over two decades ago when they wrote Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Despite the sociological aim of unlocking knowledge about social life, the emphasis on empiricism left what remains absent outside its purview. According to Gordon, haunting is the means of understanding how what remains absent within social life attempts to make itself known.
Such a methodology is important when understanding contemporary queer migration. Whether queer migrants need to keep in the shadows because they fear they might be deported by the state, or whether they remain in the closet because they fear they will not be accepted due to their sexuality and gender, there is much to be learnt about what remains absent within narratives on queer migration.
Although sociolegal analysis has done well attempting to uncover more about queer migration and the lives of queer migrants, particularly as related to those claiming asylum, it must be recognised there are limits on what can be learnt. There will always be experiences that fail to make the headlines of media outlets or the reports by nongovernmental organisations, which prompt two possible responses. On the one hand, one may seek to know more using the established methodologies of sociology. On the other hand, one may seek to grapple with what remains absent but becomes haunting.
The problem with patriotism
Patriotism is having a moment. From French President Emmanuel Macron’s claim that patriotism is ‘the exact opposite of nationalism’ to UK Labour Party leader Keir Starmer’s call for party members to be ‘proud of being patriotic’, centrist and progressive politicians are appealing to patriotism as a bulwark against the rise of right-wing nationalism. In the US, a July 2021 YouGov poll found that sixty-nine percent of respondents believed that a person could be considered patriotic while participating in a protest for racial equality.
These examples stand in contrast to other recent appeals to patriotism: an ultranationalist French political party established in 2017 took the name ‘Les Patriotes’. The Tory government has spent £163,000 on Union flags in the past two years, and has lent its support to the ‘patriotic’ One Britain One Nation campaign. And the same July 2021 YouGov poll in the US found that sixty percent of Republicans considered themselves ‘very patriotic’ – compared to only twenty-four percent of Democrats. Why is patriotism so appealing across the political spectrum? And what does this mean for the prospects of ‘progressive’ patriotism?
My Identities article, ‘‘The opposite of nationalism’?: rethinking patriotism in US political discourse’, considers the multiple and contradictory – but always exclusionary – ways that patriotism has been used by politicians across the US political spectrum. Politicians of all stripes, I find, describe themselves and their supporters as patriots. Although few define the term explicitly, all frame patriotism as an implicitly positive love for one’s country. I argue that this vagueness allows politicians to position their policy agendas, and their own character, as ‘authentically’ American. Crucially, it also permits them to position their opponents as unpatriotic and, by extension, un-American. This sharpens any attacks on a politician’s opponent; even more dangerously, it hardens the borders between those who belong to the nation and those who do not. For non-citizens, migrants and racially minoritised people, appeals to patriotism bring exclusion and violence.
An interview with Aurelien Mondon, by Giorgos Venizelos. This interview was first published in Populism, Issue 4, July 2021.
You keynoted the 5th annual Populism Specialist Group workshop which focused on the theme ‘Populism: New Perspectives’. What are your general impressions? Where is the field moving these days?
The various panels and papers confirmed to me that part of the field is moving in some very interesting and promising directions and it was a real honour to provide a keynote for the Populism Specialist Group as it is to me the most exciting forum to discuss populism. This is because scholars who present at the workshop tend to come from more critical approaches. Sadly, it would be mistaken to think that this necessarily reflects the wider environment and, unfortunately, there is much out there that continues to play into what some of us have termed populist hype or anti-populism. While critical approaches have progressed in recent years and occupy now a central place in discussions on populism, there is still plenty of work to be done and plenty of damage to be undone, something that is unavoidable when a term like populism becomes so central to mainstream politics.