The Politics of Attention: The Case of White Nationalism in the U.S. South, 1980-2008

Doctoral Dissertation


I examine how white nationalist organizations in the U.S. South distributed their attention across grievances and other organizations in their field between 1980 and 2008. I ask two main research questions. First, why do organizations focus their attention on one set of grievances at the expense of others? I refer to this as grievance-based attention-focusing. Second, why are some organizations more likely to be taken as a point of reference by other organizations in their field? I refer to this as peer attention-getting. I use a combination of archival data, natural language processing, network analysis, and statistical modeling to address these questions. In the case of grievance-based attention-focusing, I put forth a theory outlining the conditions under a white nationalist organization is more likely to shift attention to immigration-related issues. I find that these organizations were more likely to shift attention to immigration when there was a high number of domestic non-right-wing terror events relative to the size of the organization’s non-Hispanic/Latino community size, but only when the organization was disposed toward a cognitive style emphasizing the perception of threats and opportunities for action as proximate. In the case of peer attention-getting, I posit that any given organization has a higher capacity for garnering internal peer attention when they also have leaders that are high status enough to warrant external countermovement attention—but that the peer attention-getting capacity for these groups is positively moderated to the extent that the organization presents itself discursively with fearful language. I find support for this theory, and also find that attention-rich organizations are most inclined to divvy out attention to their peers that communicate with fearful language because of their own proclivity for using fear as an attention-getting mechanism. I conclude with implications for culture and cognition studies, computational social science, and broader discussions of organized racism in the contemporary United States.


Attribute NameValues
Author Marshall A. Taylor
Contributor Rory McVeigh, Committee Member
Contributor Omar Lizardo, Research Director
Contributor Ann Mische, Research Director
Contributor Kraig Beyerlein, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Sociology
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
Banner Code

Defense Date
  • 2019-03-28

Submission Date 2019-04-01
  • Social Movements

  • Sociology of Attention

  • White Nationalism

  • Computational Text Analysis

  • Computational Social Science

  • Cognitive Sociology

  • Sociology of Culture

  • Sociology of Organizations

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units
Catalog Record


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