Understanding Migration and Violence: Target Selection in South Africa's Xenophobic Attacks

Posted: 5 May 2013

Date Written: May 5, 2013


The ethnic violence and civil war literature increasingly examines target selection. And yet, the ways in which target selection varies for different types of violence and state contexts is under-theorized, particularly in the case of xenophobic violence against migrant populations.

This paper suggests that xenophobic violence presents a unique case for theories of target selection: instead of co-citizens, foreign nationals are the broad target population. Perpetrators understand threat and status differently in this setting, and accordingly select targets in particular ways. This paper argues that the specific mechanisms driving target selection in acts of xenophobic violence in South Africa are: 1) self-exclusion, and 2) the perception of an unfair advantage. This argument is based on an analysis of xenophobic violence against foreign nationals in South Africa, where the author conducted extensive fieldwork between May 2010 and July 2012. The findings in this paper are based on a ward-level dataset on predictors of xenophobic violence in South Africa, as well as five in-depth, typical case studies of settlements experiencing xenophobic violence. This paper presents each case and then tests the observable implications of several leading hypotheses on target selection. It concludes by briefly discussing how this paper’s argument travels to other contexts of mobility and xenophobic violence.

Suggested Citation

Anderson, Jessica, Understanding Migration and Violence: Target Selection in South Africa's Xenophobic Attacks (May 5, 2013). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2261063

Jessica Anderson (Contact Author)

George Washington University ( email )

2121 I Street NW
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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