Derived from the Greek words xeno, meaning “foreigner,” “stranger,” or “guest,” and phobia, meaning fear, xenophobia literally refers to a phobic attitude toward foreigners. However, “phobia” in this context is not meant in the clinical sense but rather refers to a part of the network of racist ideologies predicated on discriminatory discourse and practice. Xenophobia is thus a term that describes fear or prejudice with respect to something or someone perceived as “foreign” or “other.” As such, xenophobia is an exclusionary logic whose focus is primarily cultural, being directed toward those artifacts or cultural expressions considered somehow ”different.” As with all discriminatory ideologies, xenophobia constructs a hierarchical order of people and cultures.
As xenophobia both maintains and constructs such social and cultural boundaries, it can entail a deliberate or unconscious misrecognition of other cultures. Indeed, the designation of certain attributes to other cultures expresses power in itself, as meanings can be imposed on one group by a more dominant group. Given this broad definition, xenophobia could be generalized to a wide range of social situations, but primarily it operates as an ideological basis for nationalism (when such discourses devalue and stigmatize the cultures of other nations) and for related anti immigrant discourses. Accordingly, xenophobia underpins much of the ideology of right wing political parties that emphasize cultural difference and perpetrate the myth of cultural incompatibility. By framing their arguments in terms of real or imagined cultural differences, radical right populist parties have increasingly used xenophobic discourse to ”legitimate” their racist policies.
Some commentators have suggested the existence of ”xenoracism,” a confluence between xenophobia and racism, which is not only directed at black and minority ethnic groups and individuals but also is a ”xenophobia that bears all the marks of the old racism, except that it is not colourcoded” (Sivanandan 2001: 2). The displacement of poor white populations forced to seek asylum has shifted the focus of right wing political parties toward these dispossessed communities; the concept of ”xenoracism” is useful for analyzing the growing racism in popular media and political discourses directed toward white people seeking asylum. Xenophobia is an important concept for sociologists and political theorists researching how such categorizations of the ”other” are constructed and subsequently stigmatized or devalued.
- Baumgartl, B. & Favell, A. (Eds.) (1995) New Xenophobia in Europe. Kluwer, London. Betz, H.-G. (1994) Radical Right Wing Populism in Western Europe. Macmillan, London.
- Eatwell, R. (2003) Ten Theories of the Extreme Right. In: Merkl, P. H. & Weinberg, L. (Eds.), The Extreme Right in the Twenty First Century. Frank Cass, London.
- Fekete, L. (2001) The Emergence of Xeno-Racism. Race and Class 43(2): 23-40.
- Mudde, C. (2000) The Ideology of the Extreme Right. Manchester University Press, Manchester.
- Rydgren, J. (2004) The Logic of Xenophobia. Rationality and Society 16(2): 123-48.
- Sivanandan, A. (2001) Poverty is the New Black. Race and Class 43(2): 1-5.
- Triandafyllidou, A. (2001) Immigrants and National Identity in Europe. Routledge, London.
- Van Dijk, T. (2001) Ideology: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Sage, London.
Back to Sociology of Race