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Toward an Interpretative Framework for Studying Anti-Immigrant Violence in Western Europe

Political Violence
Constructivism
Immigration
Måns Lundstedt
Malmö University College
Måns Lundstedt
Malmö University College

Abstract

Starting in the mid-1990s, violence against immigrants in contemporary Western European settings has attracted considerable attention from the social sciences. While researchers have been able to establish with some accuracy the general patterns of violent episodes – that they are unequally distributed geographically and that perpetrators tend not to come from organized neo-Nazism – the results of empirical inquiry into the causes of violence have been pervasively inconsistent. In a broad sense, the lack of satisfying results can be traced to the literature’s allegiance to a configuration of ontological, epistemological and methodological positions. Contained in these positions are positivist assumptions about causality, measurability and structure-actor relationships. Most importantly, this framework has assumed the autonomy of the category of violence itself, compounding different forms (premeditated, ad hoc, etc.) and taking motives as singular and given. The purpose of this paper is to reposition the study of anti-immigrant violence into a interpretativist framework, stressing how (violent) action emerges from dynamic webs of meaning on different scales and among various social actors. Drawing on insights from literatures on social movements, political violence and ethnic conflict, violence is interpreted as a composite and emergent phenomenon embedded in prior and overlapping episodes of contention. The propositions break with positivist assumptions, destabilizing the category of violence and its causal relations by acknowledging the way in which episodes are given particular meaning and energy through the intersecting of immigration with other sources of conflict. In practical terms, the framework focuses its attention on processes of meaning making in the wider public sphere, the ensuing production and politicization of territorialized identities, and the formation of supportive networks in which radicalization into action can take place. The paper ends with suggestions for a research design to empirically investigate the assumptions of the theoretical framework.