Who/What is a “Good”/”Bad” Migrant?


The EJN Director spoke on ‘Challenging The Press’ as part of the  Sadler Seminar Series (2016-17) bringing together scholars from Leeds University and other sources to interrogate the contemporary conceptualisation and image of the “Migrant”. The seminar series was developed by the School of Media and Communication and School of Sociology and Social Policy, in collaboration with the Leeds Migration Research Network (LMRN).

For more background see the website of the Leeds Humanities Research Institute:

The perception of a recent refugee “crisis” has once again posed a stark semantic issue concerning international migration and mobilities, about the denomination and image of anomalous populations on the move across nation-state lines. Strikingly, the neutral, technical, geographical term for people who move residence spatially – i.e., “migrant” – has become freighted in media and policy debates with portentous negativity, even supplanting the politically/legally defined terms of “refugee” and “immigrant” as the most salient marker of “unwanted” populations. As always, the “bad” migrant – and its links with marginality, vagrancy, criminality or (even) terrorism – stands in contrast to the “wanted” mobility of “tourists”, “international students”, “business visitors” or “cross-border commuters”, as well as (in Europe) selected, variable categories of “free movers” and “guest workers”. Migrants are, alternately, “free” agents driving economies and/or escaping legal control; or hopeless residuals of political and social disintegration, “victims” to be pitied and saved or lumped together in carceral camps. Historically, the operation of the state at its “own” frontiers and over “own” citizen members, always implies the brutal articulation of borders via the legal and political categorisation of the spatially mobile (i.e., the “citizen”, the “immigrant”, the “foreigner”, the “state-less”). This grounding operation of nation-building via state population containment is ever more put into question by the contemporary volatility of peoples, states and territories.

Our seminar series proposes to put an emphasis on investigating the common methodologies available for the study of how distorting images are formed and how they become fixed in discourse, taking at once media and policy/legal discourses, and the contestatory “voices” of migrants themselves, as a dual focus. This is a vital question in understanding the formation of prejudice and exclusion motivating populist politics across the continent. Limited efforts within the news industry to reform such representational practices can be cited but show little evidence of efficacy, whether anecdotal or empirical. Notably, institutionalised and public terms efface the self-representation of so-classified “migrants” themselves, requiring critically aware, positional strategies of investigation.

Photo: Still image from “Sea of Pictures”