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Although the term xenophobia is well established in the language of politics, the media, and the sciences, as a concept it has only a weak theoretical foundation. This is due not least of all to the ambiguity of the term. The word xenophobia comes from the Greek words xenos, meaning both ‘the stranger’ and ‘the guest,’ and phobos, meaning ‘fear.’ Strictly speaking, then, xenophobia means ‘fear of the stranger,’ but it is usually taken to mean ‘hatred of strangers.’ This contradiction is particularly clear in German, where xenophobia and ‘Fremdenfeindlichkeit’ (i.e., hostility towards strangers) are used consistently as synonyms. The semantic discrepancy between fear and hatred of strangers can be illustrated in the following way: the stranger whom one fears can be welcomed as a guest, but not so the stranger whom one hates.
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1. The Origin Of The Term
The concept of the ‘stranger’ exists in premodern European societies as well as in practically every existing culture worldwide. Usually strangers are considered to be foreign, strange, unfamiliar, uncommon, unusual, and extraordinary. One cannot expect a relationship with a stranger to be good from the outset: only time can tell whether it will be a friendly or inimical one. As a result, attitudes towards strangers are characterized by ambivalence. This is particularly the case for strangers who live ‘amongst us’—in our village, our city. While the concept of the stranger can be thought of as a universal category, this is not the case for xenophobia. Xenophobia is a concept of recent coinage: it was ﬁrst used by Anatole France in his 1901 novel Monsieur Bergeret a Paris. The term anti-Semitism of the Dreyfus affair, which shook domestic politics in France at the turn of the twentieth century, provided a social and political background for xenophobia, as did the virulent form of nationalism that was emerging at the time (Villard 1984). In 1906—the very year of Dreyfus’s rehabilitation—xenophobia was listed for the ﬁrst time in a French dictionary: the Nouveau Larousse illustre. But only many years later could the word be found in English and other dictionaries. While the scientiﬁc world hardly took notice of the concept, ‘xenophobia’ was all the more present in the press. Attempts to account for the phenomenon of xenophobia included the explanation that it is the result of prejudice against strangers (Athenaeum, March 13, 1909) or that it is related to imperialist attitudes (Nation, May 11, 1912). The peoples of foreign countries—for example, the Afghans (Mail, May 24, 1922)—were accused of xenophobia, and so were nationalist movements in Egypt, China, Persia, and Turkey (Nation, December, 20, 1919). Finally, the phrase ‘xenophobic outburst’ was coined to describe the rising wave of anti-Semitism that was the precursor of German fascism.
While ‘xenophobia’ slowly became an established term in the French and English-speaking worlds, it was rarely used by speakers of German. The reason is that a conceptual pair already existed in the German language: ‘Uberfremdung’ (‘overstrangerization,’ inﬁltration with foreign elements, foreign control) is a direct expression of xenophobic attitudes, and ‘Fremdenfeindlichkeit’ (hostility against strangers) clearly describes such attitudes. ‘Uberfremdung’ had already emerged as a concept in the German-speaking world towards the end of the nineteenth century. The use of the term reveals anxieties about a loss of national identity due to a massive increase of immigrants.
2. Theoretical Framework
One reason why xenophobia was given virtually no theoretical foundation is probably because the phenomenon cannot be discussed without taking into account normative concepts that focus on attempts to mark ‘one’s own’ off from ‘the other.’ Race, nation, ethnicity, and culture are such concepts. In social and political reality, xenophobia manifests itself in accordance with the division of the world into one’s own race, nation, ethnic group, and culture, and other races, nations, ethnic groups, and cultures. This type of symbolic and normative worldview promotes self-centeredness, and constitutes precisely the kind of cognitive framework within which xenophobia is spawned, articulated, and disseminated. Since fear and hatred, the two emotional states contained in xenophobia, are qualities that rely on subjective experience, they require cognitive signposts and social values to allow them to focus on their object. Focus on an object is less relevant when one fears something, than when one hates. Hatred of what is strange or foreign, therefore, always calls for naming and objectiﬁcation. Labeling is the ﬁrst step towards constructing the object against which xenophobic hate can be directed. Social valuing of the object then modulates the intensity of xenophobia; it triggers the change from fear of the other—i.e., latent xenophobia—to hate of the other—i.e., virulent xenophobia.
Two scientiﬁc ﬁelds in particular deal with xenophobia: social psychologists examine forms of ingroup / outgroup behavior in which xenophobia can appear in its latent form, while researchers in the social sciences and humanities explore and interpret the social construction of xenophobia as well as its effect in modern societies.
3. The Concept Of Xenophobia In Social Psychology And Sociobiology
In social psychology, research on xenophobia primarily explores groups rather than societies. Social psychological approaches start by dealing with questions such as ‘how is group membership established?’ and ‘how does the ingroup distinguish itself from the outgroup?’ Research shows that the self has to align with the group in order to establish group membership. To allow such alliances to be formed, grouprelated categories and identities must be available and used. If they do not yet exist, they are generated through the process of alliance itself. Intergroup comparisons allow the emergence of the kind of psychological distinctiveness which can lead to upgrading of the ingroup and downgrading of the outgroup.
Intergroup behavior is usually valued as a response to real or imagined group interests. At the heart of this theory is the proposition that group members’ intergroup attitudes and behavior will tend to reﬂect the objective interests of their group vis-a-vis other groups. Where these interests conﬂict, their group’s cause is more likely to be furthered by a competitive orientation towards the rival, which often is extended easily to include prejudiced attitudes and even overtly hostile behavior. At the same time, the success of the ingroup in achieving the goal is likely to be furthered by very positive attitudes towards other ingroup members, thereby engendering high morale and cohesion. Where, on the other hand, the groups’ interests coincide it is more functional for the group members to adopt a cooperative and friendly attitude towards the outgroup. If this is reciprocated, a positive joint outcome is more probable (Sherif 1967). The social psychologists associated with Tajfel (1981) even proved experimentally that the mere fact of perceiving the existence of group categories suffices to generate an ingroup response: neither past hostility nor an objective conﬂict is necessary. Mere categorization is sufficient to produce intergroup discrimination. Categorizations that generate intergroup discrimination are intimately related to education and the use of stereotypes (Macrae et al. 1996) and prejudices (Lippmann 1922).
According to social psychology, then, xenophobia is a speciﬁc ingroup response that uses categorization in the form of stereotypes and prejudices, articulates real or imagined group interests, and pursues the goal of enhancing ingroup cohesion through discrimination against the outgroup.
Both in social psychology (LeVine et al. 1971) and in other scientiﬁc disciplines, as in sociobiology (Reynolds et al. 1987), xenophobia is either directly equated with ethnocentrism or at least interpreted as the logical extension of an ethnocentric frame of mind. The concept of ethnocentrism was ﬁrst used by William G. Sumner, one of the key representatives of American Social Darwinism. In his deﬁnition of ethnocentrism, Sumner (1911) took up the concepts of ‘codes of amity’ (referring to internal cooperation) and ‘codes of enmity’ (referring to self-defence) deﬁned by Herbert Spencer in the Principles of Ethics. His deﬁnition is still accepted today in several scientiﬁc disciplines, for which ethnocentrism is the technical name used for the feelings of cohesion that generate internal fellowship and devotion to the ingroup, which in turn lead to a sense of superiority to any outgroup.
4. The Concept Of Xenophobia In The Social Sciences
In the social sciences, the focus of research is on social values, norms, historical developments, and structural factors, rather than on biological or psychological constants which provoke xenophobic behavior. The social sciences ask how these factors support the existence of latent xenophobia, as well as allow xenophobic outbursts within speciﬁc social and political contexts. Unlike sociobiologists, social scientists do not consider xenophobia to be a universal phenomenon; instead, they describe it, ﬁrst, as one among several possible forms of reaction generated by anomic situations in the societies of modern states. Second, social scientists agree that xenophobia grows out of the existence of essentialist symbolic and normative systems that legitimate processes of integration or exclusion. Xenophobic behavior, therefore, is based on already existing racist, ethnic, religious, cultural, or national prejudice. However, social scientists usually fail to make clear distinctions between such systems of categorization and xenophobia.
Attempts were made at an early stage to understand differences between manifestations of xenophobia in different nations. Lapierre (1928), for example, gave four possible answers to the question of why racist prejudice and xenophobia are stronger in England than in France. Apart from the answer—common at the time—that biological differences may play a role, he formulated three hypotheses that are still in use today. First, differences between the two countries may result from different forms of colonial involvement. Second, they may be determined by differences between the processes of political socialization in metropolises. Third, possibly, no radical difference exists between the two countries with respect to this issue, because manifestations of xenophobia can be interpreted as short-term, periodically variable reactions to immigration and group competition. Post-World War II research on xenophobia and racism has continued to develop these three approaches. The social sciences, however, show a preference for the second hypothesis, which is why political socialization is given particular attention. Research has indeed shown that in states which are comparable with regard to immigration, both the intensity of xenophobia and racism and their forms and organization develop differently (Banton 1996). Thus, empirical research has revealed that in France, the social distance between native North Africans and the French is signiﬁcantly smaller than the social distance that separates Germans from native Turks in Germany. An important indicator is the number of mixed marriages in these two countries (Todd 1994). This discrepancy is not thought to be caused by a supposed greater inclination towards xenophobia among the Germans than among the French. Differences between processes of political socialization rooted in the conditions of the nation–state are considered more meaningful. The French model of the nation is based more on a universalist–assimilationist approach, while the German one is inspired more by a differentialist–culturalist approach. In the ﬁrst model, barriers against naturalization are low because the principle of jus solis is still partly valid. In the second model, where the concept of the nation is rooted in the principle of jus sanguinis, the barriers against acquiring citizenship are high. In the French model, particular cultural identities are submitted to discrimination, while the German model favors such identities. At the same time, cultural categories are formulated negatively and constitute the basis for latent xenophobia and racism. This is a phenomenon that is currently particularly visible not only in Germany, but also in East-European and Southeast-European countries. Positive expressions of cultural categories, however, lead to multiculturalism. From the point of view of social sciences, racism and multiculturalism, therefore, are two sides of the same coin. Both forms of discourse are particularly developed in societies where there is a large social gap between ethnic groups.
At the beginning of the 1990s, xenophobic outbursts led to an increase in acts of racist violence in several Western countries. This was the culmination of a sudden rise of xenophobia in the West that began in the 1960s, and that can be distinguished from the old form of racism which led to Nazism and Fascism, with respect to both ideological roots and causes. Some researchers believe that it is possible to speak of a ‘new racism’ (Barker 1981) that began to develop slowly in the postwar area, as racism was no longer based on biological but on cultural differences.
Two interrelated causes are thought to have provoked the resurgence of xenophobic and racist movements. First, new migration patterns developed during the postcolonial era as a consequence of the gradual internationalization of the labor market. In the 1950s and 1960s, under the inﬂuence of recruiting programs such as the American bracero program and the Gastarbeiter (guest workers) policies developed by Germany and Switzerland, the kind of spontaneous migration which links low-wage and high-wage countries soon developed. In the countries of immigration, social groups with little access to resources considered newcomers as competitors who contended with them for jobs and public services (housing, education, social welfare). This easily fostered a social and political climate that generated xenophobia and racism—i.e., defensive reactions against migrants—as well as nationalism—i.e., demands that the state provide better protection against foreigners for its own population. This is the background that gave strength to those right wing parties which certainly now argue from a ‘new racist’ point of view and are particularly attractive to social groups who feel threatened by migrants.
The second cause that is believed to reinforce xenophobic and racist trends is globalization. Growing internationalization and more ﬂexible markets of all kinds (for products, services, and labor) have led to intensiﬁcation of competition between and within states. In turn, such competition has put pressure upon states, inducing them to reduce their services. Neoliberalism is the ideological foundation for globalization, and requires not only lean production but also a lean state. The reduction of state services in the areas of social welfare, education, and healthcare also hits those segments of the population who already live on the margins of society. The social groups whose livelihoods are menaced by the dismantling of the welfare state are the main breeding ground for xenophobic and racist ideologies, since these groups are placed in direct competition with migrants for welfare services (Wrench and Solomos 1993). Of course, outbursts of racist violence in various countries illustrate that xenophobia need not be caused by strong immigrant ﬂows of the cultural other. Social decline of speciﬁc groups and right-wing political organization are sufficient preconditions for the emergence of xenophobia.
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