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Psychology in Society

versão On-line ISSN 2309-8708
versão impressa ISSN 1015-6046

Psychol. Soc.  no.44 Durban Jan. 2013


"A lot of them are good buggers": the african "foreigner" as South Africa's discursive other



Nicola Jearey-Graham*; Werner Böhmke

Department of Psychology, CSSR Unit. Rhodes University. P O Box 94. Grahamstown 6140.




Levels of xenophobia in South Africa have risen precipitously since the early 1990s, but this phenomenon does not appear to have been researched rigorously within psychology. This exploratory study looks at how seven South African "citizens"1 talk about African "foreigners"1 in South Africa, using a synthetic discursive lens which analyses the Self-Other relationships which are constructed. Subject positioning, ideological dilemmas and rhetorical work are used as analytical tools. Analysis reveals that a discursive relationship of common humanity leads to compassionate inclusivity, but the positioning of African "foreigners" as inferior/serviceable or threatening justifies their exploitation or exclusion, whilst enabling participants to "dodge the identity of prejudice". National identity was constructed as one of fragile superiority over other African countries, resulting in a perceived need to protect the nation from outsiders. Participants took up familial identity positions, and this discursive mobilisation of the metaphor of "family" mirrors ideological models of the function of the state as an imaginary agency responsible for the protection and care of the citizenry.

Keywords: xenophobia, Self-Other, foreigner, citizen, discourse, prejudice, nation, subject position




"Tensions of inclusion and exclusion" (Nyamnjoh, 2006: 25) have been a prominent feature of South African society for centuries (Coplan, 2009), with their latest expression being in the form of increasing xenophobic attitudes and actions directed at "foreign" Africans (Crush et al, 2008). The most visible recent outbreak of xenophobic violence was the widespread attacks in May 2008, but more localised attacks have continued unabated since then, with attacks on Somali-owned businesses in the Gauteng townships of Diepsloot, Orange Farm and Sedibeng occurring at the time of going to press (Bauer, 2013; Evans, 2013). As during the 2008 attacks, politicians are playing down the xenophobic nature of these attacks and foregrounding criminal forces as explanatory mechanisms (Landau, 2011; Bauer, 2013). Harris (2002) points out that just as the African "foreigner" is so often portrayed as a contaminating flood, so too is the phenomenon of xenophobia, which is pathologised "as something separate from the normal, healthy South African nation" (Harris, 2002: 178), something which threatens South Africa's image as "the Rainbow Nation". In actuality xenophobia cannot be separated from nationalistic technologies of nation building (Crush, 2001; Harris, 2002).

Authors (for example Nyamnjoh, 2006; Hjerm, 2007; Crush & Ramachandran, 2009) are reporting increasing levels of xenophobia worldwide, in both developed and developing nations, coinciding with increases in asylum seeking (Grillo, 2005) and soaring international migration figures (Crush & Ramachandran, 2009). However South Africa's levels of xenophobia have been documented as being amongst the highest in the world (Crush, 2001). The precipitous rise of xenophobia in South Africa since the early 1990s was well documented prior to the May 2008 xenophobic attacks (Human Rights Watch 1998; Crush, 2001; Kriger, 2007; Neocosmos, 2010), leading Crush et al (2008: 6) to label the attacks as "the perfect storm".

The phrase "the perfect storm" highlights the complex interplay of factors contributing to those attacks, which authors have identified, inter alia, as: the exclusionary legacies of South Africa's apartheid past (Harris, 2002; Crush et al, 2008; Neocosmos, 2010; Landau, 2011); a "siege mentality and attitudes of uniqueness and superiority towards the rest of Africa" (Crush et al, 2008: 6); increased porosity of borders due to corruption, resulting in increased illegal immigration (Coplan, 2008); xenophobic governmental articulations and actions (Neocosmos, 2008, 2010; Misago, 2011); rising inequality between the rich and the poor (Gelb, 2008; Pillay, 2008); and local processes of political opportunism accompanied by a legitimate leadership vacuum at the actual sites of violence (Misago, 2011). Crush and Ramachandran (2009) claim that feelings of economic insecurity and relative deprivation prime such sites for the scapegoating of weaker targets. Thus, both macro-level structural, political and socio-economic processes which enable xenophobia, as well as micro-level political processes which capitalise on or resist xenophobic impulses (Misago, 2011), need to be acknowledged in any analysis of this phenomenon.

Whilst xenophobic violence typically flares up in under-resourced areas2, xenophobic attitudes appear to be widespread across all sectors of South African society (Crush, 2001). Studies done by the Southern African Migration Project indicate that the only sector of South African society which displays more inclusive attitudes are the minority of people who have regular personal contact with "foreigners" (Crush, 2001; Crush et al, 2008). Hence, the anti-"foreigner" attitudes of most South Africans develop in a vacuum (Crush et al, 2008), unchecked by real relationships with foreign nationals, and fuelled by political rhetoric, state sanctioned xenophobia, media reports, and the prevailing anti-"foreigner" sentiments and attitudes within their social systems. As Crush (2001: 118) points out, "Hostile attitudes are not driven by experience but by stereotype and myth".

Xenophobia can be understood to be a process of discrimination against some groups of the population on the basis of their foreign origin or nationality (Crush & Ramachandran, 2009; Neocosmos, 2010). The starkly negrophobic (Gqola, 2008) or Afrophobic (Matsinhe, 2011) nature of much of South African xenophobia shows how racialised this phenomenon often is, and authors have noted how today's xenophobic attitudes and actions mirror the racist exclusions that defined the past South African apartheid state (Kriger, 2007; Rutherford, 2008; Dodson, 2010). However claiming that South African xenophobia is purely a negrophobic/Afrophobic phenomenon overlooks the fact that people of Chinese and South Asian descent (both South African "citizens" and "foreigners"), have also been victims of xenophobia, whilst "citizens" of Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana have generally been spared (Crush et al, 2008: Landau, 2011). Thus, attempts to map South African xenophobic impulses directly onto racist processes are reductive.

Sites of xenophobic prejudice within South Africa

Blaming external agents for the social and economic ills of a country is a common political ploy. Since the 1990s, politicians and government institutions have been reinforcing the message that South Africa is being "invaded" by "illegal immigrants" who contribute to crime and are a drain on the country's limited resources (Human Rights Watch, 1998; Neocosmos, 2008; 2010). Balancing notions of the economic impetus that migration often affords to a country is seldom articulated (Nyamnjoh, 2006). Every time crime statistics are released which juxtapose the rounding up of "illegal immigrants" with the arrest of thieves and murderers, the message is given that the presence of undocumented migrants is directly correlated to the rising crime rate. In 2011 the minister of Home Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, announced amendments to the immigration law in order to streamline the processing of immigrants to South Africa who "add value to our economic, social and cultural development". However, she made it clear that her department was "not going to be dishing out permits to illegal people" (Department of Home Affairs, 2011, non-paginated). The term "illegal people" is a dangerous one (Abahlale baseMjondolo, 2008), suggesting that some people (those who are assessed by the state as not being able to "add value" to our development) have no legal basis to their humanity, and therefore, by implication, have no entitlement to human rights.

The chronic abuse of "foreign" nationals by the police, the Lindela detention centre (where undocumented migrants are detained before being deported) and Home Affairs officials has been well documented (Human Rights Watch, 1998; Nyamnjoh, 2006; Kriger, 2007; Crush et al, 2008). As the previous Nationalist government police force upheld the strict racial exclusions of apartheid with massively repressive tactics (Kaldene, 2007), so the current police force continues that legacy by victimising migrants, even in contravention of current immigration laws (Kriger, 2007; Rutherford, 2008). Police officers and Home Affairs officials demand bribes from migrants in return for release from detention, passports, visas and South African identity documents, and the pervasive nature of this corruption imbues it with a sense of normality, and, therefore, rightness (Coplan, 2009).

Together with these instances of state practised, almost institutionalised, prejudice against African "foreigners", the media has also been blamed for inflaming xenophobia (Danso & McDonald, 2001). However authors recognise that the media is not only an instigator but also a reflector of societal xenophobia (Danso & McDonald, 2001; McDonald & Jacobs, 2005; Nyamnjoh, 2010). Analysis of English-language newspaper coverage of cross border migration into South Africa from 1994 to 2005 has shown an encouraging shift from predominantly negative portrayals of immigrants and immigration in the 1990s, to more pro-immigration and analytical articles recently (Danso & McDonald, 2001; McDonald & Jacobs, 2005). Nevertheless, media coverage remains highly polarised, with a sizeable portion of articles covering African immigration to South Africa maintaining xenophobic attitudes (McDonald & Jacobs, 2005).

Against this background of anti-"foreigner" political sentiment, abusive practices by state institutions, and mass media messages, everyday discourses in South Africa promote the perception that migrants, whose numbers have increased dramatically since 1994, are a source of competition for jobs, housing, social services, and even women (Coplan, 2009). This commodification of women reinscribes them as a material resource for men, and is a graphic example of Butler's (1993) contention that one set of abusive power vectors (in this case, patriarchy) becomes a vehicle for another (xenophobia).

Within these macro-sociological enablers of xenophobia, migrants' experiences of attitudes and behaviours from South African "citizens" are diverse. Stereotyping, discrimination and abuse are common experiences for many migrants, but not all (Crush, 2001; Dodson, 2010). Pauw and Petrus (2003) found surprisingly low levels of animosity between South African and non-South African street traders who traded on the same street in Port Elizabeth. The authors explain this as a result of the fact that the two groups were not generally in competition for customers, as the migrants tended to sell different types of merchandise. However a different possible explanation could draw on Allport's contact hypothesis, which posits that negative stereotypes break down when differing groups with minimal power differentials between them are in close contact with one another (van Oudenhoven, Judd & Ward, 2008). For example, counter to the common notion that "foreigners" "steal jobs", some of the South African traders noted the positive economic effects of the non South African traders, as they helped to attract customers to the area, and some of them employed Xhosa speaking South Africans in their stalls to facilitate communication with customers (Pauw & Petrus, 2003). The massive civic mobilisation to help victims of the May 2008 xenophobic attacks, as well as efforts by community leaders in some volatile areas to prevent attacks (Kirshner, 2011; Misago, 2011) also points to sympathetic attitudes to "foreigners" on the part of many South Africans. Thus any analysis of the extent and nature of xenophobia needs to take into account the local processes happening in specific locations. As Kirshner (2011: 19) points out, xenophobia is "not merely a reaction to wider political and economic processes but is also shaped by local forms of social struggle".

Ideological underpinnings of South African xenophobia

Whilst descriptive studies of South African xenophobia abound, a theorising of this phenomenon from a psychological perspective has not been well articulated.

Empirical studies of group prejudice in other countries have included research based on social psychological theories, while extant political and sociological theories within South Africa revolve around notions of nationalistic identity politics. Discourse theory has been used with incisive effect in other contexts to examine prejudice from a social constructionist perspective. A selection of these theories will be outlined below.

(a) Social psychological theories of prejudice.

Varying social psychological theories have been used to analyse group prejudice. The majority of these explanations draw heavily on the work of Allport in 1954, and more recently the group threat theory and social identity theory (Kwantes, Bergeron, & Kaushal, 2005; Breckler, Olson & Wiggins, 2006; van Oudenhoven et al, 2008), as well as relative deprivation theory (Walker & Smith, 2002). Some authors have drawn on these theories in their attempts to understand the genesis of South African xenophobia. For example, Coplan (2009) and Crush and Ramachandran (2009) utilise Allport's scapegoat theory, and Nyamjoh (2010) and Coplan (2009) make use of the group threat theory, while a number of authors (for example Pillay, 2008; Crush & Ramachandran, 2009) refer to perpetrators of xenophobic violence as experiencing feelings of relative deprivation.

These theories view social psychological processes as natural, and as part of our essential psychological nature. Prejudice is understood as an individualistic, cognitive-emotional process that happens intrapsychically, requiring the presence of others only as a context in which to operate (Condor, 2006). However, Durrheim and Dixon (2004) in their study on racial evaluation, criticise this understanding, and they view prejudicial evaluation to be primarily a variable interactive activity rather than an expression of stable underlying intrapsychic factors. Harris (2002: 182) likewise argues that xenophobia "is not individually located and is not counter normative, but rather operates through the social, for the social, serving to disguise relations of power and discursive contradictions." In line with these critiques, it is important to take cognisance of some socio-political understandings of South African xenophobia, as well as examine some recent social psychological studies have used a social constructionist paradigm to examine prejudice, using interactional, discursive methods and an anti-essentialist stance.

(b) Nationalism, citizenship and the politics of belonging.

Some political and sociological understandings of xenophobia view such anti-"foreigner" sentiments as arising out of discourses that undergird nationalism (Crush, 2001; Harris, 2002), with national identity being formed out of imagined cultural uniqueness and homogeneity (Wodak, de Cillia, Reisigl & Leibhart, 2009). Yuval-Davis (2006: 197) refers to this process as "the politics of belonging ... [with] specific political projects ... constructing belonging in particular ways to particular collectivities". Constructions of belonging (creating the Self, or "us") necessarily involve the constructions of those who don't belong (Others, or "them"), and Dodson (2010: 9) claims that "narrow identity politics" is one of the core elements of xenophobia as African "foreigners" find themselves positioned as the new Other against which the We of the new South Africa are created. Their exclusion is therefore justified as necessary for the good of the nation (Mosselson, 2010).

Anderson (1983: 15) defines the nation as "an imagined political community" into which one is either born or tied to in some naturalising manner, as with a family, and thus the concept of "nation" can evoke familial love and loyalty. Indeed, parental images such as the notion of the "fatherland", and "mothers of the nation" (Gaitskell & Unterhalter, 1989) are commonly used in constructing national as well as gendered subjectivities. For example, women are often constructed as "biological reproducers of members of ethnic collectivities" (Anthias & Yuval-Davis, 1992: 115) as well as the primary transmitters of culture and the "mother tongue". Similarly, attributes of nurturance and care are regularly used in the constructions of nations (Anthias & Yuval-Davis, 1992). As we explicate below, familial discourses were a major resource that our participants drew on as they constructed the South African nation and foreign outsiders.

The expected benefits of national birthright, or citizenship, are nevertheless based on what Isin and Turner (2007) have characterised as a Marshallian conception of citizenship that emphasises a set of contributory rights and duties. In this framework, citizens are expected to actively contribute to the well-being of the communal imaginary that is the state through "work, public service . parenthood or family formation" (Isin & Turner, 2007: 5), as well as through the paying of taxes. The result of the performance of these duties by citizens is the provision and protection, by the state, of the civil, political and social welfare rights of citizens (Isin & Turner, 2007). Citizenship therefore involves "a set of exclusionary rights that [establish] claims to collective resources" (Isin & Turner, 2007: 6). Those considered "non-citizens", or who are perceived to demand the benefits of civil, political and especially social welfare rights without having contributed to collective social resources are thus likely to be positioned as a threat to "legitimate" rights of "citizens" and treated as pariahs. Thus, as discussed below in the analysis of our participants' talk, we see tropes of a cost/benefits discourse as some participants weigh up the benefits that some migrants bring to South Africa, versus the perceived cost of their maintenance by the state. However given the South African context of high unemployment and crime, the "costs" of migrants were considered more commonly by our participants along axes of business competition and crime.

Despite these considerations, it is interesting to note that while the abovementioned dynamics do seem to be implicated in xenophobic attitudes and violence directed towards African "foreigners", at the level of popular, or subaltern, politics, inclusiveness may be fostered through coherence around joint struggles. This was seen nationally during the liberation struggle, and more recently in instances of community mobilisation. For example, both "foreigners" and "citizens" joined in demarcation protest action against the national government between 2005 and 2007 in Khutsong township in the Merafong municipality of Gauteng (Kirshner, 2011). This fostered a sense of class-based as opposed to nationality-based unity. Despite being the site of xenophobic incidences in the 1990s, the Khutsong community leaders organised a public meeting in May 2008 in which they repudiated xenophobia, and Khutsong was free of such phenomena during the 2008 xenophobic violence (Kirshner, 2011). From a tactical point of view, by preventing xenophobic violence, civic leaders also prevented the demarcation protests from losing focus (Kirshner, 2011). Similar to the Khutsong example, Neocosmos (2008) reports that in informal settlements in Durban where the popular shack dwellers' movement Abahlali baseMjondolo had a strong presence, xenophobic attacks were absent. As in Khutsong, this movement taps into class-based as opposed to national identities, where subjective belonging is built around issues within the local community rather than the nation.

Whilst Neocosmos (2008; 2010) places his hopes of countering xenophobia in these active, popular forms of politics, it appears that the inclusion of "foreigners" in such movements is a tactical response to common grievances (Kirshner, 2011). Should state policies invert to become highly inclusive of immigrants, such movements may become xenophobic if the "foreigners" are perceived to be threatening to local interests and concerns. This indicates that discursive aspects of prejudice need also to be examined.

(c) Discourse theory.

Discourse theory assumes a dialectical relationship between discourse and social practice, whereby discourse both constitutes and is constituted by social practice (Wodak et al, 2009). Scholars have used discourse theory to study how prejudice is created, perpetuated, reproduced and resisted discursively, and how these prejudicial discourses, and the resultant subject positions, are used as part of the process of identity formation. In their groundbreaking study of racism from a discourse analytic perspective, Wetherell and Potter (1992) analyse how "white" New Zealanders discursively construct "race", "culture" and "nation", and how inequality is normalised and legitimated. Their study highlights how discourse theory can be used with incisive effect to draw out the complexities of prejudice. Wodak et al (2009) analyse the various discursive strategies used by Austrians in their constructions of national identities, and they note that the construction of differences with other nations is particularly notable when other nationalities are perceived to be more similar to one's own. This observation is pertinent to South African expressions of xenophobia, where immigrants from neighbouring countries, with only minor cultural and linguistic differences from South Africans, have often been the targets of the most virulent forms of xenophobia. Meehan (2009) uses a discourse analytic approach to consider how two Irish newspapers engage in the task of constructing refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants, and what impact these constructions have for constructions of Irish identity. By positioning non-Western immigrants and asylum seekers as the threatening and/or inferior Other, restrictive immigration policies and the imposition of Irish values on them are justified within a positive human rights/democratic Self identity.

Since the 2008 xenophobic attacks, South Africans can no longer ignore the issue of xenophobia. Given its pervasive and deep seated grip throughout many communities, and yet also the growing media and human rights articulation that xenophobic attitudes and practices are fundamentally incompatible with human rights discourses, which are one of the axes around which the South African national identity is being constructed, we would anticipate that many South Africans have conflicting positions with regard to the phenomenon of xenophobia and the presence of African "foreigners" in South Africa.



Informed by the above mentioned analyses of xenophobia in South Africa, and together with the recognition of the need to engage with the topic from within a discursive, social constructionist framework, this small-scale, exploratory research was undertaken to investigate how South African "citizens" discursively construct Self and Other as they talk about the presence of African "foreigners" in South Africa. Specific research questions that were explored were: (1) What Self-Other relationships are manifested as the "citizens" discursively construct African "foreigners"? (2) Within these relationships, what discourses are drawn on and what subject positions do the "citizens" take up? (3) How do these Self-Other relationships reinforce or undermine exclusionary discourses and practices? (4) How do "citizens" position themselves rhetorically in relation to the phenomenon of xenophobia?

Purposeful, convenience sampling was used to select seven employed, middle aged South African women and men of varied racial and class/educational categories. All were long-term residents of the same town in the Eastern Cape. Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted in English by the first author, and each participant was asked open-ended questions around three themes: "foreign" Africans and their presence in South Africa; xenophobia; and what it means to be a South African. Interviews took between 30 and 50 minutes, and the audio recordings were transcribed by the first author within a week of each interview.



Sample size was constrained due to the time-limited nature of the study, but despite this, some fascinating aspects of how "citizens" talk about "foreigners" were revealed. Thus while the sample was in no way representative of any group of South Africans and data saturation was not achieved, the findings may be transferable and future research in this area with a larger sample of participants would be a fruitful area of enquiry.

Given the common sense understandings that xenophobia is a "pathology" (Harris, 2002) found amongst economically marginalised people, we did not wish to re-inscribe this notion by using unemployed people in our sample as we examined xenophobic discourses. Instead, following Crush's (2001) findings that xenophobic sentiments are expressed by people from all classes of society, we chose to draw participants from diverse racial and educational/economic groups, yet who all had stable employment. However a degree of consistency was introduced by minimising age differences between participants. We are aware that, in even naming our participants' gendered, racial, educational and occupational statuses, we are reifying and homogenising such socially constructed groupings. Nevertheless, we feel a need to locate our participants in these ways due to the manners in which such locations continue to structure much of South African society and individual subjectivities. However it was interesting to note in the analysis how diversity of xenophobic expression was generally greater within each participant's interview than between participants. In other words, most participants drew on a wide range of both inclusive and exclusive discourses relating to "foreign" Africans. This resonates with the arguments of authors such as Wetherell and Potter (1992), Condor (2006) and Durrheim, Mtosi and Brown (2011), who assert that prejudice is a variable social accomplishment rather than a stable attribute of individuals.

By referring to "foreign Africans" and "South Africans" in the interview questions, racial and national binaries were pre-constructed by the interviewer. We view the subsequent meanings that were constructed in the interviews as co-constructed by the participants and the interviewer. Nevertheless, the interviewer attempted to gain consensus on meaning during the interviews by reflecting back to participants some of their statements in her own words, and by probing for further details at times. Particular care was taken in this process with participants for whom English was not their mother tongue.

Analysis in this study is inspired by Wetherell's (1998) synthetic discursive approach, which draws on both Foucauldian understandings of how power is mediated through institutionally based and historically contingent discourses, as well as paying attention to conversational dynamics which does justice to the interactive accountability which fuels the take up of subject positions within talk (Wetherell, 1998). This allows a view of people "as being both the products and producers of discourse" (Edley, 2001: 191). The analysis is structured according to three broad types of Self-Other relationships which were discursively constructed by the participants to link "citizens" and "foreigners" (Meehan, 2009). The analytical concepts of subject positioning (Davies & Harré, 1990), ideological dilemmas (Billig et al, 1988), and rhetorical work (Taylor & Littleton, 2006) are employed as analytical tools.

Meehan (2009: 47) discusses how individual and group identities are fashioned in relation to an outside Other, giving rise to varying types of Self-Other relationships: "other as different and threatening to the self ... other as different but inferior and therefore serviceable to the self ... other as both different from and similar to the self". These differing relational identities have varying consequences, from flexible openness to the Other, through to exploitation and exclusion of the Other, whilst enabling the Self to maintain a positive self identity.

Subject positioning focuses attention on how a person takes up or resists a particular position that a discursive practice opens up (Davies & Harré, 1990). This highlights the formative power of discourse, as available subject positions constrain the person's choices of ways of being. Positioning theory can be used to explain the multiple and discontinuous ways in which selves are produced, as individuals are "constituted and reconstituted through the various discursive practices in which they participate" (Davies & Harré, 1990: 47).

The notion of ideological dilemmas was introduced by Billig et al (1988), and it refers to how lived ideologies are comprised of contrary themes or discourses, which enable ongoing debate and thought (Edley, 2001). Ideological dilemmas ensure that constructions of Self and Other can never be fixed, but exist always in a state of dynamic tension between polar attributes.

Rhetorical work refers to the argumentative strategies that speakers employ to negotiate their accounts. It includes "'talking against' established ideas" (Taylor & Littleton, 2006: 24) and the assumed or stated positions of conversational partners in order to present contrasting opinions whilst maintaining a preferred subject position.

The internal validity, or trustworthiness, of the analysis was strengthened by the first author's attempts during the interviews to gain consensus on co-constructed meanings in the interviews. The textual material was examined rigorously in an attempt to remain grounded in the data, and the second author assisted with the analysis. Results of the analysis were compared with those of other discursive studies of prejudice and national identity construction, primarily those reported by Wetherell and Potter (1992), Meehan (2009), and Wodak et al (2009), and they were checked against other authors' theoretical understandings of South African xenophobia, in particular Crush (2001), Crush et al (2008) and Neocosmos (2008, 2010). Kvale and Brinkman (2009: 243) refer to this process as a means of obtaining a measure of objectivity through a process of "dialogical intersubjectivity", which is a process of "a communicative validation among researchers as well as between researchers and their subjects". Reflexivity about the first author's own positions during the interviews and analytical process was attempted in order to acknowledge her own contributions to the co-constructions of objects and subject positions (Parker, 2005).



The data analysis shows that as participants talked about the presence of African "foreigners" in South Africa with the interviewer, "foreigner"-"citizen" relationships were discursively constructed in ways that had consequences not only for ideological stances towards "foreigners", from flexible inclusivity through to exploitation and fearful exclusion, but also for the participants' own identity constructions. Specifically, relationships were constructed to enhance a positive self identity whilst enabling participants to maintain a sense of safety and protection through the habitation of familial subject positions, such as fraternal inclusivity ("they are our brothers and sisters"), paternalistic condescension ("a lot of them are good buggers") and childlike trust in the beneficence of a protective government ("the government cares about the people").

The relational constructions were located within two wider discourses, namely a cost/benefits discourse, which was discussed earlier, and a common humanity discourse. A common humanity discourse may be seen as part of a wider discourse of human rights, which emphasises an ethics of justice, and the conditions required "in which human potentials for personal development can thrive and flourish." (Thompson, quoted by Turner, 1997: 280). Whilst the interviewer drew on human rights notions in her questions, participants tended to draw specifically on a discourse of common humanity, which emphasises an ethics of care and reciprocity. Location within a cost/benefits discourse resulted in instrumental inclusion of beneficial "foreigners", and exclusion of "costly", or threatening "foreigners", while location within a common humanity discourse at times led to discursive inclusivity of "foreigners", but was often used to mask more exclusionary expressions. Analysis of the rhetorical work that was engaged in within the interviews revealed how participants negotiated ideological dilemmas arising from the twin usage of cost/benefits and common humanity discourses. The discussion below is structured according to the types of Self-Other relationships that were created.

"These are our brothers and sisters": African "foreigners" and South African "citizens" as members of a common humanity.

One relational arrangement positions "South Africans" and African "foreigners" within a common humanity discourse in a flexible relationship of both difference and similarity.

Wandile:3 "Nelson Mandela has told us that the people who came outside here in South Africa, they are our blood, you see, [mm], these are our brothers and sisters [mm], so we mustn't separate them from us [mm hmm] you know, because in bible [mm hmm] you know a human being [mm hmm] eh it's a person who created by God... they help us to learn more language and then we develop... e-even eh to the development of the country, you know like funds, eh like to doing the business, job opportunities, these guys when they when they are coming here they create the job opportunities for people who are not working."

Wandile's inclusive fraternal subject position with regard to "foreigners" ("they are our blood ... these are our brothers and sisters") establishes familial similarities, leading to a sense of safety, and his constructions of the differences between South Africans and other Africans show such differences to be unproblematically enriching on all levels: culturally, linguistically and economically. The interviewer's frequent backchannel affirmations [mm hmm] of these constructions reinforce the inclusivity of the talk. By discussing how "foreign" businesses create employment, Wandile speaks against two common understandings of the economic effects of migrants: firstly, that "foreigners" steal jobs or, at best, have an unfair business advantage; and secondly, that "foreign" businesses are instrumental or serviceable to individual "citizens" by providing goods at cheaper prices (see below). Whilst he doesn't deny the latter aspect, his focus is on the broader economic and cultural benefits of inclusivity, rather than on instrumentalist gains for individual South Africans. He thus refuses to take up a position within a cost/benefits discourse to consider potential instrumental or negative effects of the presence of African "foreigners". By appealing to South Africa's national moral paragon, Nelson Mandela, and by referring to biblical teaching, Wandile introduces a moral orientation (Bamberg, 2004) which is powerfully anti-xenophobic. He uses this orientation to construct himself as rational and moral, and in undercutting the notion of national uniqueness and difference, he establishes an untroubled subject position (Wetherell, 1998) of inclusive benevolence for himself.

Donna: "I will feel it if I go to another country, and people don't really talk to you just do their own thing [mm] or just police every time come, it's like this shops they have every time police in and out to check what they sell are they real CDs."

A relational construction of similarity within a common humanity discourse also allows for a position of compassion and understanding towards migrants. For example, by considering how "foreigners" are similar to herself, Donna is able to compassionately imagine the isolation, distrust and fear that many of them must experience in this country.

Pamela: "I never describe people as foreigners [mm], because we are all foreign to each other until we know each another."

In a neat inversion of tropes of similarity, Pamela refuses to engage with "foreigner"-"citizen" binaries, and instead speaks of universal alienation until people have meaningful contact with one another. A relational arrangement of equality, acknowledging both similarities and differences between "foreigners" and "citizens" thus enables flexible inclusivity and a breaking down of stereotypes.

"As long as they productive": African "foreigners" as serviceable to "citizens".

A second relational arrangement was within a cost/benefits discourse as participants spoke about the benefits that some African "foreigners" are able to provide, thus rendering them as serviceable to South African "citizens".

Gemma: "Well, some of them do have educations like doctors ... so I feel they also deserve to have a better life ... 'cuz not only will they benefit but we will also benefit from their skills ... as long as they productive and bring something to our country [mm hmm] I'm fine with that."

It is clear in this extract that only economically beneficial "foreigners" are deserving of the "better life" that is to be found in South Africa. The phrase "as long as" introduces the conditions under which "foreigners" are tolerated, and economic forces provide the mechanisms for the discursive policing of national boundaries. This rational, considered position constructs Gemma as reasonable and unprejudiced, while her bottom line instrumentalist argument ("as long as they productive") does not require any further justification (Augoustinos, Tuffin & Every, 2005). Ongoing prejudice against those deemed to be unproductive is thus justified and perpetuated.

Steve takes up a condescending paternalistic identity, using humanitarian language in his colonialist expressions about "cook boys" who are "good buggers" in need of help, while his racist language suggests that he feels more threatened by "black" South Africans than "black" "foreigners".

Steve: "I'm employing some Zimbabweans and you know um for chefs and things like that . they very good, you know, obviously, cook boys as they call them or whatever . and the South Africans are trying a lot to help them out, you know, you don't employ them just because you feel like it but you know it's more to help them out I mean a lot of them are good buggers they're pretty well educated [mm] not as useless as a lot of our chaps over here."

Steve's familial paternalistic subject position renders "foreigners" amenable to exploitation, whilst at the same time providing a moral justification for his instrumental relationships with them. His claim that "foreigners" are better employees than "our chaps" belies his altruistic assertion that South Africans employ "foreigners" purely "to help them out". African "foreigners" are clearly more useful to Steve than their "black" South African counterparts. Similarly, Monica uses familial discourses of magnanimity to conceal her exploitation of cheap foreign labour, assigning the parental identities to her mother and God while she takes up an identity of the obedient child in the extract below.

Monica: "Sometimes, ah, ((foreign)) women are coming and looking for a job, you see, I haven't got money ... ((but)) I take him and call and wash for me because my mother teach us to share ... I've got 50 bucks nê, they came and wash for me a clothes, and I give him 20 bucks [um hmm] you see? I don't mind about that [okay] and God bless me about that [yah], yes, yes."

These familial subject positions allow the participants to maintain a positive self-identity of altruism towards "foreign" Africans, whilst concealing exploitative actions. Within a focus on the economic benefits provided by African "foreigners", Monica told a story that introduces an unstated theme of economic threat, highlighting the complexities of these relationships.

Monica: "they know how to do a business [mm hmm] you see? They selling lots of things they open shops . So even me my cousin go to Durban to buy curtains and everything, they came here to sell curtains with ((for)) 700 nê [mm hmm], two meter, but those foreigners came here and sell curtains for us about 300 only [okay] you see? [Yah, okay]. Yes!"

She constructs "foreign" business people as superior entrepreneurs who provide goods more cheaply than their South African counterparts, and she concludes her story with an emphatic "Yes!" as if to suppress the inherent contradictions which are present here; namely that whilst the "foreigners" are economically beneficial to Monica, they are simultaneously an economic threat to her cousin, becoming interlopers in family relationships. The "foreigners" are thus both serviceable as well as threatening, creating ideological tension.

"They gonna come and corrupt our children": African "foreigners" as threatening to "citizens".

The third relational arrangement constructed African "foreigners" as a threat. Self-positioning within a common humanity discourse leads to inclusion and an opening up of boundaries. Maintenance of this positive positioning in the face of xenophobic anxiety is therefore reliant on the construction of "foreigners" as threatening in order to justify exclusionary practices solely by the characteristics of the "foreigner" (Meehan, 2009). This highlights one of the functions of negative Other constructions, as "foreigners" are weighted heavily on the "cost" side of a cost/benefits discourse. In this manner, participants engaged in the rhetorical practice of "dodging the identity of prejudice" (Wetherell & Potter, 1992: 211).

Participants constructed "foreigners" as costly or threatening along three main axes: economic (Donna: "You get four spaza shops all in one corner and that's putting ((South African)) business down"); a related sense of spatial "flooding" and depletion of resources (Adam: "Unskilled workers ... just want to come here and take away... it's a huge tide"); and criminal (Pamela: "Nigerians they bring drugs into the country"). A closer analysis of some of the ways in which participants dodged the identity of prejudice, yet expressed a desire to exclude "non-citizens" is showcased below.

In response to a question as to whether "foreigners" should have rights to use state resources, Monica continues to speak from within a cost/benefits discourse as she did in earlier extracts, but she shifts, through a process of deft footwork (Ribeiro, 2006), from positioning African "foreigners" as beneficial due to their economic assistance, to positioning them as costly as she blames them for the increase in crime.

Monica and Interviewer:

I: "And what about for police protection, children going to schools, hospitals, you think he can also go to all the things that South Africans have? ."

M: "I donno! (laughs) . I donno what can I say, because now when I ssssssit down and look and watch things are happening outside, things are not right [mm hmm] you see, bad things are happening now, but if you fight who's doing this? It's foreigner."

I: "Who's doing the? Fighting?"

M: "Foreigner."

I: "The foreigner" =

M: = "mm-mm not fighting, not fighting"=

I: = "I didn't understand?"

M: "To me now, nê, to stay in South Africa, but shame I donno what can I say, because they running from there, nê ... but now if you can see outside, ummm, example nê, from the radio ... last of last Monday ... there is a lady, children nê are playing in Joburg nê, one are missing, nê, [mm hmm] they found, police find them in the shack (pause) they found that man who's doing this (lowered voice) is a foreigners [Is it?]. They watching in that shack they finding (lowered voice) parts of the woman. [mm] ... Now foreigners ( ) lots of things now yes is is is okay is coming here to sell for us things, whatever, but other things [mm], is bad."

Monica's rhetorical strategies in this extract show a keen awareness of the interviewer's more powerful position as a "white", educated researcher, yet they function to enable her to subvert the interviewer's power and express an opposing opinion. She starts off tentatively ("I donno") and with laughter, possibly suspecting that her forthcoming constructions of "foreigners" will not be welcome, or else expressing her own ideological conflicts. She constructs her insights as rational, considered, and objective ("when I ssssssit down and look"), and her prolongation on the /s/ sound is suggestive of careful choosing of words as she presents a construction of "foreigners" that she may deem risky in the context of the avowedly anti-xenophobic institution where the interview takes place. She backtracks rapidly ("mm-mm not fighting") when the interviewer doesn't initially understand or agree with what she is saying, and she expresses pity for "foreigners" who are escaping from conflict, thereby constructing herself as a sympathetic person who would not wish to exclude anyone, and whose opinions are therefore trustworthy. However, the concrete example of a "foreigner" involved in crime, and not just petty crime but kidnapping, murder and dismemberment, gives a watertight negative answer to the question as to whether migrants should be granted various rights within South Africa.

Monica's "attitudinal variation" in the final phrase of this extract ("is okay is coming here to sell for us things, whatever, but other things is bad") serves the rhetorical function of justifying exclusionary practices while denying any socially unacceptable xenophobic attitudes (Durrheim & Dixon, 2004). Durrheim and Dixon (2004: 632) discuss how "the but introduces limiting conditions, which qualify the type of [inclusion] that is supported and specify the conditions under which [exclusion] is justified". This supports the nationalistic project of policing boundaries and determining who qualifies for which benefits (Neocosmos, 2010).

A poignant ideological dilemma is manifested below, as Donna is torn between constructing a Self-Other relationship of similarity, and one of threat.

Donna: "They also looking for that protection, that safety ... but the population is so huge, ah, it's it's overwhelming, ... it's scary, because as I say, they they they growing, they keep on coming in, ... hospitals are overloaded . it's confusing!"

Donna expresses confusion as she experiences both compassion for "foreigners", understanding their needs as similar to her own, but also tremendous fear from their apparently huge numbers, which she believes are still growing, and placing strain on state resources. Her feelings of threat arise from common perceptions of "foreigners" flooding the country and burdening already overstretched facilities, thereby reducing what is available for her. This implicates stereotypical notions that are circulated by political and media sources which blame malfunctioning state structures on the "foreign flood". With "foreigners" being constructed as part of our common humanity, South Africans are enjoined to a position of care and compassion towards them, whereas threatening constructions warrant their exclusion. These inconsistencies demonstrate "the contradictory and ambivalent nature of everyday sense-making practices around sensitive issues" (Augoustinos et al, 2005: 337).

Gemma tells an autobiographical story in the extract below in which she takes up a maternal subject position as she constructs herself as a concerned, protecting mother. Her reference to "our children" invokes the idea of a "national family" which needs to protect its vulnerable children from threatening outsiders. However she also takes up a personal maternal subject position as she talks about her own daughter. She uses this story and this position to justify her strong anti-"foreigner" sentiments when she explains how her 15 year old daughter obtained illegal drugs from a Nigerian and a Zimbabwean, and these narrative elements give rise to subjective feelings of fear and anger towards African "foreigners".

Gemma: "... and when we see them the first thing we think is they gonna come and corrupt our children ... I'm sorry if it feels like I'm picking on them but, it's just that (pause) my daughter and a friend they had an experience with a Nigerian and a Zimbabwean ... and she went to these people, and she got it ((drugs)) from them ... and, it was like a whole (pause) messed up situation ... And we had her checked out and bloods taken ((blood tests)) to make sure that she wasn't using, luckily she, we stopped her ( ) in time ... And it was one girl in the school that's, I think she was also she's also a Nigerian or something and she told them, about this guy where they could get stuff from."

Gemma's apology for "picking on them" serves the rhetorical function of excusing her from judgement for her xenophobic constructions. She uses generalised language to refer to the "link" girl in the school ("I think...she's also a Nigerian or something"), thus imputing the stereotype of the Nigerian drug dealer to be the source of her daughter's experimentation with drugs, and showing how the pervasive net of foreign contamination has even penetrated schools. There are two personal maternal positions present in this extract: that of the "failed mother" whose daughter has misbehaved, and that of the "good mother" who is concerned and protecting and who intervenes proactively to save her daughter ("we had her checked out ... luckily ... we stopped her in time"). Similarly there are two child subject positions present for Gemma's daughter: the "misbehaving child" who "went to these people", and the "vulnerable child" who "had an experience" and needs to be protected. Emphasis on the corrupting influence of "foreigners" wards off the "failed mother/misbehaving child" positions and foregrounds the "good mother/vulnerable child" positions - positions which are unassailable, and which are used in this context to display how exclusion of "foreigners" is absolutely necessary for the sake of our children. Positioning within a common humanity discourse can therefore be maintained whilst justifying exclusion.

In broadening our gaze to nationalistic discursive relationships, the images of concerned and protecting parents and vulnerable and obedient children function ideologically as a model for the imagined relationship between the modern nation state and its "citizens". The powerful, protecting state is tasked to act as a parent towards its vulnerable, child-like "citizens" by providing for them and protecting them from threats. In return, participants generally constructed South Africa in highly positive terms (Steve: "Where in the world can you do what we do over here?"; Pamela: "South Africa ... has got everything"), enabling them to aggregate this positivity to their own self identities, as suggested by social identity theory. However maintenance of nationalistic superiority requires protecting the nation from threat.

Gemma: "We in a position in our land to still change stuff, and make decisions, not like Zimbabwe and those places where the rulers is taking over the country and they don't care about the people [mm], the government ((here)) cares about the people and, they do support them."

In this extract, Gemma creates an imagined sense of communal utopia, using the personal pronoun "we" to form a "we-group" of homogenous "citizens" (Wodak et al, 2009). She assigns a position of benevolent parenthood to the government, creating an idealised national "family". However her reference to dictatorial rulers just over our borders indicates a fear of degeneration: South Africa's superiority in relation to other African countries is shown to be precarious, leading to a desire to protect and defend the country from "foreign" contamination. As Crush (2001: 118) cogently points out, "xenophobia is the underside of democratic nationalism".



Participants created three broad Self-Other relationships as they talked about African "foreigners": an inclusive relationship of flexible similarities and differences within a common humanity discourse; an instrumental or exploitative relationship within a cost/benefits discourse; and an exclusionary and threatened relationship, also within a cost/benefits discourse. As particular Self-Other relationships underpin and legitimise both state policies (Hansen, 2006) and individual actions, analysis of relational constructions between "foreigners" and "citizens" is crucial in the study of xenophobia. National identity was constructed by participants by the creation of an imagined community of fragile superiority over other African nations, resulting in a perceived need to protect and defend the nation from outsiders. This demonstrates how the exclusionary impulses of xenophobia function as a nation-building phenomenon.

The familial subject positions taken up by participants in relation to African "foreigners" resulted in differing action orientations, ranging from exclusion in order to maintain a sense of safety, through hidden exploitation under the guise of philanthropy, to inclusion. The discursive mobilisation of the metaphor of "family" serves to mirror ideological models of the function of the state as an imaginary unitary agency responsible for the protection of the community of citizenry from external threat. In so doing, the notion of "family" is used discursively to create community boundaries and provide the ideological justification for instrumental use or exclusion of African "foreigners".

In terms of rhetorical positioning in relation to the phenomenon of xenophobia, participants attempted to "dodge the identity of prejudice" (Wetherell & Potter, 1992) by constructing themselves as magnanimous yet portraying African "foreigners" as threatening, thereby justifying exclusion solely on the basis of the characteristics of the "foreigners". This leads to a disguised and normalised form of xenophobia that can be mobilised flexibly to maintain the privileges of the "citizens".

It is hoped that these findings can be used to further theoretical understandings of subject positioning and Self-Other relationships in the construction of nationally located subjectivities, as well to facilitate ongoing critical engagement with constructions of "citizens" and "foreigners" in academic and public discourses. This study has highlighted how positioning within a common humanity discourse may lead to more inclusivity, yet it is often used as a technique to "dodge the identity of prejudice", thereby veiling xenophobia. Therefore, ways of encouraging more reflexive positionings, and of reducing stereotypically negative constructions of African "foreigners" need to be explored.


The authors are indebted to Professor Catriona Macleod, as well as the PINS editor and two anonymous reviewers for their incisive comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this article.



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* Corresponding author
1 Whilst we acknowledge that all concepts and identity categories are socially constructed, we are placing the particular categories "citizen" and "foreigner", in inverted commas in order to problematise the bifurcation of residents of a country into those who belong and those who don't.
2 We note that many leaders in under-resourced areas have also actively resisted xenophobic violence. See the discussion below which considers the case of Khutsong township in the Merafong municipality, and informal settlements in Durban where the shack dwellers' movement Abahlali baseMjondolo had a strong presence during the 2008 attacks.

3 Transcript notations are based on a simplified version of those advocated by Silverman (2002).
[mm] - Backchannel responses by one speaker, uttered within the flow of the other speaker's speech;
((foreign)) - Word inserted by transcriber to clarify meaning;
( ) - Indecipherable speech;
= - No gap between the end of one speaker's utterances and the beginning of the next;
Underline - Vocal stress or emphasis.

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