Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Horace A. Bartilow

Second Advisor

Dr. Emily A. Beaulieu


Xenophobia is examined almost exclusively as a prejudice of advanced western nations. I argue that the field of study of xenophobia must be re-conceptualized in order for comparative, cross-regional inquiry to take place. With a new concept of ethnic xenophobia, this dissertation examines the determinants and causal mechanisms of ethnic xenophobic activity across developed and developing countries. I integrate studies of xenophobia and theories of ethnic threat to explain that political elites rely on structural dimensions of threat to convert native anxieties into ethnic xenophobia through the use of anti-migrant myths and symbols. I extend Stuart Kaufman’s theory of symbolic politics to further explain how elites mobilize ethnic xenophobic activity in order to gain or maintain political advantage among the native selectorate in their respective competitions for power.

I use a Heckman Selection Model and a Structural Equation Model to test this theory across 14,000 cases of ethnic xenophobic activity targeting refugees for seventy-two developed and developing countries from 1990 to 2014. The results suggest that elites- across both developed and developing countries- do indeed exploit native anxieties in the aftermath of structural crises and events to provoke and mobilize hostilities toward migrants. A most-different systems design is also used to illustrate the causal mechanisms of the argument across two pairs of cases, including Kenya and the Netherlands and Lebanon and the United States. These cases provide additional support to the cross-regional explanation of ethnic xenophobic activity.

This research opens the door to further exploration of similarities in the patterns and trends of ethnic xenophobia and anti-migrant intolerance across different country contexts. The results suggest that efforts for the protection of migrants against such expressions of prejudice require improvement; and that relationships between native and migrant populations matter a great deal for the exploitation of fears and anxieties by political elites especially in and around elections.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)