Debating Migration as a Public Problem

National Publics and Transnational Fields

by Camelia Beciu (Volume editor) Mălina Ciocea (Volume editor) Irina Diana Mădroane (Volume editor) Alexandru I. Cârlan (Volume editor)
©2018 Textbook VIII, 276 Pages
Series: Global Crises and the Media, Volume 24


This volume identifies empirical sites and methodological frames for approaching the construction of migration as a public problem. Starting from the premise that transnationalism becomes structural in setting the public agenda, the authors explore topics and arguments on migration in media and political discourses, as well as the ways migrants and non-migrants recontextualize these discourses in the process of making sense of migration, as a matter of citizenship and policy action.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editors(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Intra-EU Labor Migration and Transnationalism in Media Discourses: A Public Problem Approach (Camelia Beciu / Mălina Ciocea / Irina Diana Mădroane / Alexandru I. Cârlan)
  • Part 1. Intra-EU Labor Migration in the Media of the Sending Country: Between Instrumentalization and Empowerment
  • Chapter 1. Migration and Country Status: The Rearticulation of Identities Through Media Counter-Discourses (Camelia Beciu / Mirela Lazăr)
  • Chapter 2. Debating Migration: Diasporic Stances in Media Discourse (Mălina Ciocea / Alexandru I. Cârlan)
  • Chapter 3. The Impact of Migration on the Construction of Romania’s Country Image: Two Intersecting Public Problems (Alina Dolea)
  • Part 2. Intra-EU Labor Migration and Deliberative Practices in the Public Sphere
  • Chapter 4. Media Deliberation on Intra-EU Migration: A Qualitative Approach to Framing Based on Rhetorical Analysis (Alexandru I. Cârlan / Mălina Ciocea)
  • Chapter 5. Romanian Immigration in the British Newspapers: Engaging Audiences During the Brexit Referendum Campaign (Irina Diana Mădroane)
  • Part 3. Identity Negotiation in the Transnational Field: Agency and Discourse
  • Chapter 6. Migrant Identities and Practices in Media Advocacy Campaigns: The Construction of Claims and Audiences (Irina Diana Mădroane)
  • Chapter 7. Media Hospitality to Diasporactivism and Diasporapathy in the News Community (Nicolae Perpelea)
  • Chapter 8. “Here” and “There”: Identity-Building Strategies in Debates with Non-Migrants (Camelia Beciu)
  • Final Remarks: Media, Migration, and Transnational Practices (Camelia Beciu / Mălina Ciocea / Irina Diana Mădroane / Alexandru I. Cârlan)
  • About the Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

← vi | vii →


The studies in this volume are the result of several years of intense research on the topics of intra-EU migration, media and public discourse, and of collaboration with specialists in Romania and abroad, for which we are immensely grateful. Our ideas have taken shape and grown in the course of two projects, funded by the Executive Unit for Financing Higher Education, Research, Development and Innovation (UEFISCDI): The phenomenon of workforce migration and the formation of the diasporic public: impact on the public space and institutional practices (2008-2009) and Diaspora in the Romanian political-media sphere. From event to the media construction of public problems (2012-2016). We have had the privilege to exchange views with national and international experts, with colleagues, many of whom are also good friends, and with (now former) PhD students. The exploratory workshop we organized in 2013, Diasporic Identities and Transnational Experiences: From Social Actors to Public Discourses, brought some of them together: Alex Balch, Ekaterina Balabanova, Elena Negrea Busuioc, Irina Culic, Alina Dolea, Nadia Kaneva, Mirela Lazăr, Luciana Răduţ-Gaghi, Nicolas Pélissier, John E. Richardson, and Ruth Wodak. We thank them for an inspiring academic event that has furthered the scope of our research and for the collaborations that followed, including a special issue, “Discourse in Transnational Social Fields,” in the Critical ← vii | viii → Discourse Studies Journal. We are deeply grateful to Dana Diminescu, Isabela Fairclough, and Norman Fairclough, for insightful feedback and continued support. We would also like to give special thanks to our contributors, Alina Dolea, Mirela Lazăr, and Nicolae Perpelea.

We thank the journals that have given us permission to republish, in a revised form, four of the studies included in the volume: the Romanian Journal of Sociology and the Romanian Journal of Communication and Public Relations. We have also benefitted from the support of the institutes of higher education where we are affiliated: The National University of Political Studies and Public Administration, University of Bucharest, West University of Timişoara, and the Institute of Sociology of the Romanian Academy.

We thank our families for all their patience over the past few months, when most of our time has been taken up by work on this volume, and for their confidence.


This work was financed by a grant of the Romanian National Authority for Scientific Research, CNCS–UEFISCDI [project number PN-II-ID-PCE-2011-3-0968] Diaspora in the Romanian Media and Political Sphere. From Event to the Social Construction of Public Problems.

← viii | 1 →


Intra-EU Labor Migration and Transnationalism in Media Discourses: A Public Problem Approach

Camelia Beciu, Mălina Ciocea, Irina Diana Mădroane, and Alexandru I. Cârlan

The President1 expressed well and succinctly the desire of the majority of the population when he urged those dissatisfied with the conditions in the country2 to abandon Romania and go to other countries, which could offer them what they wanted. He first wished “safe journey” and “fair wind” to doctors. He then implied that teachers should feel free to follow them, if they were unable to find a second “job” in Romania.3
(“Traian Băsescu, Criticized by the British Press: He Supports the Migration of His Own Citizens”)4

In 2010, in a controversial statement on what was perceived as a problem in Romanian society—rising high-skilled emigration—Traian Băsescu, Romania’s president at the time, asserted that the decision to work abroad, in other European Union member states, made by the youth (and specialists in various fields, in general), was absolutely legitimate, given that the country of origin could not offer them the opportunities they might have in the host countries.5 The president underlined that the absence of economic policies that would encourage professionals to build a career in the country of origin should be acknowledged and assumed by the entire political class. However, in Romania, the president’s statement generated fierce criticism from politicians, NGOs, and opinion leaders, who interpreted it as legitimizing economic migration, an unacceptable stance for a decision-maker. At the same time, the press mediatized negative reactions from migration actors and presented in ← 1 | 2 → detail the comments on this topic in the international press, for example in receiving states like the UK, where the Romanian president’s statements were linked with the internal public agenda and positions on intra-EU migration.

We take this episode to be illustrative of the main aspects and tendencies that concern us in the present volume. First, it is one in a series of contexts and situations, after the fall of communism in Romania (in 1989), that have triggered major public debates on migration. Romania is a state with a growing number of economic migrants, unofficially estimated at 3.5 million in 2017, a trend that has accelerated following the country’s EU accession6 in 2007. Second, in Romania, as a sending country, a range of positionings towards the migrants and ways of identification have been construed in the media and political spheres. They integrate moral, legal, and civic norms, while at the same time being correlated with voices that reveal the public opinion in receiving countries. We look at the Romanian migrants’ intra-EU mobility patterns as processes of transnational migration, “by which immigrants forge and sustain multi-stranded social relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement.” (Basch, Glick Schiller, & Szanton Blanc, 2005 [1994], p. 8) These processes and the identities and practices associated with them have often been instrumentalized in the public space, for the purpose of raising other public issues, upholding ideological positions, or (re)producing power hierarchies (Beciu, Mădroane, Ciocea, & Cârlan, 2017). Not only have the media, among other public institutions, construed the actors and dynamics of intra-EU economic migration, but, in this way, they have also symbolically built transnational social fields (Levitt & Glick Schiller, 2004), a strategy through which they have renegotiated the position of the sending country as well as their own position, derived from the role of engaged media actors.

The point of departure for all the studies included here is the fact that, within the public debates on intra-EU migration in Romania, institutional and non-institutional actors position themselves as actors in the sending country and, simultaneously, in a transnational, European field of relations. A distinctive feature of our work is our interest in such discourses, against the background of what we consider to be emergent transnational(ized) public spaces. We study the Romanian media’s approach to migration in specific European contexts, with implications for both the sending and host countries, and we approach public debates on circular migration that involve the media in Romania and the media in the host countries simultaneously. While our empirical work focuses on Romanian postcommunist society, we believe ← 2 | 3 → that the theoretical framework, the methodological instruments, and, to an extent, the findings presented here, could contribute to an analysis of other EU member states from the former communist space, with similar patterns of intra-EU migration (Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia, etc.).

The volume brings these topics to attention, introducing a perspective that has been less frequently considered: the correlation between the construction of migration as a public problem and the engagement of the sending country as a transnational actor. In this regard, it is interesting to notice that the current studies on media, migration, and diaspora have privileged, methodologically, the perspective of the host country, despite the fact that the literature on international relations, political geography, or political science has generated, over the past fifteen years, numerous conceptualizations of the role of the sending state, but also of non-state actors, in engaging or mobilizing diasporas, as a consequence of what Weinar (2017) calls a rediscovery of emigration (for recent reviews see Cohen, 2017; Dickinson, 2017). Due either to the centrality of the western media in the global media landscape and the visibility thus confered to the topic of migration, or to the position of the researcher in an apparatus of scientific knowledge production, or for other reasons, the object of analysis has been, predominantly, the media in the host country: representations of migration with inclusionary or exclusionary effects, the framing of migration, reconfigurations of practices of media production and consumption due to (new) migrant audiences, etc. As we have pointed out elsewhere (Beciu et al., 2017), a shift in perspective starts from the recognition that, to a certain extent, the media of the sending country cannot be separated from diasporic media consumption, which has been the focus of systematic studies in the media and diaspora field in the last fifteen years. But even this research agenda is typically concerned with the migrants’ engagement with the media as part of their daily routines in the host country (for an overview, see Beciu et al., 2017). A direction challenging the primacy of the host country perspective relies on comparative approaches between sending countries and host countries, investigating, for instance, media framings of migration (Balabanova & Balch, 2010; Balch & Balabanova, 2016). Nonetheless, these complementary approaches remain less influential and disconected from the topic of emigration, which reshaped migration studies in the early 2000s: “The re-introduction of the country-of-origin perspective in the 2000s was an important step in the further development of the migration studies field: migrants, after all, are people who come from somewhere.” (Weinar, 2017) ← 3 | 4 →

Our own research focuses on how media debates on emigration institute a transnational field in which a public problem is articulated, identities are constituted, symbolic missions are attributed to emigrants claimed as “diaspora”, and symbolic exclusions and hierarchies are produced.

Intra-EU Labor Migration: What Is Distinct? Political and Public Contexts

Recent literature discusses intra-EU migration7 as a distinct socio-economic phenomenon, which started with the post-1989 dismantling of the communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe (Weinar, 2017; see also studies in Anghel & Horváth, 2009). Democratization processes in the CEE countries, correlated with a series of transformations in European policies, have created the premises for emerging forms of labor migration. The precarious economies of countries experiencing the so-called postcommunist transition of the 1990s (a global term for a long period of structural transformations) are among the factors that have influenced the decisions of numerous social groups to look for work in more developed European countries. At the core of this phenomenon were countries like Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Poland, the Czech Republic, or the Baltic states, which became sending countries after decades of restrictive laws on the individuals’ freedom of movement under communism (Anghel & Horváth, 2009).

This ongoing type of migration has had its own dynamics, depending on political macro-contexts, such as accession to the European Union, with the forms it took in different countries. After a 10-year long candidacy, Romania became a member state in 2007; all the while, the so-called “European argument”, regarding the desirability and legitimacy of EU membership—developed in the national public sphere or at official European level—strategically structured the public discourse, including the discourse on economic migration, and continues to do so. Seen from this angle, the processes of economic migration and the formation of transnational practices, both bottom up (related to migrants) and top down (related to institutional actors), have been shaped by public regulations and policies on the European labor market. The economic crisis that started in 2008 and the complete lifting of restrictions on the European labor market for Romanians and Bulgarians in 2014 are key moments in the dynamics of labor migration. Last, but not least, the trends and practices of this new migration have been influenced by the constant ← 4 | 5 → “dialogue” between EU and local actors’ statements, with their distinct stakes, as well as by the evolution of public opinion in the sending and host countries. The social-economic phenomenon of intra-EU migration rests upon cross-border relations, practices, and policies, involving actors from both the European community and the national states concerned. In broad terms, we identify three stages of circular migration in the EU: 1990–2000 (2000 is the year Romania officially begins accession negotiations with the EU), 2000–2007 (Romania becomes a member state in 2007), and after 2007, taking into consideration the actors and practices of migration, Romania’s accession to the EU, and the evolution of the public/ media discourse on migration.8

Labor Migration after 1990: Emerging Practices of Mobility and Policies

While the early 1990s witnessed various forms of migration practices (with migrants seeking individualized ways out of the instability of social and political life in a former communist country, clandestine work practices, migratory networks, and flows of the Roma community), migration after 1994 has been characterized by a rise in economically motivated migration. In this respect, Diminescu discusses Romanian migration by making a distinction between the “temporary and exploratory migrations” in the early 1990s, when, in some cases, migrants “expressed the wish to travel rather than migrate” (2009, p. 49, our translation), as a result of decades of privations in terms of freedom and movement, and the migration for work that developed after 1994, first towards countries in Central and Northern Europe (Germany and France), and, after 1998, mainly towards Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, as well as other destinations, such as Israel, Canada, the U.S., Ireland, and the UK (Diminescu, 2009, p. 50).

Economic migration was most often associated with social actors without educational capital and with a low living standard, even below poverty line, who practised “temporary circular and transnational mobility governed by the ebb and flow of economic demand” (Favell, 2008, p. 703), working in the host country for a while and returning to the sending country. The social imaginary fixed the image of seasonal farm workers (“the strawberry pickers”), construction workers, or domestic workers, while cases of illegal emigration were frequent before the year 2000 (Diminescu, 2009). The ethos of circular mobility (“here and there”), as a “pre-condition for transnational social ← 5 | 6 → practices” (Boccagni, 2012), structured and still structures the migrants’ daily lives and their interactions with non-migrants within a frame of distance-proximity action relative to the sending and host countries. From this point of view, mobility can be understood as a site of identity construction (Easthope, 2009), in connection with multiple temporal and social scales of action and belonging. To this process of identity construction contributes the fact that public positionings on migration also integrate specific meanings of circular mobility (Beciu & Lazăr, 2016). In the public spheres of the sending countries, circular mobility is incorporated into media representations of migrants as social actors, subjects of power relations. However, as the chapters in the present volume demonstrate, the media build homogenized representations of migrants’ mobility patterns, which does not necessarily bring to light the “structural factors and human agency” (Easthope, 2009, p. 62) underlying the processes of migration.

The wave of economic migrants after 1994 seems to have been triggered by very diverse factors; among them, hope for professional improvement, disappointment with public policies and political life in general, and the failure of the state to provide appropriate working environments for specialists. Diminescu also delineates as a distinctive feature of the period before 2000 the support for migrants by the civil society in the receiving countries:

Each migrant found “her employer,” “her French person,” “her Italian,” “her German friend” who protected her, introduced her to their network, taught her their language, and who possibly paid a visit to her village etc. […] This form of “grassroots” or “underground” social integration remains confined to the European space. (Diminescu, 2009, p. 55, our translation)

Migration is likewise a socially significant form of social integration centered around the village: from the village (the media frequently signals the so-called “depopulation of villages”), as many migrants settle in the receiving countries and “call” friends and relatives who remained in the villages at home to join them, via migratory networks, and towards the village.9

Labor migration received considerable impetus following the introduction of visa waivers for Romanian citizens (starting with January 1, 2002), the right to freedom of movement in the Schengen Area, and, later, Romania’s accession to the EU (January 1, 2007). These significant changes in the Romanian citizens’ free movement in the EU (similar changes were taking place in other former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe) led to the emergence of forms of migration management by the state, through the initiation of a normative framework for protecting the Romanian workers ← 6 | 7 → abroad (Diminescu, 2009).10 There was growing interest in migrants as providers of money for families left behind and in migration as an option for those in search of higher living standards (for these factors, see Culic, 2008; Diminescu, 2009; Sandu, 2010).

After 2007, the state’s actions and policies regarding the status of Romanian citizens working in EU countries have become one of the recurrent themes of public debate, frequently invoked by Romanian journalists, who have usually held the authorities accountable for the whole situation. The decision-makers were interpellated by journalists for their lack of reaction when migrants, Romanian citizens in the host countries, were victims of abuse (violence, exploitation, discrimination, etc.) or were faced with constraints; similarly, the journalists denounced the decision-makers’ reaction towards what they perceived to be general public statements in the host countries, affecting Romanians (for instance, when the collocation “Romanian migrants” was used to refer to illegalities involving Romanian citizens). A shift was noticeable in media discourse, from the denunciation of the Romanian politicians in office for not fulfilling EU requirements, in the pre-accession period, to the denunciation of political elites and media in the host states for discrimination against Romanian migration and of the Romanian authorities for failure to take an official stance in defense of the Romanian citizens’ rights. It is relevant that in a highly sensitive political context, in 2010, during the so-called “Roma crisis in France”, politicians and the government criticized the measures on Roma expulsions taken by the French Government at the time, while also declining responsibility and stressing that “the Roma problem” was, after all, a “European problem” (Europa Liberă, 2010; “Pentru București problema romilor din Franța este problema Europei” [“For Bucharest the problem of the Roma in France is Europe’s Problem”]).11 Actually, the Roma’s migratory practices have been constantly debated in the Romanian public space ever since the 90s. The media have given intense visibility to illegal contexts involving representatives of the Roma community in the receiving countries, one of the most sensitive themes of debate being the interchangeable use of the terms Roma/ Romanian.12 In this respect, radical voices have signaled that the media in the receiving countries sometimes fail to show that some illegal actions can be attributed to “Romanian citizens of Roma ethnicity”, and thus discriminate against all the migrants from Romania. This perceived discrimination of Romanian migrants in the public spheres of the countries of destination has often led to a discrimination of the Roma in the Romanian public space. For example, in 2009, a newspaper launched a petition to replace the ← 7 | 8 → term “Roma” with the derogatory term “țigan” [Gypsy] in official documents, so that “Romanians” would no longer be confused with the “Roma” in the EU countries of destination; the campaign failed because of insufficient public support (Mădroane, 2012).13 On the other hand, self-reflexive positions, critical of such derailments, have also taken shape in the Romanian public discourse, but are still marginal (see Beciu et al., 2017).

In 2008, at the onset of the economic crisis, the preoccupation for the situation and status of Romanian migrants in European host countries, noticeable in policies and public discourses, started being integrated into the construction of other arguments, which became stronger over the following years, as the recession worsened. In the political and media discourse, migrants were represented as actors of “negative trends” that concerned the flows of migration, the rate of unemployment in the host countries and, generally, the economic decline in these countries, to which anti-migration policies were added. Moreover, in the Romanian public discourse, the economic impact of the crisis on workforce migration was viewed as a perturbing factor for the status of the sending country within the European economic space (see Beciu and Lazăr in this volume). The decrease in the sums remitted by migrants during the economic crisis, visible in the span 2009–2012,14 was reflected in the media on a note of concern, accompanied by a recognition of the migrants’ efforts, bestowed with a heroic status, and by a critical positioning towards the Romanian state, accused of “lack of economic vision” in lifting the country out of recession (Mădroane, 2016, p. 235).

The migrants’ financial remittances have always been an important resource not only for the Romanian economy, but also for education, healthcare, and other categories of social assistance that, according to Cingolani (2009, p. 183), the Romanian state in transition transferred to families, without even officially recognizing the migrants’ contribution, for a long time. In the years of negotiations for Romania’s EU accession, 3 percent of the GDP came from remittance money (Diminescu, 2009, p. 56). The year 2005 can be considered evidence of the Romanian migrants’ insertion in the EU labor market, notes Dumitru Sandu (2010, p. 15), due to a spectacular increase in remittances, by 35 times in comparison with the previous years. Remittances are not, however, only financial; they include the social capital, values, and practices that migrants circulate across borders (Levitt, 2001). Romanian migrants are agents of social change in their communities of origin, who have the capacity to bring about a transformation of mentalities and a sense of civic participation, still at an early stage in these communities (Anghel, 2009; Bădescu, Stoian, & Tănase, 2009). ← 8 | 9 →

After 2010, the migration of professionals such as doctors and engineers became more visible—the press even coined the term “the doctors’ exodus” (for doctors’ migration, see Popa & Lucheș, 2014; Saghin, Lucheș, & Marici, 2016). This trend was consolidated following the full liberalization of the labor market in the EU, in 2014, for Romanians and Bulgarians. The contrast between high-skilled and low-skilled migration policies (Triandafyllidou & Isaakyan, 2016) is manifest in the vastly different experiences of migration of these two broad categories. At the same time, discourses on migrants vary widely along the skilled/ unskilled dichotomy. For instance, in the context of the lifting of restrictions for Bulgarian and Romanian migrants in the UK, in 2014, the British tabloids announced a so-called “invasion” of Romanians. Romanian journalists reacted by positioning themselves against these “frames”, invoking the large number of Romanian specialists who contributed to the British economy, even before liberalization. With these socio-political developments, circular mobility takes much more individualized forms, indicating different professional-contractual and familial practices (see studies in Anghel & Horváth, 2009; Sandu, 2010). Return to the sending country becomes a ritual on special occasions, such as celebrations, holidays, events.


VIII, 276
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. VIII, 276 pp. 5 b/w ills., 2 tables

Biographical notes

Camelia Beciu (Volume editor) Mălina Ciocea (Volume editor) Irina Diana Mădroane (Volume editor) Alexandru I. Cârlan (Volume editor)

Camelia Beciu is Professor at the University of Bucharest and Senior Researcher at the Institute of Sociology of the Romanian Academy. She has published extensively on the media construction of public problems (in particular, migration), political communication, and the public sphere. Mălina Ciocea is Reader at the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration (SNSPA), Bucharest, and is currently leading the Laboratory: Communication, Discourse, Public Problems (CoDiPo) of the Centre for Research in Communication. Her main research interests are the dynamics of the Romanian diaspora and the memory of communism in young generations. Irina Diana Mădroane is Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics and Cultural Studies at the West University of Timișoara. She specializes in critical discourse analysis and the study of media discourse, and has done extensive research on the construction of migrant identities in public discourses. Alexandru I. Cârlan is Lecturer at the SNSPA, Bucharest, and a member of the CoDiPo Laboratory. His research contributes to the fields of discourse analysis, rhetoric, and argumentation theory, focusing on migration or public memory as main topics.


Title: Debating Migration as a Public Problem
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