chapter  2
Attitude and agency: common roots, divergent methodologies, joint ventures?
ByKATRIN REIMER-GORDINSKAYA
Pages 13

Right-wing populist and extremist movements, parties and discourses have unfortunately proven to be phenomena inherent to contemporary European societies, rather than episodes confined to particular periods or regions in the post-1989 era (Hentges et al. 2003; De Weerdt et al. 2004; Langenbacher & Schellenberg 2011; Zick, Kupper & Hovermann 2011; Bathke & Hoffstadt 2013). They not only pose serious threats to members of those groups marked as enemies but also to the constitution of democratic societies as such. Therefore, social scientists need to adequately describe and analyse this phenomenon from an international and comparative perspective. Ultimately, we should be able to identify the dynamics that produce right-wing populism and extremism. Attitude research is of great importance in this attempt. As indicated by the preceding selection of references, a wide range of pertinent theoretical and empirical contributions is available. In this chapter, the focal point is not so much their theoretical but rather their methodological implications. I investigate the potential consequences that arise from combining “quantitative” and “qualitative” approaches to the investigation of attitudes in the context of right-wing extremism. I argue that such joint ventures are absolutely desirable but utterly difficult to accomplish due to fundamental categorical discrepancies that are inherent to the respective methodologies currently employed and that thus pervade the empirical data. For those already carrying out joint research, this undertaking may seem obsolete from the start. At this point, however, I would merely like to call to mind that such investigations may be methodologically unsound and that some of the difficulties one encounters when combining quantitative and qualitative data may result from doing research too pragmatically and not taking into consideration long-term developments in this field. Along this line, I base my argument on a reconstruction of the trajectory of ‘attitude’ in scientific discourse and research practice, from its inception in The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (Thomas & Znaniecki 1918-1920/1958) to its present use and applications. Section one (next) describes the discrepancy between the scientific and practical relevance of attitude research and the scarcity of attitude conceptualisation in contemporary research; the following sections explain this discrepancy. Section two discusses the difference between attitude as a category and as a variable. Section three focuses on the quantitative and theoretical ambiguities of data resulting from the process of operationalisation.