Moshe Semyonov on Anti-Foreigner Sentiment in Europe

Emerging Research Fronts Commentary, August 2011

Moshe Semyonov

Article: The rise of anti-foreigner sentiment in European societies, 1988-2000

Authors: Semyonov, M;Raijman, R;Gorodzeisky, A
Journal: AMER SOCIOL REV, 71 (3): 426-449, JUN 2006
Addresses: Tel Aviv Univ, Dept Sociol, POB 39040, IL-69978 Tel Aviv, Israel.
Tel Aviv Univ, Dept Sociol, IL-69978 Tel Aviv, Israel.
Univ Illinois, Chicago, IL 60680 USA.
Univ Haifa, IL-31999 Haifa, Israel.

Moshe Semyonov talks with and answers a few questions about this month's Emerging Research Front paper in the field of Social Sciences, general.

SW: Why do you think your paper is highly cited?

In recent decades, global migration has become one of the most important aspects of social change. Consequently, the topic of the article—the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment in European societies—has become a topic of major importance and of considerable interest to the general public and to a wide range of social scientists including: sociologists, political scientists, and students of public opinion and of social policy as well as researchers of European societies.

Whereas the topic is timely and the findings are relevant to policymakers, the paper is cast within a solid theoretical framework and uses high-quality data for study of change in attitudes toward immigrants in the context of European societies. To the best of my knowledge, this paper is the first to examine change in attitudes toward immigrants from a cross-national perspective.

SW: Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or synthesis of knowledge?

"My own future research will continue to utilize dynamic perspective to study social change, social inequality and patterns of immigrants’ integration to society across space and time."

The paper—the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment—makes empirical, theoretical, and methodological contributions. Although theoretical formulations on the topic are expressed in dynamic terms, previous studies examined attitudes toward out-group populations using a cross-sectional research framework. That is, theoretical models on the issue suggest that change in attitudes toward minority and out-group populations is a result of changes in societal conditions (i.e., change in composition of the population, change in economic opportunities, and change in political climate).

Thus, in order to bridge the gap in the literature, in this paper we cast the theory and theoretical expectations in dynamic terms and utilize data at several points in time. We also offer a methodology that enables a study of change in public opinion (e.g. attitudes toward immigrants) across countries.

SW: Would you summarize the significance of your paper in layman's terms?

Using this theoretical framework and methodology, the paper reveals that anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe has been on the rise. Anti-immigrant sentiment is more pronounced in countries where the proportion of non-European immigrants is relatively large, where economic conditions are relatively less prosperous, and where there is a relatively wider support for right-wing extreme political parties.

However, the analysis reveals that the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment throughout the years of the study (1988-2000) exceeded the increase in proportion non-Europeans residing in the country, changes in economic conditions, and changes in the political climate. The rise in anti-immigrant sentiment, indeed, has significant implications not only in terms of theory but also for policymakers not only in Europe but also in other industrial societies.

SW: How did you become involved in this research, and how would you describe the particular challenges, setbacks, and successes that you've encountered along the way? Where do you see your research leading in the future? Do you foresee any social or political implications for your research?

The authors of this paper were attracted to the topic for several reasons. As students of social change and of immigration we had been studying attitudes toward immigrants and the consequences of immigration both in host and sending societies during the last few years. To bridge a gap in the literature, we searched for a high-quality data set that enables a study of change in attitudes and a systematic examination of the social mechanisms (at the individual and societal levels) underlying such changes.

Subsequently, we introduced an analytical model that enabled us to test our theoretical expectations in dynamic terms. It is our hope that other students of immigration and global migration would adapt a dynamic perspective and methodologies for the study of attitudes toward out-group populations.

My own future research will continue to utilize dynamic perspective to study social change, social inequality, and patterns of immigrants’ integration to society across space and time.End

Moshe Semyonov
The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Chair Professor
In the Sociology of Labor, Tel Aviv University, Israel
Tel Aviv, Israel
Professor of Sociology, University of Illinois at Chicago
Chicago, IL, USA



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