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Theatrical manipulation and seductive sentimentality: constructions of empathy in Swedish online far-right discourse about EU-migrants

Journal article
Authors Karl Malmqvist
Published in Emotions and society
Volume 1
Issue 2
Pages 197-214
ISSN 2631-6897
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Sociology and Work Science
Pages 197-214
Language en
Keywords Affective practice; far-right discourse; migration; social media; Sweden
Subject categories Cultural Studies, Sociology, Media and Communications


Digital technologies such as online forums afford opportunities for users to circumvent and challenge feeling rules. The online far-right uses such opportunities to challenge feeling rules regarding racialized minorities, refugees and immigrants, including rules about empathy for such groups. However, while the disruptive features of online far-right practice are widely acknowledged, less has been written about how participants in online far-right forums actually make sense of emotional experiences, including empathy in relation to migrants. The present paper analyses a Swedish far-right-dominated online discussion thread about non-Swedish EU citizens who ask for money, a group referred to in Sweden as ‘EU-migrants’. From an affective-discursive practice perspective, and focusing on metaphorically constructed interpretative repertoires, the paper analyses how participants in the thread make sense of empathy as an actual or possible emotional response to these migrants, as well as how the participants position themselves as subjects in relation to such experiences and various actors involved. The results indicate that the participants are formulating a dual affective-discursive position. First, they present themselves as especially capable of empathic resonance and mirroring, but as righteously angered by EU-migrants’ putative attempts to manipulate this empathic capacity. Second, they disidentify with ‘Swedes’ by presenting themselves as capable of avoiding the seductive and sentimental ‘kindness narcomania’ supposedly deeply rooted in Swedish society, and thereby present themselves as a (counter-)empathic vanguard community in relation to this society. Implications of such affective-discursive practices for far-right online and offline action are discussed.

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