BRIDGES Working Paper nº. 26

Comparative analysis of migration narratives in political debate and policymaking

Publication date:
Saskia Smellie and Christina Boswell

BRIDGES Working Paper nº 26 (January 2024)

The concept of ‘narratives’ has gained traction in migration research across the social sciences in recent years. However, we still know comparatively little about how narratives on migration influence public political debate and policymaking. This report, produced in the framework of BRIDGES Work Package 7, analyses how different narratives on migration shape and are deployed in political debate and policymaking. It investigates how political actors process salient narratives on migration that emerge in the public and political domain and how they inform policy. In order to understand these dynamics, we draw on six national reports on migration narratives in France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. We compare the analysis of narratives during two periods of intense debate: first, the 2015 European ‘migration crisis’, focusing on narratives related to EU relocation, and second, narratives on the Ukrainian refugee crisis in 2022. Deploying a unique methodology to trace government strategies for responding to narratives, we trace how narratives were embraced, adapted, overlooked, or explicitly rejected by actors in political debate and policymaking venues. The analysis draws on extensive and systematic content analysis of newspaper articles, parliamentary debates, and policy documents supplemented by interviews with officials. Key findings include the role that the media played in setting the (humanitarian) narrative agenda in both cases, the strategic deployment of narratives by political actors to strengthen political agendas, and a lack of the anticipated rhetorical ‘decoupling’ between narratives in the public political sphere and policymaking venues.

Keywords: migration, narratives, politics, policymaking, France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Spain, United Kingdom, comparative analysis