Dissertation Abstracts

Discursive Determinants of Attitudes towards Immigrants: Political Parties and Mass Media as Contextual Sources of Threat Perceptions

Author: Christian S. Czymara, christian@czymara.com
Department: Institute of Sociology and Social Psychology
University: University of Cologne, Germany
Supervisor: Hans-Jürgen Andreß
Year of completion: 2018
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: immigration , attitudes , perception , discourse
Areas of Research: Racism, Nationalism and Ethnic Relations , Migration , Comparative Sociology


Immigration has been a vividly discussed topic in Europe in recent years, leading to an increased polarisation in many Western societies. This relates to rising immigration rates as well as to significant, dramatic events such as terrorist attacks and acts of xenophobic violence. A plethora of studies has investigated the impact of a country’s actual immigration on individual attitudes towards migrants. However, the impact of national discourses about immigration has received significantly less attention in empirical-quantitative research. This imbalance is striking because research has shown that natives’ perceptions of their country’s ethnic composition are largely biased. Combining sociology and communication sciences, I argue that immigration related discourses influence exclusionary attitudes and ethnic resentment beyond actual demographic circumstances. This is because such discourses are potent activators of feelings of threat, especially regarding specific kinds of ethnic out-groups. I examine effects of mass media, political parties and public speakers on general as well as on group-specific attitudes. To this end, I analyse longitudinal, cross-national, and experimental data sources. The accumulated evidence supports my argument. General media salience affects general concerns about immigration. Moreover, specific kinds of discourses also have group-specific effects, depending on the overall tone and on the particular content. Furthermore, individual receptiveness to messages and discourses is crucial, as indicated by the fact that discourse effects are significantly stronger for certain individuals throughout all studies. This includes those with conservative ideology, lower education, or few daily experiences with foreigners. In sum, I argue that social scientists are well advised to pay attention to the discursive and political climate characterising a particular research setting. Moreover, analysing differentiated attitudinal measures allow a more nuanced understanding of the contextual processes that shape public opinion in a historical period.