Multiple Fragmentation and Conflict: The EU Crisis’ Affect on Migrant Discourses in Europe

As mentioned in the previous post I’ll present a paper at an upcoming conference in Giessen this November. I collaborate with another PhD candidate from Hull who works on the Greek “crisis theatre” and we decided to focus on the role of migration in the related political debates. Read here the preliminary draft:

The sovereign debt crises in the Eurozone initiated for many European countries a period of economic turmoil that inevitably affected political discourses in a national and transnational dimension. The real threat of a collapse of the euro, the conflict between necessary integration and the preservation of sovereignty, as well as a European political leadership that is often perceived as obscure or even indecisive, caused many to doubt the sustainability of the EU; the same factors also showed the limits to transnational solidarity as well social cohesion within the union. This particularly applies to the public discourse on as well as political handling of migration and related issues in Europe. Economic and political challenges transformed into cultural conflicts that heavily affected how migration was framed throughout the EU with dangerous oversimplifications and hostilities towards new arrivals from outside Europe often dominating public debates; not to mention the lack of agency for the extremely diverse social group in focus, which experienced tendencies of de-humanisation in the (transnational) political discourse. In this respect, a rift between Southern European “entry countries” and their Northern neighbours also emerged as a result of lacking cooperation in the management of the related challenges (e.g. Lampedusa).

The present paper discusses the different fault lines that materialised in the intersection of austerity politics, crisis policies, migration, and the resulting conflicts by conducting a complementary analysis of political online media content from a selection of EU members, such as Greece, Italy, Germany, and the UK. It outlines how different cultural, social, and political backgrounds determined the perception and evaluation of the crisis and its affect on local as well as transnational migrant debates; it further explores how the crisis spawned a transnational media public sphere that, despite significant tendencies towards discursive convergence, was moulded by conflict and fragmentation. In this regard, the marginalisation of social minorities (e.g. migrants) and a considerable gender gap in the respective online debates are characteristic for the overall crisis discourse.

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Conference: Material Matters in Times of Crisis Capitalism

Later this year I’ll contribute to a panel that discusses the role of online media in the crisis discourse at a conference in Giessen, Germany. The event’s title is “Material Matters in Times of Crisis Capitalism. Transnational, Feminist, and Decolonial Approaches“. It will take place between the 13th and 15th of November. Among the esteemed cast of keynote speakers are academic heavyweights such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Rhoda Reddock.

In my paper I will focus on the lack of representation of various marginalised groups in online media debates based on political communication in what I describe as the transnational web sphere on the EU and Eurozone crisis – a digital public sphere that transcends the cultural, social, and political borders of individual nation states and that serves as the discursive context for communicative actions on the crisis. During the empirical analysis of crisis related web content I noticed that women are hardly partaking in the relevant online debates; they are almost invisible, at least as active communicators, i.e. participants in the respective online platforms (as commentators, observers, reporters etc.).

A significant gender gap still seems to persist when it comes to the social composition of the group of people who struggle for meaning in the crisis discourse. At least that’s the case for the European context. Moreover, it emerged that migrants often lack any agency in the crisis debate as well; they are mostly depicted as a somewhat “faceless” challenge or problem, not unlike a natural disaster. Migrant flows increased during the height of the crisis, especially when the Arab revolutions in Libya and Syria accelerated, and the arrival of refugees triggered heated political debates and conflicts across the EU and in its Southern areas in particular (e.g. Lampedusa); other examples are the partly very hostile and heavily medialised debates on the integration/disintegration of Roma and Sinti but also fears over work migration within the EU as a result of the Eurozone crisis.

A third group who had a hard time to make its voices heard in the crisis discourse and its local manifestations are various ad-hoc protest groups that formed as a response to austerity politics in the so-called crisis states (or PIIGS, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain). Especially public institutions such as governments and the EU hardly ever mentioned nor responded to the multitude of protest movements that emerged across Southern Europe and Greece in particular, which saw strikes on an almost daily basis.

News media platforms also provided only limited space for such groups to explain their viewpoints, motivations, and goals in their own words. These observations can be backed by hard empirical data (statistics/graphs) on the topic menus of political online platforms, the set of represented political actors in media content, and discursive networks that materialised during the height of the EU crisis between 2011 and 2013.

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