9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN31 Ethnic Relations, Racism and Antisemitism

2009-09-03 15:30:00 2009-09-03 17:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 15:30 - 17:00 Theorising Racism and Antisemitism Building II, C5.05

Assessing Antisemitism - Theoretical Reflections on Criteria

Research on antisemitism is often focused on identifying and describing specific aspects of its phenomena in history and present. Some researchers make efforts to understand the sources and the generation of antisemitism, including its psychological and social functions. Another question, however, is largely neglected: what is the impact of antisemitic thinking? How dangerous are the forms and attitudes of antisemitism we observe and poll today? This question is usually dealt with in a "non-scientific" way of morality; the point of reference is Auschwitz, often for both racism and antisemitism. And indeed, Auschwitz shows us where an ideology of racist antisemitism can lead a modern society under specific circumstances. However, not all forms of racism and antisemitism point to strict racial segregation and annihilation, at least not in the near future.

This paper discusses criteria of evaluating antisemitic attitudes drawing on reflections on the issue by Helen Fein, Theodor W. Adorno, Gavin I. Langmuir, Daniel Goldhagen, Werner Bergmann, Lars Rensmann and Jonathan Judaken. Furthermore, it uses recent findings in social psychology regarding the relation between attitude and behaviour leading to an evaluative framework for antisemitic attitudes and phenomena in three dimensions: A) on the field of impact: discourses, individual behaviours and organised behaviours; B) the size and influence of different groups holding antisemitic, anti-antisemitic and indifferent views; C) the "quality" of antisemitic attitudes. Relevant questions are: What kind of antisemitic behaviour is accepted or endorsed? Is there a social function attached? How strong (latent/manifest) are the antisemitic attitudes? What are the imagined threats? How chimeric are the assertions? How is "Jewishness" defined? What are the alleged negative/evil characteristic traits? To which extend are Jews seen as inhuman (demonisation)? To which extend are Jews seen as a unity and what are "exceptions" (what are "good Jews")?
This evaluative framework is discussed in its genesis and in its usefulness to assess the impact, possible dynamics and the meaning of current observations on antisemitism. A discussion about criteria for evaluating antisemitism may bring the debate about a "new antisemitism" onto a more objective level.