The Open UniversitySkip to content

Xenophobic Violence and Struggle Discourse

Kerr, Philippa; Durrheim, Kevin and Dixon, John (2019). Xenophobic Violence and Struggle Discourse. Journal of Asian and African Studies (Early Access).

DOI (Digital Object Identifier) Link:
Google Scholar: Look up in Google Scholar


This paper argues that xenophobia in South Africa is entangled in discourses of liberation struggle, which are often used to justify anti-foreigner violence. We first examine some existing academic explanations for xenophobia, namely internalised racism, poverty/inequality, nationalism, and township and informal settlement politics. To avoid deterministically explaining xenophobia as ‘caused’ by any of these factors, however, we introduce a concept from social psychology, the concept of ‘working models of contact’. These are common frames of reference in which contact between groups is understood in terms of shared meanings and values. Xenophobic violence is not caused but instantiated in ways that are explained and justified according to particular understandings of the meaning of the ‘citizen-foreigner’ relationship. We then review three case studies of xenophobic violence whose perpetrators constructed a model of contact in which African ‘foreigners’ were undermining the struggles of South Africans in various socio-economic contexts. We also examine three cases where xenophobic violence was actively discouraged by invoking an inclusive rather than divisive form of struggle discourse. Thus the nature of the struggle itself becomes contested. We conclude by considering some dilemmatic implications that our analysis provokes.

Item Type: Journal Item
Copyright Holders: 2019 The Authors
ISSN: 1745-2538
Keywords: xenophobia; anti-xenophobia; struggle; working models of contact; determinism; South Africa
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) > Psychology
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)
Item ID: 61699
SWORD Depositor: Jisc Publications-Router
Depositing User: Jisc Publications-Router
Date Deposited: 11 Jun 2019 10:12
Last Modified: 19 Jun 2019 09:13
Share this page:


Altmetrics from Altmetric

Citations from Dimensions

Actions (login may be required)

Policies | Disclaimer

© The Open University   contact the OU