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'A phantom menace and the new Apartheid': the social construction of asylum-seekers in the United Kingdom

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Nick Lynn, Susan Lea

Original languageEnglish
Article numbern/a
Pages (from-to)425-452
Number of pages28
JournalDiscourse & Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2003

King's Authors


A succession of well-publicized incidents in Britain, and elsewhere, has highlighted the dilemma of refugees and seekers of asylum. A number of desperate human tragedies allied to some very dubious institutional practices and decisions have been a cause for concern. Drawing upon that vast corpus of information we call 'common knowledge', together with other more exclusive sources of knowledge, British national newspapers and their readers, among others, are involved in the social construction of asylum-seekers. Ideas of citizenship, identity and Nation-hood are employed within a variety of discursive and rhetorical strategies that form part of an 'elite' discourse, one that contributes to a 'new Apartheid'. This article presents a discursive and rhetorical analysis of letters written to British national newspapers by members of the public. Asylum-seekers find themselves [re]positioned and contrasted with a variety of other social groups in such a way as to justify disregarding some of the central tenets of British democracy. Dissenting voices and a 'counter' discourse are evident although very much a minority. It is argued that applied discursive work is necessary to bolster resistance and deconstruct the 'new Apartheid'.

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