Karlsruhe Dialogues 2009

Right-Wing Extremism in Europe today

Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Heitmeyer




Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Heitmeyer was born in 1945 and is professor for socialisation. He was scientific assistant at the research centre in Paderborn/Germany (FEoLL) and academic councillor in social sciences at the University of Paderborn. In 1983 he went to the University of Bielefeld/Germany, where he served as academic councillor at the Faculty of Educational Science until 1990.

From 1990 to 1993, he was project leader of the collaborative research centre on violence among youths, and until 1995 he was extraordinary Professor for socialisation. Since 1995 he works at the Faculty of Educational Science at the University of Bielefeld, since 1997 as director of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence in Bielefeld. Heitmeyer was director of the BMBF-research association on social processes of disintegration. He directs the long-term study “Gruppenbezogene Menschenfeindlichkeit” since 2002 and the international comparative study “Group-Focused Enmity in Europe” since 2005.In 2003 he was appointed research professor by the VolkswagenStiftung, which he was until 2005.

In addition, Heitmeyer is spokesman of the DFG-post graduate programme since 2004 and director of the international research group “Control of Violence” at the Centre for interdisciplinary research (ZiF) at the University of Bielefeld since 2007.

Heitmeyer’s main fields of interest are violence, right-wing extremism, social disintegration and xenophobia as well as group-oriented misanthropy, about which he has written a great number of publications. In 2001 he for example published the book “Schattenseiten der Globalisierung. Rechtsradikalismus, Rechtspopulismus und Regionalismus in Westeuropa” together with Dietmar Loch. Heitmeyer and Reimund Anhut developed the disintegration-theorem, which is well known in social sciences. According to it, a high degree of disintegration caused by social institutions results in increasing conflicts, while at the same time the ability of control decreases.

Heitmeyer is a member of various professional organisations and boards, such as the theory-section of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie since 1995. He is managing editor of the series “Kultur und Konflikt” and “Konflikt- und Gewaltforschung” as well as of the series “Integration und Desintegration in modernen Gesellschaften” and of the International Journal of Conflict and Violence.

ZAK asked Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Heitmeyer to answer the following question:

What Can Citizens do Against Right-Wing Extremism? 

"Right-wing extremism is a political problem, since it is about the power and also the force to change a society. However, it is not solely a topic for politicians, but for all societal groups. Other groups are also strongly called upon, especially the economic elite. But where are their voices? Of course, citizens often play an overlooked but all the more important role – namely for the social climate in everyday life by taking a stand immediately and everywhere against degrading or discrimination of weak groups. This requires no prowess. Right-wing extremism can live on without success at the polls, but not without open or clandestine approval from the population."