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ECPR 50th Anniversary Fund

Anti-Immigration or Material Deprivation? – Combining Discourse and Materiality in a Qualitative Approach to Anti-Asylum Seeker Centre Protests in the Netherlands

National Identity
Political Activism
Iris Segers
Universitetet i Oslo
Iris Segers
Universitetet i Oslo

Subject and aim
This paper encourages the integration of discourse and materiality in research that focuses on anti-immigration attitudes, building on preliminary findings of an ethnographic study of a protest movement against an asylum seeker centre (‘asielzoekerscentrum’ or AZC in Dutch) in the Beverwaard neighbourhood in the city of Rotterdam (NL). First, it challenges the assumption that what we perceive as anti-immigration attitudes, are in fact primarily related to immigration issues, and/or radical right politics. In doing so, it offers various alternative explanations based on material conditions of anti-AZC protesters, by pointing towards issues such as poverty, the allocation of public funds, and the organization of the physical environment.

This paper’s approach builds on various existing theories about anti-immigration attitudes. Some scholars argue that this is a bottom-up process driven by citizens, pointing towards the ‘losers of modernity’ thesis (Rydgren, 2013). In contrast, scholars such as Yilmaz (2012) claim that a top-down discursive process triggered by radical right politicians causes the spread of anti-immigration attitudes. Third, scholars have pointed towards the negative framing of immigrants in mainstream media, suggesting that this affects citizens’ attitudes (Esses, Medianu and Lawson, 2013). Last, new media theorists argue that digital platforms facilitate ‘echo chambers’ for racist and/or anti-immigration groups (Banks, 2010). Overall, these bodies of theory seem to either overwhelmingly focus on discursive aspects of anti-immigration attitudes, or predominantly use large-N designs to track developments concerning socio-economic conditions and immigration attitudes. This paper aims to enrich the existing field by integrating both discourse and materiality in one holistic Critical Discourse Analysis of an anti-asylum seeker centre protest movement.

Method and scope
Based on 32 interviews gathered in the Beverwaard neighbourhood, this paper uses Critical Discourse Analysis to tap into the mutual relations between the discourses behind the local anti-asylum seeker centre protests, and the material conditions in which these took place. As such, it follows Herzog’s (2016) suggestion that “we must understand materialities not only as infrastructures and causes of discourses but also as effects and consequences of discourses” (p. 93).
This paper will primarily focus on the issues of existing socio-economic problems, as well as the complex ethnic composition of the Beverwaard area. As such, it intends to tap into how the existing material conditions have shaped anti-AZC discourses, and how these discourses in turn affect (interpretations of) the physical environment.

Banks, J. (2010). Regulating hate speech online. International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, 24(3), 233–239.
Esses, V. M., Medianu, S., & Lawson, A. S. (2013). Uncertainty, Threat, and the Role of the Media in Promoting the Dehumanization of Immigrants and Refugees. Journal of Social Issues, 69(3), 518–536.
Herzog, B. (2016). Discourse Analysis as Social Critique – Discursive and Non-Discursive Realities in Critical Social Research. London: Palgrave MacMillan.
Rydgren, J. (Ed.). (2013). Class Politics and the Radical Right. London: Routledge
Yilmaz, F. (2012). Right-wing hegemony and immigration: How the populist far-right achieved hegemony through the immigration debate in Europe. Current Sociology, 60(3), 368–381.

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