Sabrina Paillé works on nationalism, right-wing social movements and anti-immigration reactions

Sabrina Paillé is a PhD student in sociology at York University, where she is also pursuing a Graduate Diploma Program in German and European Studies. She is a Visiting Student in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Central European University, Budapest, Hungary in fall 2018. She holds a MA in sociology from Université du Québec à Montréal, Montreal. 

In the past 5-10 years Europe has seen a dramatic rise in far-right political parties. This rise has both surprised and concerned political scholars, Sabrina included. While her research began with Nazism in Germany but her attention was captured by the German right-wing response to the 'European migration crisis' in 2014-2015. She is interested in how these organisations have gained support, and more recently how they will respond to the Covid-19 crisis.

What attracted you to the field of European Studies/ fascinated you about the EU?

I have been passionate about European Studies since 2011, when I participated in a two-month summer school in Berlin that was organized by the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). The first month of the summer school was dedicated to a course on German language and culture and the second month on German sociology and the sociology of Germany in the 20th century. Through that experience, I developed a lasting interest in German and European histories, societies and cultures that have shaped my academic choices.

My master’s thesis focused on how the relationship between Nazism and Modernity has been theorized within sociology, and paid a particular attention to the ways in which geopolitical contexts and their ideological and memorial implications inform paradigm shifts in the social sciences. While this earlier work was concerned primarily with the history of ideas, I wanted to work on more contemporary issues at the doctoral level. As I was starting my PhD at the end of 2015, events like the ‘migration crisis’ and Brexit drew my attention to rising nationalism and populism in EU member states. I was especially intrigued by the challenges posed by these developments to Europe’s proclaimed values of unity and inclusion and by the drive of certain political and civil society actors to affirm and police territorial and symbolic borders.

What is the most important issue to be addressed in your research?

My research focuses on nationalism, right-wing social movements and anti-immigration reactions in contemporary Europe. My project examines the dynamics and appeal of right-wing populist movements in Germany, taking the Dresden-based Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident) as a case study.

There has been a surge in right-wing populist mobilization in Germany since 2014-2015, coinciding with the ‘European refugee crisis’ and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to allow hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in the country. Not only has the party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) achieved representation in the Bundestag and all state parliaments in recent years, but extra-parliamentary grassroots activism on the far-right of the political spectrum has gained momentum as well. These enjoy higher support in the so-called ‘new federal states’, the regions of Eastern Germany that were part of the former German Democratic Republic. Recent elections in Saxony, Brandenburg and Thuringia have seen the AfD establish itself as the second strongest political force, while street protest movements like PEGIDA in Dresden and Zukunft Heimat in Cottbus mobilize thousands of citizens in rallies and demonstrations on a regular basis. These organizations, which self-describe as part of a ‘patriotic citizen’s movement’(Patriotische Bürgerbewegung), are critical of ‘Islamization’, ‘mass immigration’ and Germany’s refugee policy, and express distrust of political elites and the mainstream media, which are framed as ignoring the concerns of ordinary citizens and purposefully working against the interests of ‘the people’.

I’m interested in the ways in which these movements communicate their message and the grievances they draw upon to mobilize constituencies. As the saliency and resonance of issues is not fixed once and for all and changes over time, it will be especially interesting to track how they are adapting in the context of Covid-19.

Sabrina Paillé's MA thesis focused on the way in which the relationship between Nazism and Modernity has been theorized in sociology. It explored the tensions between approaches that interpret National Socialism as an anti-modern phenomenon and those that interpret it as a product of modernity. It paid a particular attention to the relationship between geopolitical contexts, politics of memory and paradigm shifts in the social sciences. Her doctoral research focuses on nationalism, right-wing populism and anti-immigration reactions in contemporary Europe. Sabrina Paillé is on the governing board of the Young Researchers Network of the European Community Studies Association Canada.

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