The term refugee archetype refers to a set of stereotypical notions of refugees and displaced people that is typically evoked through the ways in which these groups are framed in the media. Marta Szczepanik (2016, 32) argues that mass media distribute a “[publicly] imagined ‘refugee ideal,’” which is based on a “universal set of normative characteristics (such as poverty, passivity or helplessness, [and] gender-related behaviour patterns).” This set then generates a “normative ‘refugee archetype’” (24) that underlies debates on whether migrants, and especially asylum seekers, are “legitimate” and hence “deserving” refugees or not (De Coninck 2020).
The archetype of a “deserving refugee” is characterized by a strong bias concerning various dimensions of a migrant’s identity, including their gender, race, ethnicity, and origin. According to Szczepanik (2016), women refugees and displaced children are typically depicted as vulnerable, passive victims, who are in urgent need of help and protection, whereas male migrants are “repeatedly portrayed as [a] dangerous, barbaric collective” (24), who mainly seek to abuse social welfare systems (26). Research on media coverage of migration, moreover, reveals that European mass media tend to present refugees from non-European countries as potentially endangering Western values or the European way of life (Arcimaviciene and Hamza Baglama 2018; Schröter 2023, 28–29). By reproducing and perpetuating refugee archetypes, mass media can contribute to endorsing the (problematic) view that a “good refugee” is “female, poor, helpless, and from a specific country,” while “bad refugees” are “people who intend to abuse the social welfare system of welcoming European countries, and who lack all the attributes of good refugees” (De Cock et al. 2018, 306).
⇢ see also Frame analysis (aka framing analysis), Frames of migration, Gender, Othering, Race and racism, Victimization
References and further reading:
Arcimaviciene, Liudmila, and Sercan Hamza Baglama. 2018. “Migration, Metaphor and Myth in Media Representations: The Ideological Dichotomy of ‘Them’ and ‘Us.’” SAGE Open April-June 2018: 1–13.
De Cock, Rozane, Stefan Mertens, Ebba Sundin, Lutgard Lams, Valeriane Mistiaen, Willem Joris, and Leen d’Haenens. 2018. “Refugees in the News: Comparing Belgian and Swedish Newspaper Coverage of the European Refugee Situation During Summer 2015.” Communications 43.3: 301–323.
De Coninck, David. 2020. “Migrant Categorizations and European Public Opinion: Diverging Attitudes Towards Immigrants and Refugees.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 46.9: 1667–1686.
Schröter, Juliane. 2023. “The Austrian Press Discourse on Refugees, Migrants, and Migration: A Corpus Linguistic Approach.” In: The Representation of REFUGEES and MIGRANTS in European National Media Discourses from 2015 to 2017: A Contrastive Approach (Corpus Linguistics), edited by Annamária Fábián, 23–66. Berlin: Springer Nature.
Szczepanik, Marta. 2016. “The ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Refugees? Imagined Refugeehood(s) in the Media Coverage of the Migration Crisis.” Journal of Identity and Migration Studies 10.2: 23–33.
Work Package: 2, 4, 5
[BBK / CG]