Intersecting Discourses on Migration in the UK, Germany and Russia

This conference on Thursday 05 November 2015 explored immigration and migrant integration discourses and their influences on policy-making. The focus was on three countries: the UK, Germany and Russia. All three countries are important destination countries attracting large numbers of migrants and refugees. At the same time there are distinct differences in migration trajectories and responses across these three countries. The conference brought the different contexts of these three countries together,  to gain new insights into a topic of great relevance to society, particularly in the context of the current refugee and migrant crisis.

Keynote speakers

Professor Christian Joppke, University of Bern
- 'Citizenship Lite' Revisited

In a small book and article published in 2010, I argued that citizenship in the West was undergoing a process of "lightening": it has become easier to obtain, connotes fewer rights exclusively attached to it, and is capped by thin and thinning identities. In my presentation, I review the `citizenship lite` hypothesis in light of recent trends and scholarship.


Christian Joppke holds a Chair in General Sociology at the University of Bern, Switzerland. He is the author of more than one hundred publications, monographs and manuscripts, being among the most cited authors in the field of immigration. Joppke holds a PhD degree from the University of California at Berkeley, United States. Previous appointments include the University of Southern California, the European University Institute, the University of British Columbia, and International University Bremen.

Professor Ruth Wodak, University of Lancaster
- The discursive construction of 'strangers'

Inclusion and exclusion of migrants and refugees are renegotiated in the European Union on almost a daily scale: ever new policies defining and restricting immigration are proposed by European member states. A return to more local policies and ideologies can be observed, on many levels: traditions, rules, languages, visions, and imaginaries are affected. I claim that we are currently experiencing a re/nationalisation in spite of (or perhaps because of) multiple globalising tendencies (Wodak 2015) as well as a normalisation of exclusionary rhetoric. Moreover, recent heated political debates across Europe, about citizenship, language tests related to citizenship and immigration, and the construction of the immigrant as ‘the post-modern stranger’, coincide with the global financial crisis, the ‘refugee crisis’, and the crisis of the welfare state. We are dealing with global and glocal developments (Wodak 2010, 2011).  Post-nationalism (Heller 2011) and cosmopolitanism (Bauman 1999) have become utopian concepts. In my lecture, I will analyse recent developments in respect to immigration and asylum policies across Europe from a discourse-historical perspective, especially in respect to the current ‘refugee crisis’: The data - analysed both qualitatively and quantitatively - consist of a range of genres (focus group discussions, party programmes, TV documentaries, and election campaign materials).


Ruth Wodak is Em. Distinguished Professor of Discourse Studies at Lancaster University, UK. Besides many other prizes, she was awarded the Wittgenstein Prize for Elite Researchers in 1996. She was awarded the Kerstin Hesselgren Chair of the Swedish Parliament in 2008 and an Honorary Doctorate from University of Örebro in Sweden in 2010. In 2011, she was awarded the Grand Decoration in Silver for Services for the Austrian Republic. She is Past-President of the Societas Linguistica Europea, and member of the British Academy of Social Sciences and the Academia Europea. Recent book publications include The Politics of Fear. What Right-wing Populist Discourses Mean. (2015, London: Sage); The discourse of politics in action: ‘Politics as Usual’ (2011, Palgrave); Migration, Identity and Belonging (with G. Delanty, P. Jones, 2011), The Discursive Construction of History. Remembering the Wehrmacht’s War of Annihilation (with H. Heer, W. Manoschek, A. Pollak, 2008); The SAGE Handbook of Sociolinguistics (with B. Johnstone and P. Kerswill). See for more information on on-going research projects and recent publications.

Panel speakers

Dr Sybille Münch (Leuphana University)

Dr. Sybille Münch (Leuphana University Lüneburg) Constructing diversity in cross-urban perspective

Post-positivist policy analysts have emphasized the discursively constructed nature of categories such as 'race' and 'ethnicity' and their respective policy implications. While stressing that these concepts are not universal or objective but have to relate to specific contexts, most authors assume that boundaries of belonging are constituted by the nation state. This presentation on policy discourse in two German and two British cities challenges this 'methodological nationalism'. It treats the city as context for specific constructions of boundaries and identity and scrutinizes whether and if so how Birmingham, Glasgow, Frankfurt and Dortmund differ in how diversity is discursively constructed.

Dr. Münch is an Assistant Professor in Public Policy at the Leuphana University Lüneburg. Before that she held a Post-Doc position at the TU Darmstadt both as part of the project ‘Logic of the cities’ and at the Institute for Political Science. Her research focus has been on ethnic housing segregation in a comparative perspective, migration and the city, evaluation projects in relation to migration and disability as well as in the intercultural advice in the event of domestic violence and forced marriage.

Dr Riem Spielhaus (Friedrich-Alexander-University Nürnberg-Erlangen)

Dr. Riem Spielhaus (Friedrich-Alexander- University Nürnberg-Erlangen) Conceptualizing immigrants as Muslim: Current Debates on German Identity

Meanwhile the German citizenship law was opened for foreigners living in the countries since generations in 2000, the term Muslim entered both public debates and research agendas. It replaced other categories like ‘guest worker’ or ‘foreigner’ and contributed to specific shifts in public exchanges that since have been described as an Islamization of debates and individuals. Since then, German public debates about foreigners, immigrants and Islam have merged and increasingly rendered former ‘guest workers’ and their offspring along the lines of religious difference. This paper aims at disentangling the categories immigrant and Muslim and investigates where they are indeed connected in order to understand dominant paradigms of ongoing debates on German identity, religious pluralization and citizenship. It argues that research today needs to refrain from simply perpetuating political paradigms and instead ought to reflect the effects of dominant conceptualizations of Muslims as immigrants.

Dr. Spielhaus is a research fellow at the Erlanger Centre for Islam and Law in Europe (EZIRE). Before coming to the Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, she was a Post-Docfellow at the Centre for European Islamic Thought at the University of Copenhagen, where she was principal investigator of the metasurvey (entitled) "Polling Muslims - an investigation of quantitative surveys among Muslims in Western Europe". Dr. Spielhaus has been an advising member for the Ministry of the Interior during the German Islam Conference 2006-2009. Currently she researches on the legal recognition of Islam as a religious community in Germany, and on urban mosques in Germany and Europe and continues to be interested in reflecting contemporary knowledge production on Muslims in Europe.

Dr Galina Yemelianova (University of Birmingham)

Dr. Galina Yemelianova (University of Birmingham) Islamic Immigration to the Urals

Dr Galina M.Yemelianova is Senior Lecturer in Eurasian Studies at the Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Birmingham, UK. She has been researching and teaching on history and contemporary Islamic and ethno-national issues in Russia, the wide Eurasia and the Middle East for more than two decades.  Her publications include Yemen under the Ottoman rule, 1538-1635; Russia and Islam: A Historical Survey; Islam in post-Soviet Russia: Private and Public Faces (as co-editor and contributor); Radical Islam in the former Soviet Union (as editor and contributor) and Many faces of the Caucasus (as editor and contributor).

Dr John Round (University of Birmingham)

Dr. John Round (University of Birmingham) The precarious everyday of Moscow's labour migrants: rising xenophobia and the lingual construction of the migrant as a figure of disgust

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union Moscow has positioned itself as a global city (re)built on the profits of its energy boom and the efforts of, currently, over four million labour migrants, the majority from Central Asia. Far too many migrants endure an extremely precarious everyday as they are forced to live in what the paper describes as a city wide state of exception, within which legal frameworks protecting migrants are ignored or misinterpreted to the benefit of the market. Many migrants who desire ‘legality’ are forced into ‘illegality’ by their employers and landlords refusing to register their documents correctly, increasing their vulnerability. Based on in-depth qualitative research this paper explores the human rights abuses that labour migrants experience, ranging from arbitrary fines by the police, a total disregard for their workplace safety to xenophobic attacks. The research demonstrates that migrants are simultaneously visible and invisible to the state, as for the latter the legal uncertainty denies them access to welfare and a voice within the city but they are visible for exploitation both in terms of their labour and the political capital gained from their presence. Migrants, the paper demonstrates, are constructed as ‘illegal’ regardless of their documentation status and politicians, pandering to growing nationalistic sentiments, castigate the migrant body (in all meanings of the word) as ‘diseased’ or ‘criminal’, to be seen as separate from the rest of the city.

Dr. Round is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography. As a socio-economic geographer, his main research interest is concerned with how people/households develop tactics to cope with marginality in all its forms. His PhD examined how senior citizens survive in the Russian far north east city of Magadan in the face of extreme economic marginalization and hostile climatic conditions. After this he researched the experiences of middle aged men in St Petersburg in relation to changing notions of work in the early post-Soviet period. From this he developed an interested in informal economic practices as a coping tactic to economic exclusion and this led to a large scale project, funded by the ESRC, exploring the nature and role of the informal economy in Moscow and Kyiv concluding that informality is an integral part of the post-Soviet every day. John’s research is influenced by the work of Lefebvre in relation to (non)theories of the everyday and state/society relationships and de Certeau with regard to the construction, and difference between, the strategies and tactics of everyday life. In his research he also looked into how migrants access social welfare, such as health services; the precarious nature of their employment; problems with registration and housing and interactions with the state.

Professor Sergey Ryazantsev (The Russian Academy of Science, Moscow)

Professor Sergey Ryazantsev (The Russian Academy of Science, Moscow) The linguistic integration of migrants in Russia: myth and reality

This paper examines the issue of the integration of migrants coming from different ethnic backgrounds, whose numbers have considerably increased over the last twenty years, into Russian society. I identify the major issues in the integration of migrants into the Russian society. The primary idea of this paper is that for migrant integration to be a success in Russia it is necessary to spread the Russian language beyond its pale. The author problematizes the need for taking account of the language factor in social integration of migrants in Russia. Based on the results of the research in comparison with the findings of a number of foreign studies, this paper comes to the conclusion that there is a need for working out a state language programme specifically oriented towards migrants.

Professor Ryazantsev is Doctor of Economics and Head of the Center of Social Demography and Economic Sociology of the Institute of Socio-Political Researches of the Russian Academy of Sciences. His scientific interests focus on social-economic and demographic aspects of migratory processes in Russia and foreign countries as well as different aspects of migrants’ integration in Russia. He is author of more than 300 scientific publications, head and participant of the research projects executed for Ministry of Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation, the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, ILO, IOM, UNFPA and further organizations.

Dr Bastian Vollmer (University of Oxford)

Dr. Bastian Vollmer (University of Oxford) Representations of the UK Border in Public and Policy Discourses - A Corpus Driven Analysis

This paper analyses representations of the UK border (in relation to migration) in public and policy discourses. It uses methods from corpus linguistics and critical discourse analysis to compare the two discursive domains. A 26 million-word corpus of policy documentation and British newspaper articles published between 2007 and 2014 is examined using the analysis tool Sketch Engine and applying qualitative concordance analysis. The analysis reveals a key difference between the two domains: while the UK border is represented as a security concept in the policy corpus, the corpus of the public newspaper domain frequently and saliently represents the UK border as a concept dominated by insecurity. The paper argues that the European Union (EU) has played a role in contributing to this difference.

Bastian Vollmer is a Leverhulme Research Fellow at COMPAS. He is a member of the Flows and Dynamics, Citizenship and Belonging, and Welfare research clusters. His main research interests are migration processes (particularly irregular and transit migration); control mechanisms and securitization regimes of migration; border theory; discourse theory and discourse analysis. In the past, he held a research position at the Berlin Institute for Comparative Social Research where he conducted two research projects funded by the European Commission.

About the conference

The ESRC-funded conference 'Intersecting Discourses on Migration in the UK, Germany and Russia', is a student-led event at the University of Birmingham. The main aim of the conference is to bring together scholars and postgraduate students from across a variety of disciplines to discuss the different aspects of migration and integration discourses in a comparative perspective. Leading scholars from the UK, Germany, Switzerland and Russia are invited and will share their expertise by allowing for comparative understanding of different contexts and issues related to migration discourses and their policy impact in the relevant countries. The conference was organised with the support of the Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS) and the Institute for German Studies (IGS).