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Final Report Summary - FAMGENPO (Family Politics, Party Politics, and Gender Politics: Comparing Five Cases)

Introduction: This project original aimed at comparing five cases where female-led “political dynasties” have emerged within contemporary political parties. The focus has ultimately centred on three cases, namely Marine Le Pen (France); Tzipni Livni (Israel); and Hillary Clinton (the United States). Analysis of Marine Le Pen and the French National Front became the primary focus of the study, whilst the comparative dimension of the study persisted. The research methods combined ethnographic observation of political party events, extended semi-structured interviews of party activists, and media content analysis.

Main findings:
This project’s main objective has been to understand the proliferation of female-led political dynasties within the democratic politics. Moreover, a central question has been why the voting public has sometimes come to accept, even cherish, women politicians who are members of a political dynasty. This includes female politicians who are wives, widows, sisters, or daughters of other prominent political figures. The research has come to focus on the importance of political parties themselves, and party systems within specific countries. On one side, I have focused on the structural mechanisms through which political-dynastic careers are formed. And on the other side, I am focusing on how such second- or third-generation political actors are embraced or rejected by party members, and the voting public.
In terms of the structural analysis, the research has focused on the “depth” and “verticality” of a political party. By “depth” I mean the extent to which party recruitment reaches deeply into everyday organizations in citizens’ lives. In France, for example, all schools have governing “councils,” with parental representation. Parents are elected to these councils, and in many schools the candidacies are organized around party blocs (that is, each parent-candidate is affiliated with a national political party). As another example, in Israel, university student councils are organized around political blocs, with university student activism as an important conduit for recruitment of future party politicians. My research suggests that these mechanisms increase the likelihood for the production of political clans to emerge. Low-level entry mechanisms into highly vertical parties look to enable the creation, and perpetuation of political clans. Women are increasingly the beneficiaries of these dynamics.
By contrast, in the United States, the two major political parties are far less vertically organized, and the federalist structure of governance means that there are no direct bridges from local to national party activism. Nonetheless, of course there is one very prominent “political wife” currently running to be president in the United States, while another prominent political clan – albeit a masculine one – is the Bush family. Therefore, specific to the United States is the political dynastic entrance into high executive positions (i.e. Governors of States, or the national presidency).
I have also examined the symbolic valence of being the political daughter or political wife within particular party systems. I have found that membership in a political dynasty can be a useful symbolic resource, enabling populist support. But, in other cases, it can imperil a female politician. Marine Le Pen is a strong case where as the political daughter she has been able to translate her lineage into a powerful symbolic repertoire. Within a stable party system in France, one which requires long-term commitments in order to move up within a party, Marine Le Pen has benefitted from her self-presentation as having been born into the party. As a woman she can present herself as a game-changer and appeal to a broader public, while as the political daughter she still appeals to the party core. To be a member of the National Front party is to be part of this extended Le Pen clan. Even Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party’s founder, is out of the fold now that he is banished from the party.
Tzipi Livni, however, is a political daughter who is operating within Israel’s unstable party system. Livni’s political career started in the late 1990s from within the right-wing Likud party – a party in which her father had had a political career. Furthermore, this party has several “princes,” the term popularly used in Israel to describe the sons of major political figures who are now themselves prominent members of the Likud party. Livni, however, left the Likud, and also shifted ideologically more to the centre, first to the newly created “Kadima” party, and eventually creating her own party, “Hatnuah” (“The Movement”). Although there are certain structural similarities between France’s and Israel’s party systems, Livni could not muster the symbolic resources of being a political daughter within both Kadima and Hatnuah. While examination of her 2009 campaign material to be Prime Minister shows that the campaign emphasized her femininity as in itself making her different from the other candidates, this strategy failed. The political figure’s personal history must be seen as integrally tied to the political party’s history. Membership in a political dynasty can reinforce a political career where a political figure can represent continuity, while withstanding accusations of oligarchy.
Here, Hillary Clinton’s career path highlights the possible dangers of being a member of a political dynasty, even in a stable party system. While her personal history is deeply tied to her political party’s history, populist anti-elitist critiques and her husband’s troubled history disable her from employing a symbolic repertoire of family lineage to further her popular support. Instead, she highlights a life of service to country and party – not a life of marriage to the party.

Focus on France’s National Front: In-depth analysis of Marine Le Pen and her role as political daughter has enabled further analysis of the relationship between gender and populism. I define populism as a critique of “politics as usual,” and in the name of “the people.” I have followed in great depth the Front National’s national and local campaigns, and how FN supporters purport to “love” Marine Le Pen as the “beautiful” and “modern woman” raised in and by the party. A central question the project has tried to understand is how highly gendered political symbolism is mobilized by the FN and by FN supporters when arguing that Marine Le Pen “incarnates” a solution to the old political elites.
I have found that within FN circles, one can observe the masculinization of political disenchantment, and the feminization of political enchantment. The old political elites are seen as the colourless, technocratic “men in suits,” virtually indistinguishable from one another despite party affiliation, and virtually indistinguishable from the European Union’s “men in suits” based in Brussels. Through tropes such as Marine (deliberately referred to only using her first name) as the political daughter who is a daughter of the party and a daughter of France; Marine as a divorced “modern woman”; and by constant invocation of Marine’s corporality, such as discussions of her beauty, body, and clothing, she is presented as a figure who incarnates a riposte to political elites, the “men in suits” who have destroyed French sovereignty. This analysis compares across generations, where the older, traditional petty bourgeois adherents of the party emphasize Marine Le Pen’s corporality and her role as the political daughter; and the new young generation of adherents, many of whom will be voting in 2017 for the first time for presidential elections, emphasize Marine’s role as a “modern woman,” and even employ maternal imagery in describing her virtues.
Two side-projects emerged from in-depth analysis of the Front National. The first of these focuses on how within the FN whiteness is implicitly equated with political desirability. The FN launches harsh critiques against the political establishment. At the same time, I trace how it is seeking to move into the mainstream by mimicking certain features of mainstream centrist parties. Yet, this happens only when the other parties and political figures of reference are white and seen as “truly French.” While overtly racist statements are not tolerated within the new FN, disgust with the established political class focuses with immense intensity and disdain upon politicians who are themselves persons of colour, or from immigrant backgrounds. Former Socialist Justice Minister, Christiane Taubira, who resigned in January 2016, was a major target for virulent critique. Mere mention of her name could result in long bouts of boos and whistles at party events.
Finally, I researched the Manif Pour Tous (MPT), the movement founded in 2012, which mobilized against legalization of same-sex marriage in France. As the news media had frequently made claims of a tight association between the Front National and La Manif Pour Tous, I started attending MPT events and interviewed MPT members in the spring of 2013. However, eventually I concluded from this field research that in fact the FN and the MPT are quite distinct phenomenon. The MPT is rather rooted in high bourgeois Catholic conservatives. FN members, by contrast, were perhaps sympathetic to the MPT’s goals, and were sometimes openly homophobic. However, they were not deeply moved by the politics of sexuality, which to them often appeared like a political circus and a diversion from France’s “true” problems of EU membership and excessive immigration. In order to further clarify the dividing lines between the radical right and conservatism, I continued to study the MPT, and found that members of the MPT were mainly motivated by a war of ideas, against the “bourgeois-bohemian” secular and cosmopolitan intellectuals they saw as dominating French intellectual life and the French State. Although the “high bourgeoisie” are those with higher financial capital compared to secular cultural elites, the conservative intellectuals and quasi-intellectuals among them now argue that in the realm of ideas, they are the dominated faction. Contestations over “gender theory” and the politics of sexuality are a terrain upon which these bourgeois struggles are taking place.
Therefore, in all, the project has maintained its comparative dimension in studying the contemporary dynamics of female-led political dynasties in party politics. At the same time, deeper and more extensive study of the French National Front has also enabled analysis of the relationship between political-dynastic membership and populism, gender and the far right, race, class, and the new right, and the dividing lines between social conservatism and the radical right.

Impact: The impact of the research has been, and has further potential to be, socio-political. The research suggests that women from “political dynasties” can be in a particularly powerful position to become populist leaders under certain conditions. As the case of Marine Le Pen illustrates, these conditions have to do with a perceived crisis in politics, where voters have become skeptical of the “professional” political class. Under this condition of crisis, women politicians can be seen as breathing new life into democratic politics. A political daughter such as Le Pen can be seen as both a true daughter of the party within a stable party system, while also being a game-changer as a woman. Within the party, she can change it by bringing it into the mainstream, while she is still seen as carrying the tradition of the party. However, the comparative dimension highlights that this fate is far from foretold. If a member of a political dynasty is not perceived as incarnating the legacy of a political party, a particular political figure, or program, such as with Israel’s Tzipi Livni, and/or if populist critique accuses members of political dynasties of representing the “old establishment,” such as with the United States’ Hillary Clinton, the potential benefits of political dynastic membership are not born out. The project also identifies the dividing lines between social conservatism and the radical right, which are frequently confused by observers in civil society, government, and in the media. These insights are helpful in identifying political trends and political cleavages in France, Europe, and beyond.

Some of my findings and popular blog writings on the topic can be found on my website:

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