Discursive contructions of threat and the implications for social identity in a sample of African foreigners living in Pietermaritzburg.
Drawing on seventeen group interviews with African foreign nationals living in Pietermaritzburg, this thesis explores how a minority group talks about their experiences of threat and prejudice within the South African context. The main aim of this thesis is to provide a contextualised study of foreigners’ understanding and experiences of threat, by studying how threat operates in a disempowered minority group’s narratives and exploring the social identity work or outcomes that are so achieved. Since threat may constitute an important dimension of the intergroup relations between foreigners and citizens, attention is paid to how threat is employed in foreigners’ narratives of intergroup relations with South African citizens. The exploration of these constructions is important as this signifies a move away from understanding and studying threat in a purely quantitative way. This has meant that the rhetorical, action-oriented function of threat in narrative has been emphasised over the reduction of threat to a psychological state amenable to quantitative measurement. The study of participants’ constructions reveal how threat is put together in narrative and demonstrates that constructions of threat may fulfil an important function in informing foreigners’ constructions about what they can do as a disempowered minority group living in South Africa. Hence, this thesis argues for an alternate, more indepth, way of understanding and studying intergroup relations, threat and the social identity of a minority group in a specific social context. The study uses terms from Stephan and Stephan’s (2000) Integrated Threat Theory to orient this piece of work in this field, but differs from traditional studies that have employed the theory as it focuses on discursive construction and the implications for social identity. The findings are also linked to the various options available to minorities, as highlighted by Tajfel and Turner (1979). The study allows for the voices of a marginalised group to be heard and also shows how threat can be discursively worked up in narrative and how the social positions and strategies adopted by foreigners both constrain and are discursively constrained by narrated constructions and theories of threat and intergroup life.
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