chapter  1
The specificities of researching evil
WithMichel Wieviorka
Pages 10

For a social scientist, “evil” is not a philosophical, religious or moral category, but a concrete set of actions. It has social, economic, political or political sources, and is to be met in various forms, including terrorism, racism, extreme violence, for instance. There are different attitudes as far as one considers research on evil, including fieldwork. A first issue is axiological: is it possible for the scholar to be “neutral”, and is it meaningful to raise this point? This chapter examines various answers, my own position being that it is more important to be able to master and analyze one's relationship to the object, and not to pretend to an axiological neutrality that doesn't exist. Researching the extreme right, and more generally evil, when it includes fieldwork, is difficult also for practical, intellectual and ethical reasons. Access to the field is uneasy, and perhaps dangerous; entering in the culture and ways of thinking of actors is not obvious, and there is a risk to providing knowledge which is not necessarily helpful for democracy. But are there other possible approaches than fieldwork?

Research in the humanities and social sciences should avoid value judgements and normative standpoints. Research is not a question of determining what is good or bad, right or wrong, but of stating what is true; truth should be its credo and its commitment. On this basis, a researcher can raise the question of the consequences or the implications of the knowledge which he or she produces, or, for example, consider the political use which could be made of it and accept or refuse to discuss his or her findings with the actors concerned. There are further issues at stake here. But, of course, such assertions are not self-evident and leave many problems unanswered.