Publication details

Foreigner, migrant, or refugee? How laypeople label those who cross borders

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Year of publication 2023
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Migration Studies
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Social Studies

Keywords categorization; cultural repertoires; labeling practices; migration; reflexivity; symbolic boundaries
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Description In this article, we seek to exercise reflexivity in migration research by looking at the symbolic boundary work that sustains laypeople’s understanding and use of specific labels. We do so through a qualitative, cultural sociological investigation of migration attitudes in Czechia. We explore the labels foreigner, migrant, and refugee, commonly used labels in Czech migration discourse. In short, we argue that research participants rely on different grounds for boundary work, informed by available cultural repertoires, when characterizing foreigners, migrants, and refugees. While boundary work related to the label foreigner calls upon criteria of citizenship and perceived cultural closeness, the boundary work concerning the other two labels—migrant and refugee—involves the moral criteria of deservingness. Our study addresses three major shortcomings in migration studies. First, the opinions of laypeople influence public policies and approaches to migration, yet in-depth qualitative studies of migration attitudes are scarce. Second, even though migration attitudes shape the character of the receiving context for people who cross borders, how laypeople engage with labels remains understudied. Finally, we heed the call for a ‘reflexive turn’ in migration studies, arguing that researchers must remain reflexive, not only about labels they use, but also how such labels are understood and used by research participants.
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