Winners of Best M.A. Thesis Awards in the AY2018-19

July 18, 2019

The Department of Political Science nominates the excellent quality of theses to the Best MA Thesis Award every year. After a thorough review a departmental committee selects the winners of each program.

This year Ryan Switzer received the Best MA Thesis Award in the One-year MA program for his Unhooding the Alt-Right: Framing and Metapolitics in Far-Right Discourse work. Supervisor: Béla Greskovits.

Abstract: The 2016 United States presidential campaign propelled the fringe“alt-right” social movement into mainstream American political consciousness. The alt-right, a loosely organized network of web-savvy young men, threw its collective weight behind Donald Trump, the politically incorrect, provocative outsider. Though failing to disavow the white supremacist alt-right throughout the campaign, a series of unhooding events following the election brought the movement greater notoriety, forcing the President to condemn his loudest online community. An unhooding event (Atkinson 2018) is an instance that exposes a far-right movement’s potential for violence or connection to neo-Fascism. From 2016 to 2018, following three keys unhoodings analyzed in this study, a decline in movement mobilization is observed. This study utilizes the framing theory of social movements (Benford & Snow 2000) to consider how grassroots members of the alt-right react to an affront to their carefully constructed framing. With explicit connections to violence or Nazism being politically untenable, alt-right participants engage in a metapolitical framing that shields their affinities for violence and fascistic elements (á la Nouvelle Droite or French New Right). 
In the month following an unhooding event, I mine alt-right online forums for activist’s reactions and find four distinct proposed framing strategies: commitment to the metapolitical, claims of conspiracy, concessions of defeat, and radicalizers. This study provides insight into the internal communications of white supremacist activists; providing a novel perspective on the dynamics of a movement’s decline. To conclude, I question the implications of an unhooded social movement in the social media age.

Two theses were evaluated as outstanding in the Two-year MA Program this year. One of them who received the Best MA Thesis Award is Raluca Toma
Thesis title: Roma versus Gypsy. Do politically correct terms trigger more minority-friendly reactions?
Supervisor: Gabor Toka

Abstract: In the past few decades, Roma rights advocates in many countries have promoted the use of “Roma” over “Gypsy”, arguing the latter has been imposed on them and bears negative associations. International organizations and institutions have by and large adopted “Roma”, and their counterparts in some countries followed suit. This is a largely elite-driven change, and we know little about how members of the majority population react to such a change and why. Understanding reactions can both inform expectations regarding the impact of campaigns for “politically correct” language, and contribute to understanding how social norms change.

Drawing from the literature on prejudice, attitude and normative change, as well as the literature on public opinion and communication, this study asks when labels matter, to whom and with what effect. It formulates a series of expectations regarding the interplay between contextual and individual-level factors in shaping reactions. Hypotheses regarding the role of prejudice, motivation to control prejudice and awareness are tested using data from an experiment embedded in a 2015-16 national survey in Romania.

The findings indicate that attitudes toward the group influence how people respond to different labels, with “Roma” eliciting less minority-friendly responses than “Gypsy”. In terms of theory development, I argue that the balance of different forces may depend on contextual attributes. Consistent with this, in the Romanian survey people with different levels of motivation to control prejudice and awareness do not respond differently to the labels, suggesting that if there is a norm against prejudice in Romania, it is not well connected to these wording issues, given its limited visibility and politicization.

And the other joint winner who also received the Best MA Thesis Award in the Two-year MA Program is Nils Oellerich.
Thesis title: Changing Bank Ownership Patterns in Hungary - Development, Economic Nationalism, and Political Lending
Supervisor: Laszlo Bruszt

Abstract: What was the purpose of and motivation behind the nationalisations and subsequent re-privatisation of Hungarian banks? Existing research suggests either ideological considerations revolving around the idea of economic nationalism as a principle motivation, or points to the distribution of ownership rights to political cronies. This thesis builds on these explanations by adopting a conceptualisation of economic nationalism as a framing and legitimisation-strategy, which does not necessarily correspond to material interests. I show that bank ownership changes are indeed politicised in a nationalist manner, therefore constituting a case of economic nationalism. However, the distributive consequences appear to be more selective than the rhetoric of national wellbeing suggests—ownership rights and credit are allocated to a select group of economic actors with close ties to the government while the alleged developmental goals are not realised. This is illustrated on the basis of an analysis of speeches held by the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, and interviews with Hungarian banking experts that provide insights into the intricate ownership developments and lending practices of the banks in question. Such a two-dimensional analytical framework is ultimately relevant for economic policymaking in Central and Eastern Europe more generally given that the politicisation of economic status as well as rent-seeking incentives continue to attract scholarly attention but are a perpetual source of conceptual conflation. Only a separation of political rhetoric, and distributive consequences can provide a holistic picture of such policies.