Anti-Immigrant Feeling in Spain

By Olmos, Juan Carlos Checa; Garrido, Ángeles Arjona | Polish Sociological Review, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Anti-Immigrant Feeling in Spain


Olmos, Juan Carlos Checa, Garrido, Ángeles Arjona, Polish Sociological Review


Abstract: In just a few decades, with the arrival of immigrants from many different places, Spain has become a multi-ethnic society. Facing these increased streams has been a huge challenge to Spanish society. This article examines the evolution of feelings toward immigration in Spain (2000-2007) with data from a country-wide survey. The results show increasing hostility toward immigrants. The variables that contribute most to explaining this phenomenon are competition and threat, both individual (salaries, jobs or welfare resources) and group (national identity).

Keywords: xenophobia, competition, threat, insecurity, national identity.

Introduction

Ethnicity and multiculturalism are the two subjects that have contributed the most literature to the social sciences in recent years (Gilmartin 2008; Kymlicka y Shapiro 1997; Parekh 2000; Portes y DeWind 2004; Rex y Singh 2006). Wieviorka (1994) explains this as a break with the evolutionist illusion that modernity would eventually eliminate particularism. The "ethnic myth" (Steinberg 1989) has not only been eclipsed, but there has been a great boom in discourse and movements associated with cultural identity. In the framework of such discourse and practices, tense intergroup relations among members of the "majority," understood as the national population, and the "minority," equivalent to part of the foreign immigrants, 1 often derive in xenophobic behavior.

Spain has become one of those new migrant host societies2 where the population is a melting pot generating anti-immigrant sentiments (Cea D'Ancona 2005; Diez Nicolás 2005; Pérez Yruela and Desrues 2005). On one hand, politics and public opinion contribute through discourse based on "playing with the numbers," that is, through exaggerating them or presenting them out of context and, on the other hand, through presenting the hazard to stable employment, and loss of cultural identity and public safety. This is apparent based on the fact that in the last decade, all national barometers prepared by the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (Center for Sociological Research) (CIS), have presented immigration as a problem varying from the first to the fourth degree in Spain, along with unemployment, terrorism and housing, reaching highpoints during immigrant legalization processes (2001 and 2005). At times this qualified as a "social emergency" equivalent to other "alarms," such as drugs, delinquency, etc., and these social perceptions and cognitions have obviously been translated into discriminatory attitudes and behavior, hostility and even violence.3

Considering what was mentioned above, the aims of this article are first to verify the evolution of anti-immigrant feeling in Spain over the decade from 1997-2007, in which periods of economic recession and low immigration rates combine with those of economic expansion and high immigration rates. And second, to find out what the main variables defining feelings are.

Explanations for Attitudes toward Immigrants

There are several theories which attempt to define anti-foreign and discriminatory feeling (see Wimmer 1997), but following recent research, we are going to concentrate on the feeling of threat and competition for resources.

The main element in the competition model argues that attitudes toward the out-group are formed when there is a struggle between groups for power, resources and group identity, leading to feelings of threat and insecurity. Such emotions are expressed in frustration and/or aggression, arguing that granting rights to foreigners is detrimental to natives. Thus the perception of threat determines an instrumental model of conflict, which designs discriminatory strategies to increase the opportunities for the national population. The foreigner is perceived as a threat most during crises, and the idea that social rights for foreigners have to be restricted is reinforced.

Furthermore, this concern for threat is not constant, but varies depending on different scales and variables. …

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