Unveiling the Complex Tapestry of Immigration Discourse: A Comparative Study Between Canada and Italy

By Lilian Negura, School of Social Work, University of Ottawa, and Annamaria de Rosa, University Sapienza of Rome 

Funded by SSHRC (Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) for 2020-2023 

The topic of immigration has long been a point of contention globally, but its portrayal and perception can differ significantly from one nation to another. This divergence is precisely what an ongoing collaborative research project between Canada and Italy seeks to explore. Led by social work researchers Lilian Negura from the School of Social Work in Canada and Annamaria de Rosa from the University Sapienza of Rome, the project analyzes the discourse on immigration in political institutions, humanitarian organizations, NGOs, and among political leaders and citizens. 

Background: a tale of two countries 

In Canada, immigration is generally less polarizing, finding bipartisan support across political parties. The Canadian electorate, comprising 40% first- and second-generation immigrants, largely shares this inclusive stance. However, researchers argue that humanitarian aspects are often overshadowed by Canada's focus on economic benefits. 

Contrastingly, the European Union—and Italy, in particular—faces growing tensions around immigration, with the populist Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S) and the right-wing Party Lega per Salvini Premier (LPS) adopting legislative measures against it. 

Key findings: discourse and dilemmas 

The project has begun to produce compelling outcomes that delve into policy dilemmas surrounding immigration in Canada and Italy. These early findings emphasize that both countries utilize social representations of immigration to legitimize their political stances, whether presenting it as a problem or a resource. In Italy, the narrative around immigration, within right-wing political discourse, leans towards depicting migrants as threats to national identity and security, while left-wing discourse reframes this, seeing immigrants as vulnerable victims to be rescued and included in society through works and inclusive policies.

The role of social representations 

The research employs the theoretical framework of social representations, to understand how societal beliefs and attitudes shape political narratives. Social representations offer a lens through which we can examine how immigration becomes a "social problem" in the collective imagination. 

Conclusion and next steps 

The project developed a transnational/trans-continental comparative empirical study of the institutional and policy-oriented discourse of government institutions and political leaders of different ideological orientations in Canada and Italy. More specifically, this comparative study focused on the social representations that shape polarized political and media discourses in both countries, leading to inclusive or restrictive policies towards immigrants. 

The research team looks forward to delving deeper into these complex discourses. Their aim? To provide an empirically grounded understanding that can guide more effective and humane immigration policies, tailored to the distinctive needs and perspectives of each nation. 


For more information about this research project or other inquiries, please contact Lilian Negura at lilian.negura@uottawa.ca 

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