Neoliberalism and nationalism: Representations of asylum seekers in the Australian mainstream news media

Kerstin Lueck, Clemence Due, Martha Augoustinos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


In this article, we build on previous critical discursive research concerning the deployment of nationalist rhetoric in the negative representation of asylum seekers to also consider the interplay between neoliberal and nationalist discourses regarding asylum seekers arriving by boat to Australia. Rather than arguing that neoliberalism and nationalism are incompatible (by virtue of the former being about internationalization and the latter about protecting the nation-state), we argue that in fact media representations of asylum seekers are compatible with both neoliberal and nationalist discourses, with both ultimately aimed at protecting the sovereignty of the (White) Australian nation-state. Utilizing a synthetic approach to critical discourse analysis, we analyze two incidents concerning asylum seekers that were widely reported in the mainstream media in late 2009, namely, the Oceanic Viking and the Jaya Lestari 5 incidents. Our article demonstrates that while many of the discourses concerning asylum seekers can be read as nationalistic in nature (i.e. through ‘protecting’ a sovereign state and maintaining border control), they can also be seen as neoliberal in relation to the (supposed) economic benefits of excluding asylum seekers and their undesirability on economic terms. The ‘threat posed by asylum seekers arriving by boat’ was positioned as one that required increased economic support for stricter border protection policies. The economic nature of border protection and security came to the fore not only in terms of its role in keeping out those seen as economically undesirable, but also in the economic investment required in ensuring that the nation-state was able to protect its sovereignty through the maintenance of a homogeneous population regulated at the borders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)608-629
Number of pages22
JournalDiscourse and Society
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sep 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Asylum seekers
  • border control
  • critical discourse analysis
  • nationalism
  • neoliberalism


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