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Jeff Miley - Department of Sociology Small Grant Award July 2014

The Politics of Belonging: Attitudes towards Immigrants in Europe from 2002-2014

Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Dr Tiago Carvalho, Peter Walsh, Department of Sociology, CAMMIGRES Small Grant Award, July 2014

Research Summary:

This research formed part of a wider research programme on ‘the politics of belonging in Europe’. The recent electoral growth of the xenophobic far-right across Europe makes more urgent an understanding of the social bases of support for right-wing populism, and how these may be affected by voters’ class, ethnicity, religion, age, political orientation, and other variables. The CAMMIGRES Small Grant research involved analyses of the evolution of attitudes towards immigration and immigrants in Europe, from 2002-2014. The research team used data from six waves of the European Social Survey, from 2002-2014, and data from the Eurobarometer from 2004-2014. These resources cover both general attitudes towards migration, as well as people’s concern with immigration policymaking. We argue that by focusing on both we are able to perceive the main trends in citizens’ attitudes towards migration and whether these have changed. In fact, the data suggests, in spite of other research to that contrary, that attitudes towards immigration and immigrants have been largely constant throughout the period of the greatest migration to Europe.

The exploratory report produced as a result of the CAMMIGRES Small Grant funding, shows that there is a gap in the literature dealing with attitudes towards migrants in Europe. In fact most of the work in this field tends to be quantitative, synchronic and apolitical. By this we mean that time is not generally relevant to these works and they tend to focus on explanations that do not take into account political factors. Our report focused exactly on that, trying to take into account the political factors that impact on the attitudes and perceptions that people have of migrants, over time.

Focusing on the data from the European Social Survey, the main findings were that different trends were evident between 2002 and 2012, but that changes were surprisingly minimal, given prevailing media discourses. The research team concluded that even given an apparent eruption of far right party support, substantial change of attitudes among citizens was not indicated.

Nevertheless, few data exists for a proper longitudinal approach. It is hard to find systematic data besides the ESS, particularly concerning policy-making - an area where attitudes might be changing. Also, most of the data is directed to regression analysis not allowing other kinds of techniques. To test the voracity of these findings it would be necessary to expand the research project, not only to conduct a more comprehensive survey analysis (including designing and implementing a new pan-European survey), but also involving ethnographic research that might enable richer conceptualisation of the dynamics of the politics of belonging.

Further work to be developed:

  • Literature review: the research team aim to look further into the far-right political support dynamics of the last decades in order to understand how further analysis can open out and contribute towards previously unexplored aspects. This literature tends to be too focused on the parties, with few analyses of the social basis of support.
  • Further data analysis: (1) further exploration of the social basis of xenophobia; (2) creation of a database of aggregate data, to include not only attitudes but also macroeconomic (e.g. unemployment) and other data, for instance, the number of migrants living in the countries; (3) develop more sophisticated quantitative and mixed-methods tools, which means both proposing new measures to include in surveys, but also triangulating this data with data collected in the media, policy analyses and ethnographic work.
  • Writing a journal article based on the evidence collected: the report produced as part of the CAMMIGRES Small Grant funding is being worked up for peer reviewed publication.


Launched in January 2014, by Co-Founders Professors Madeleine Arnot and Loraine Gelsthorpe, and Research Associate Dr Jessica Wheeler, the Cambridge Migration Research Network, funded by the Vice-Chancellor’s Endowment Fund, brings together a superb tract of migration research, spanning 23 University of Cambridge faculties, departments and centres, including researchers in anthropology, archaeology, history, politics, economics and land economy, geography, sociology, gender studies, psychology, health and education studies, management studies, linguistics, theology, criminology and law.

CAMMIGRES researchers' interests orient around the impacts of past and present migration in relation to human evolution and development, social, legal, and economic policy, governance, professional knowledge, institutional practice and social relations.