Samuel Merrill vid Sociologiska institutionen har i Vetenskapsrådets årliga utlysning för finansiering av forskningsprojekt inom humaniora och samhällsvetenskap beviljats drygt 5 miljoner kronor för projektet: Radikaliseringen av Sverigebilden: En undersökning av hur radikala högergrupper i andra länder framställer Sverige på internet.
Under fyra år kommer Samuel tillsammans med svenska kollegor, professor Ralph Schroeder från Oxford Universitys Internet Institute (OII) och hans medarbetare i Indien och Kina studera text- och bildbaserat innehåll som samlats in från radikala digitala miljöer och vanliga nyhetsplattformar.
Samuel Merrill, forskare vid Sociologiska institutionen, berättar om det kommande projektet som ska undersöka hur radikala högergrupper i andra länder framställer Sverige på internet.
Where does the idea for this project come from?
The project grew out of some of the research I carried out within another Swedish Research Council funded project that involved Mattias Gardell and Heléne Lööw at Uppsala University and Simon Lindgren here in Umeå and which explored the radical right in Sweden. Like others before me I came across evidence that pointed to the importance Sweden plays within the cultural imaginaries of foreign radical right groups abroad but realized that this phenomenon was still to be comprehensively studied in digital settings. After that I developed the idea following various discussions with my colleagues at Umeå University’s Centre for Digital Social Research (DIGSUM) - Simon Lindgren and Mathilda Åkerlund - and my collaborator at Oxford University’s Internet Institute (OII)- Ralph Schroeder. I was also able to benefit from discussing the project at the Sociology Department’s grant writing workshop series. The idea for the project didn’t emerge in a vacuum and I am really grateful for all the input and feedback I received along the way to putting it together.
Why is it important to do research in this area?
Research in this area is important because at present radical far-right views are, in general, gaining increasing societal visibility partly via digital platforms like websites, blogs and social media accounts. Very little research has considered what this means in terms of far-right views of specific countries and when this has occasionally been done with regards Sweden there has been the tendency to think of these views as being outwardly exported from the country rather than also potentially imported into it. Comprehensively studying these multidirectional and transnational dynamics in relation to radical right groups in USA, Germany, India and China, as we will do in this project, promises to garner new knowledge about the spread of radical right views and will also have implications for such things as nation branding.
Are there more people involved in the project?
The project will benefit hugely from the input of Prof. Ralph Schroeder who is a co-investigator as well as from his collaborators at OII and in India and China. The project will also involve the hiring of a post-doctoral researcher here in Umeå and we also plan to collaborate with relevant societal stakeholders like the Swedish Institute’s Sweden Image Analysis Unit.
Is it included or is it related to another project?
Not directly but it connects to earlier projects that I have been involved in and have already mentioned. Former collaborators from some of those projects have also recently received Swedish Research Council funding for projects which although very different might have points of common interest with this one and thus, where possible, we hope to explore these together.
How should you collect data?
Our main data will be text and image-based content collected from radical right digital settings and mainstream news platforms. We will tailor our data collection methods to specific case studies related to Sweden’s depiction by radical right groups in USA, Germany, India, and China. We will collect both historical and real-time data in the hope of analyzing the period from 2015-2025. It won’t be a case of ‘one data collection strategy fits all’ which is what makes the project additionally exciting. Lots of things, including the dynamism of both the sorts of groups and the digital platforms that this project will study, will mean that while we can rely on some general data collection strategies, we will also likely have to develop new ones as the project advances.
How long will you work on the project?
The project will last 4 years. This is relatively rare for Swedish Research Council projects but in our case was justified in part by the intention to focus also on the impact of general elections in the four case countries.
What results do you expect?
Besides much more, we are interested in exploring in the project how the depiction of Sweden by foreign radical right groups online feeds into more general shifts in the way the country is perceived abroad related to, for example, its response to the European refugee crisis, Islamic terrorist attacks and, more recently, the Covid-19 pandemic.
What will be the biggest challenge?
One of the most exciting challenges related to this project is the need for methodological flexibility. We propose to combine various computational and manual methods but the exact measure of these will likely be determined by the case in question. Another challenge will relate to dynamic character of the radical right groups that we might choose to study and the fact that the radical right label varies in its applicability across the chosen case countries - being most complicated in China.
What will be the most fun?
I think the collaboration that lies at the heart of the project will be the most fun! I am really excited by the prospect of working with Prof. Ralph Schroeder and his collaborators in India and China, not to mention building connections between DIGSUM and OII. I am also looking forward to exploring ways of working with the Swedish Institute to enhance the societal impact of the project overall.