Place, belonging and citizenship: an analysis of UK anti-immigration discourses and asylum seeker and refugee populations' photovoice accounts

Student thesis: Phd


Immigration continues to be framed as a key social and political issue in the UK. Dominant anti-immigration discourses construct asylum seeker and refugee populations as threatening, dishonest, criminal, racialised Others or as victims, through frames of tragic and immense suffering, where people are silenced as agentic critical subjects. This thesis focuses on dominant anti-immigration discourses, and explores the way that hostile discourses, and political landscapes are lived, experienced and resisted by asylum seeker and refugee populations in the UK. It aims, firstly, to critically analyse social survey questions that set out to capture attitudes to immigration, in order to examine how dominant immigration narratives are constructed and enabled. Secondly, it aims to explore the ways in which asylum seeker and refugee populations self-represent their experiences of place, belonging and citizenship contra to dominant immigration narratives. Key research questions include: How do social surveys measure public attitudes towards immigration, and how do they configure the relationship between identity, immigration and race? Do asylum seeker and refugee populations contest dominant narratives surrounding the categories place, belonging and citizenship, and, if so, how? Where do spaces and opportunities for resistance emerge? The thesis draws on empirical research that involves two studies. Study One was a critical discourse analysis of social survey question items that aim to capture attitudes towards immigration and semi-structured interviews with expert survey managers and methodologists. Drawing on Foucaults' theory of discourse, as well as critical race and post-colonial theory, the findings suggest that, even in many high-quality surveys, a 'white' identity is framed as the norm and negative, exclusionary narratives of 'Self' and 'Other' can be reinforced. In one survey question attitudes towards migrants are asked about alongside social problems such as crime and alcohol addiction which, it is argued, replicates colonial constructions of civility/savagery. Whilst some of the language of identity and difference has changed over time, the overall negative narrative framing of immigration remains the same. It can therefore be questioned whether surveys are capturing peoples' attitudes towards migrants in an objective way or whether survey questions are perpetuating harmful, racialised narratives. Study Two was a photovoice project, which also included walking interviews and exploratory participant led sound recordings, with thirty members of the asylum seeker and refugee population, exploring participants' self-representations of place, belonging and citizenship. The evidence from the photovoice project documents the multiple and complex ways in which anti-immigration narratives, and configurations of race, migration, belonging and citizenship, play out in the lives of asylum seeker and refugee populations through their experiences of bordering and exclusion. The findings also highlight subtle ways in which the participants resisted and challenged dominant, exclusionary narratives (including those found in social survey questions) through everyday practices of place-making and belonging. The thesis also documents the way participants further claimed and (re)produced place by taking photographs and sharing them with me and other participants. Furthermore, participants made political testimony to their right to have rights through the medium of photography. With their photographs participants created an alternative narrative of asylum that was demonstrative of agency, self-determination, belonging and hope. Therefore, the thesis documents where engagement in photovoice creates opportunities and possibilities for resistance. The empirical work presented within this thesis questions the legitimacy and dominance of racialised immigration narratives in the UK by providing an alternative framework to think about this group as active
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorKingsley Purdam (Supervisor) & Aoileann NĂ­ MhurchĂș (Supervisor)


  • Immigration
  • Race
  • Citizenship
  • Belonging
  • Discourse
  • Resistance
  • Photovoice
  • Asylum
  • Place

Cite this