14 August 2012
Factors Influencing Hostility
If people in the Euro-Atlantic zone are more tenuous and conflicted about the negative impact of migration on their societies than is popularly believed, what then actually tilts a society into the negative zone? In other words, why and when do people become obviously hostile towards immigrants? Ferran Martínez and Robert Duval believe that four variables are critical here – economics, notions of national identity, the information available about immigrants, and "personal contact".
Prepared by: ISN staff
Editor’s note: The following synopsis is based on “Hostility toward Immigration in Spain” by Ferran Martínez i Coma and Robert Duval-Hernández, published as IZA Discussion Paper No 4109,2009.
When it comes to possible economic explanations for anti-migrant sentiment, Martínez i Coma and Duval-Hernández posit four hypotheses for our consideration.
They begin with the “resource hypothesis,” which claims that people who are experiencing financial stress will be more likely than those who are well-off to fear the implications of immigration. Hence, those persons in a difficult economic situation and/or who are insecure about their future should have more negative attitudes toward immigrants as potential economic competitors.
Second, we might consider the “job threat” hypothesis, which familiarly argues that anti-immigrant sentiments grow when native workers face higher competition in the labor market, particularly against immigrants with similar skill levels.
Third, there is the “pessimism hypothesis,” which highlights the role of individual perception about economic change. More precisely, the hypothesis states that “the belief that one is on a downward economic trajectory increases the tendency to view immigration as resulting in tangible costs to oneself and enhances restrictionist sentiment.”
Finally, individuals may have ‘res publica’ considerations when thinking about immigration. “This is known as the “ fiscal burden” hypothesis, and there are two intertwined facets to consider [here]. On the one hand, relatively poor natives will oppose immigration because resources are scarce and immigrants might compete with them for public services and benefits. On the other hand, wealthier natives might have a negative perception about immigrants because they might increase the cost of providing public services, causing their taxes to increase.”
If the above economically-driven reasons for anti-immigrant sentiment aren’t enough, Martínez i Coma and Duval-Hernández warn us, we then have the problem of national identity to contend with. Indeed, immigration policy may lie at the heart of the definition of citizenship and national identity, but just what do we mean by the latter? Do we mean “in-group love” and “out-group hate”?
Well, according to our authors there are three factors to worry about when it comes to self-generated forms of identity – perceptual distinctiveness, salience and the perceived internal cohesiveness of a group. In the case of perceptual distinctiveness, immigrants may negatively stand out because they have a different skin color, dress differently, lack fluency in local languages, etc. In the case of salience, the cultural distinctiveness of migrant groups has received substantial media coverage since the mid-1990s, thereby inspiring periodic backlashes against the perceived exclusivity of such groups. Finally, if immigrants concentrate in certain areas, retain strong family and group loyalties, and continue to subscribe to common beliefs and distinctive cultural practices, then what is often perceived as a positive (group cohesion and solidarity) can be perceived as a threat to the cultural idiosyncrasies of a country.
Third, there is the question of how one interacts with migrant groups. The natural assumption, of course, is that as locals and new arrivals interact over time, cooperation will emerge in a “virtuous circle.” Unfortunately, such a positive relationship does not always arise in practice – i.e., “not all contacts are among equals, nor are they based on a democratic relationship. For example, given that the immigrants are mainly oriented toward low-skilled jobs, they will be in an unequal position compared to their employers.”
Second, one must also consider the nature of the contact. Private interactions, for example, typically involve proactive engagement on the part of natives. Interaction in the workplace, in contrast, can be merely passive and accidental, and thereby qualitatively different. The attitudes that any given individual has toward immigrants, therefore, might differ depending on the nature of the contact.
Finally, Martínez i Coma and Duval-Hernández remind us that “tilting” against migrant groups may have economic, identity, and interaction-based causes, but it also may draw upon the actual information that natives have or don’t have about them. Matching up the perceived presence of a group with its actual statistical presence, for example, is an important way to condition opinions about immigration in a proportional and therefore positive way. (Gaps between perceptions and reality, in contrast, have more deleterious effects, to include heightened levels of hostility against new arrivals.)
To conclude then, what the GMF survey reminds us is that the securitization of transnational migration may be growing, but it may be on shakier ground, in terms of public support, than first meets the eye. Despite this good news story, at least in the minds of some, Martínez i Coma and Duval-Hernández then remind us that there are specific “tilts” we should be conscious of when dealing with migration issues. These tilts, if not managed properly, can represent the first steps in a securitization process that might not be as beneficial as some believe, as we will discuss tomorrow.
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