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Trying to Ignore the Bullies and the Buzz: A Critical Discursive Study of How Pro-migration Activists Cope with and Contest Right-Wing Nationalist Interference

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This chapter focuses on how asylum-seeker activists and their allies cope with and contest right-wing nationalist rhetoric and interference. The empirical material, consisting of research interviews with migrant activists and an analysis of posts from two pro-migration Facebook pages, is set in a framework in which media studies, social movement studies and discursive psychology intersect. The chapter identifies three discursive manoeuvres through which pro-migration activists resist right-wing nationalist interference and position themselves vis-à-vis the antagonism they face: denying fear, constructing safe spaces and focusing the narrative on the State. Through these manoeuvres, a position is established whereby asylum seekers are not reduced to passive victims or grateful wanderers. Rather, they are presented as self-empowered political figures who anchor their hopefulness in the collective endeavour of creating societal change. The findings bring to the fore the interplay between psychologically aligned coping mechanisms and strategic communication on the one hand, and face-to-face communication and digital interaction on the other.


  • Migrant activism
  • Positioning theory
  • Coping strategies
  • Right-wing antagonism

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-89066-7_5
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  1. 1.

    In the geographic, political and temporal context concerned, right-wing ethnonationalism can be understood broadly as an ideological movement ‘anchored in the nostalgic longing for an ethnically homogenous past that never quite existed’ (Hellström et al., 2020, 2).

  2. 2.

    ‘There are Finns who are not as calm as we are, so please come and burn that fucking [migrant] camp’ is an extract used by Laaksonen et al. (2020, 184) to exemplify the content in these right-wing nationalist videos.

  3. 3.

    My understanding of ‘hybrid’ is aligned Andrew Chadwick’s (2017) theory of hybrid media systems. ‘Blended’ has mostly been used within pedagogics for describing a milieu where the online lived realities merge with the offline but the notion has recently gained ground also within other disciplinary traditions (e.g. Granholm, 2016).

  4. 4.

    Acknowledging that the right to conceptualise racism is an act of power exercising in itself (Hesse, 2004; Lentin, 2020; Stoler, 2002), I understand racism as a system of power in and through which difference is organized unfairly according to such criteria as ethnic, racial, religious and/or cultural backgrounds, affiliations and/or features that intertwine with other categorisations such as class, status, gender and sexuality. This system has historical roots, but contemporary prevalence and it disadvantages some individuals, communities and regions and unfairly advantages others. This system of power affects also digital or hybrid environments since social media platforms and various actors on these platforms can function as amplifiers and manufacturers of unfair hierarchisations (see Matamoros-Fernández, 2017, 11).

  5. 5.

    The movement was initially linked to an organisation with a left-wing agenda (Vapaa Liikkuvuus, meaning ‘free movement’). However, in both the research interviews and in public statements, this link was downplayed, perhaps because the broader anti-capitalist left-wing agenda failed to fully resonate with migrant activists (as argued by Simin Fadaee, 2015, in another political and geographic context) or perhaps because political claims focusing on migration and deportation were reckoned to have more influence on public opinion than a broader agenda.

  6. 6.

    The guide for the semi-structured interviews was assembled by me. The interviews lasted from 20 minutes to one hour and were all transcribed verbatim. The interviews were conducted in English as the individuals selected for the interviews had good or adequate English skills. The informants were selected and interviewed by research assistant Erna Bodström. The two sets of material are part of a larger pool of material from the demonstration that also includes interviews with Finnish activists, ethnographic notes, mainstream media material and big data from social networking services (see e.g. Haavisto, 2020; Laaksonen et al., 2021). In line with discourse theorist Christine Griffin (2007), I rely on contrived material in a DP-setting since ‘No talk or other practice is “natural” in the sense of being unmediated/…/’ (ibid., 248).’

  7. 7.

    Although the use of images and graphics are essential for the formation of social and political identities, I focus my analyses on textual elements.

  8. 8.

    Whether these commenters are asylum seekers who arrived in Finland in 2015–2016 or earlier, we cannot know. Neither do we know, generally speaking, whether people are using their real names on Facebook. Further, because names are not a reliable indicator of someone’s background, these numbers must be interpreted with caution.

  9. 9.

    A more general analysis of how commenters used emoticons on the two pages showed that posts received on average 57 emoji reactions (likes, dislikes, etc.), ranging from 0 to 672 reactions. The most popular post in terms of having received the most emoticon reactions is a bilingual (Finnish and English) post on Refugee Hospitality Club from 24 February 2017 sharing that Pekka Haavisto and Erkki Tuomioja, two influential Finnish politicians, came to visit the Right to Live demonstration.

  10. 10.

    Goodman et al. (2015) have written about how asylum seekers manage talk about returning home by highlighting the importance of safety. It is noteworthy that the informants of my study do the same to manage talk about threats in the Finnish society.

  11. 11.

    Yasim: ‘I think there is no leader in the demo. Cause every person he, know his job, in the demo, and we cannot continue without him. So every member in the demo he, do his job. He’s the leader in his position. So, we are just one family, trying to, fix this misery in Finland’.


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This study was conducted as part of the Academy of Finland project Anti-Racism Under Pressure: Social Movements, NGOs and their Mediated Claims-Making in Finland (2013–2016/2018) in collaboration with the Academy of Finland consortium Racisms and Public Communications in the Hybrid Media Environment (HYBRA) (2016–2019). The help of my research assistants, Juho Pääkkönen and Erna Bodström, was crucial in the collection and organisation of the empirical material.

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Correspondence to Camilla Haavisto .

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Haavisto, C. (2022). Trying to Ignore the Bullies and the Buzz: A Critical Discursive Study of How Pro-migration Activists Cope with and Contest Right-Wing Nationalist Interference. In: Pettersson, K., Nortio, E. (eds) The Far-Right Discourse of Multiculturalism in Intergroup Interactions. Palgrave Studies in Discursive Psychology. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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