Racism, class ethos and place: the value of context in narratives about asylum-seekers

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Abstract

The British public view asylum-seekers in generally negative terms. Yet whilst there are an abundance of reports and opinion polls that measure levels of hostility in order to fuel political ‘debate’ very little is known about how asylum seekers are spoken about in more quotidian contexts. Based on an ethnographic study of racism in Southend-on-Sea, Essex this paper identifies two kinds of narrative (abstract truths and context-dependent stories) commonly used by established members of the community to speak about asylum-seekers. The paper then seeks to explain why more affluent, suburban residents of the town tend to draw upon the abstract narrative while less wealthy, centrally located residents are more likely to regale context-dependent stories about asylum seekers. An explanation for this socio-spatial phenomenon is constructed around a Bourdieusian theory of practice that unravels local class relations and maps out a field for local symbolic prestige. Finally this microanalysis is used as a springboard to consider the wider relationship between racist narratives and social and cultural reproduction.

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