Xenophobia Research Paper

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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.

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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