“Refugees” or “migrants”? The power and politics of naming


The current (and long-standing) political, economic, and moral crisis facing Europe and the world as people move to avoid war, crippling economies, famine, and persecution, among other forms of oppression and inequality, sparks debates about how to define or discursively position people on the move: “refugees”, “migrants”, “asylum seekers”, “immigrants”, etc.

As the following editorials reveal, discourse and “mere words” matter because the people they include or exclude matter.

Carling, J. (2015). Refugees are Also Migrants. And All Migrants Matter. (Accessed 4.9.15).
Sengupta, S. (2015). Migrant or Refugee? There Is a Difference, With Legal Implications. The New York Times, World Section (27.8.15) (Accessed 4.9.15).
Taylor, A. (2015). Is it time to ditch the word ‘migrant’? The Washington Post, World Views Section (24.8.15) (Accessed 4.9.15).
Ruz, C. (2015). The battle over the words used to describe migrants. BBC News Magazine (28.8.15) (Accessed 4.9.15).
Marsh, D. (2015). We deride them as ‘migrants’. Why not call them people? The Guardian (28.8.15) (Accessed 4.9.15).

See also this text from Agnes Bodis (Macquarie University) entitled “Who is a real refugee?” (23.9.15)

In it, Bodis looks at how historical experience, argumentation and metaphors have contributed to creating a powerful anti-migration discourse in Hungary and Europe as a whole. Bodis also draws on Ruth Wodak’s (2001) discourse-historical work exploring anti-Semitic and populist discourse in Austria. Wodak, R. (2001). The discourse-historical approach. In R. Wodak & M. Meyer (Eds.), Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis (Vol. 63-94). London: Sage

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