The Sweden Democrats: immigration policy under the stigma of racism

The 2010 Swedish general election marked a critical moment in Swedish politics, as the Sweden Democrats (SD), the country’s leading anti-immigration party, gained representation in Parliament. This was achieved despite decades of systematic marginalisation and stigmatisation of the party by mainstream politicians, civil society and the media due to its historical ties to neo-Nazi and white supremacist subcultures. Scholars of the anti-immigration radical right have long understood stigmatisation to be a key obstacle to these parties’ political success; however, they tend not to elucidate the contents of stigma against the radical right and the experiences of these parties under stigma.

This paper explores the construction of social stigma against SD and examines the conceptual boundaries of the term ‘racism’ in the Swedish national imaginary. Based on in-depth interviews, participant observation, and print media analysis, this paper furthermore investigates how experiences of social stigma shape the strategies and goals of the Swedish radical right. SD’s party strategy is approached through the lenses of popular conceptions of the ‘norm’ and the ‘deviant’ in Swedish society, concepts which are central in anthropological and sociological inquiries into stigma, but have been absent in literature on radical right politics. This work illustrates the processes through which anti-immigration radical right parties can, in spite of stigmatisation, negotiate the normality and morality of their politics in attempts to reduce the impact of their historical deviance and to bring their ideologies closer to the mainstream.

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