Talking 'with' and 'about' the far right: putting the mainstream in mainstreaming

  • Katy Brown

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This project explores the mainstreaming of the far right, with a focus on how far-right discourse becomes normalised through the actions of mainstream actors, specifically politicians and political campaigns. While current understandings of mainstreaming have focused predominantly on the actions of far-right parties themselves to carve out electoral success, this research aims to account for the role of mainstream actors in normalising their discourse and ideas. Two critical features of mainstream discourse are identified: talking ‘with’ and talking ‘about’ the far right. Talking ‘with’ refers to the expression or legitimisation of similar ideas to the far right, whereas talking ‘about’ denotes the way that the far right is referred to or described. The thesis seeks to understand how these two features combine to contribute to the process of mainstreaming.

To explore these issues, a mixed-methods approach to discourse analysis is developed, combining Discourse Theory (DT), Critical Discourse Studies (CDS) and Corpus Linguistics (CL) to study the 2016 British referendum on EU membership (Brexit). Empirical analysis centres on the discourse of the two official campaigns, Vote Leave and Britain Stronger in Europe, in comparison to UKIP and associated campaigns (e.g., Grassroots Out and Leave.EU). For talking ‘with’, the study identifies discursive similarities between UKIP and the official campaigns. For talking ‘about’, it investigates the way that the official campaigns refer explicitly or implicitly to UKIP actors or ideas.

The findings of these studies underscore the key role played by the mainstream in normalising far-right discourse. While Vote Leave and Britain Stronger in Europe sought to outwardly distance themselves from UKIP through various strategies of talking ‘about’, a number of shared discourses based on colonial nostalgia/amnesia, racism, a pathology of greatness, hegemonic masculinity and populism transcended each of the campaigns in a process of talking ‘with’. Thus, modes of talking ‘about’ can often appear to create distance between the mainstream and far right, but the prominence of shared discourses through talking ‘with’ points to a much more complex relationship. This approach draws attention to the need for a holistic understanding of mainstreaming which accounts for the considerable role of the mainstream in normalising far-right discourse: putting the mainstream in mainstreaming.
Date of Award26 Apr 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorAurelien Mondon (Supervisor) & Sophia Hatzisavvidou (Supervisor)


  • mainstreaming
  • far right
  • discourse
  • Brexit

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