English Defence League book by Manchester academic wins BBC prize

A Sociology professor from The University of Manchester has won the prestigious BBC Radio 4 Thinking Allowed prize, for her compelling book about the English Defence League.

Hilary Pilkington spent three years researching the group and its activists. She has used interviews, informal conversations and observation at EDL events to explore and explain the gap between its public image as a violently Islamophobic and racist organisation, and individual activists' understanding of it as 'one big family'.

Described as an ‘important, difficult and brave book’, it introduces EDL activists as individuals with real lives whose diverse trajectories in and out of activism are embedded in personal life stories. It presents them neither as duped by a charismatic leader nor as working class anti-heroes.

“The activists I spoke to don’t recognise themselves as a privileged white majority,” said Hilary. “This explains why ostensibly intimidating EDL street demonstrations marked by racist chanting and nationalistic flag-waving are understood by activists themselves as standing ‘loud and proud’.”

What distinguishes this book from other publications on the EDL is the extended period over which the research was conducted, which allowed the author to attend more than 30 events and follow the movement and its activists through its high and low points.

It also allowed her to experience the rapid turnover within its ranks, as well as come to know respondents not only one-dimensionally - as EDL activists - but to understand how their participation in the movement sits within their wider lives.

My insights led me to conclude that there is not one ‘type’ of person that is attracted to a movement like the EDL – rather, decisions to start, continue and draw back from activism are set within a complex web of local environment and personal/family dynamics.
Hilary Pilkington

After receiving the award, Hilary thanked the BBC’s Thinking Allowed team for their important role in keeping Sociology in the public eye and, through the annual Ethnography Award, for recognising the distinctive contribution that ethnography makes to social research.

The Thinking Allowed Ethnography Award is run in association with the British Sociological Association (BSA), and the presentation was made following the Presidential address at the BSA Conference, which is the primary annual conference for sociology in the UK.

Loud and Proud: Passion and Politics in the English Defence League by Hilary Pilkington (Manchester University Press, 2016). The book is available open access for download at:

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