Media constructions of ‘migrants’ who cross the English Channel by boat

Analysing the weighted language and media response to increased refugee activity in the UK, specifically addressing the British media's language use when constructing refugees who cross the English Channel by boat. 

Media constructions of migrants large


Research background

In the summer of 2015, the world’s media reported daily on the dangerous journeys of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea by boat.  Much of this reporting was found to be negative and portrayed refugees as threats to Europe rather than as people in need of support. Discursive Psychology  (DP) has been used to study the language used by politicians (e.g. Charteris-Black, 2006) and the general public (e.g. Goodman and Burke, 2010) when talking about refugees and has also more recently been used to analyse the talk of refugees themselves (e.g. Kirkwood et al., 2013; Parker, 2018). A number of studies (e.g. Pickering, 2001; Parker, 2015) have also looked at the language used by the print and broadcast media when talking about refugees which suggests that refugees are constructed using discourses of criminality with war and water metaphors commonly used to construct accounts of invading forces that are a threat to other countries. Goodman et al. (2017) investigated the changing discursive construction of the ‘refugee crisis’ between 2015 and 2016. They found that it was initially constructed as a “Mediterranean migrant crisis” which presented those involved as “migrants” to be prevented from reaching Europe. Later in 2015, they found a change in reporting to a “Calais migrant crisis” in which migrants were constructed as a threat to UK security. Towards the end of the period, they found that the language had once again changed and was now being constructed as a “European migrant crisis”, implying an ongoing threat to the whole of Europe. 

Over the past year, whilst refugees have continued to cross the Mediterranean Sea by boat, an increasing number of refugees have also attempted to cross the English Channel which the British media have often referred to in ‘crisis’ terms. This research will, therefore, analyse the language used in this reporting to determine whether it functions in similar ways to report on the wider ‘crisis’.

Research aims 

This project will seek to answer the following research questions:

  • How do the UK media discursively construct individuals crossing the English Channel by boat?
  • How is the ‘crisis’ framed and who is constructed as to blame for the ‘crisis’?

Research methods 

This project will collect data from British newspapers from the first reporting of the ‘crisis’ in December 2018 through to December 2019. Each of the articles will be analysed using discourse analysis.

This project is ongoing.


Charteris-Black, J. (2006). Britain as a container: Immigration metaphors in the 2005 election campaign. Discourse & Society17(5), 563-581.

Goodman, S., & Burke, S. (2010). ‘Oh you don’t want asylum seekers, oh you’re just racist’: A discursive analysis of discussions about whether it’s racist to oppose asylum seeking. Discourse & Society21(3), 325-340.

Goodman, S., Sirriyeh, A., & McMahon, S. (2017). The evolving (re) categorisations of refugees throughout the “refugee/migrant crisis”. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology27(2), 105-114.

Kirkwood, S., McKinlay, A., & McVittie, C. (2013). ‘They're more than animals’: Refugees' accounts of racially motivated violence. British journal of social psychology52(4), 747-762.

Parker, S. (2015). ‘Unwanted invaders’: The representation of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and Australian print media. ESharp23(1), 1-21.

Parker, S. (2018). “It's ok if it's hidden”: The discursive construction of everyday racism for refugees and asylum seekers in Wales. Journal of community & applied social psychology28(3), 111-122.

Pickering, S. (2001). Common sense and original deviancy: News discourses and asylum seekers in Australia. Journal of Refugee Studies14(2), 169-186.