At a time of rising right-wing populism, the heightened political salience of immigration as an issue is linked to conceptions of ‘the national’. In this article, we analyse tweets from non-elites, defined as isolated users with low network influence, engaged in a ‘conversation’ about migration on Twitter. We investigate the values embedded in these attitudes, and what these tell us about constructions and contestations of the symbolic boundaries of the nation amongst ordinary people. Our corpus includes tweets posted in temporal proximity to the lifting of transitional controls on Romanian and Bulgarian migrants in the UK (1 October 2013 to 1 March 2014). Thematic analysis reveals a cohesive set of anti-immigrant/immigration sentiments linked to UKIP and that express an exclusionary nationalism based on assumptions about race, ‘whiteness’ and entitlement. Also evident is a counter-narrative of pro-immigration sentiments that draw on multiple and sometimes contradictory values. Some of these values contest racialized understandings of the nation but do not coalesce in ways to disrupt the dominance of right-wing anti-immigrant sentiments on Twitter. Our findings demonstrate the importance of investigating values embedded in both anti and pro-immigration attitudes amongst non-elites and what these values indicate about the possibilities of re-framing migration debates amongst non-elites in ways that construct more inclusive symbolic national boundaries. Additionally, in using the networked properties of Twitter engagement to identify non-elite users, we make a methodological contribution to scholarship on immigration attitudes.
- politics of belonging