Haider on Choi and Poertner and Sambanis, 'Native Bias: Overcoming Discrimination against Immigrants'

Donghyun Danny Choi, Mathias Poertner, Nicholas Sambanis. Native Bias: Overcoming Discrimination against Immigrants. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2022. 312 pp. $35.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-691-22230-1

Reviewed by Janna E. Haider (University of California)
Published on H-Migration (April, 2023)
Commissioned by Matteo Pretelli (University of Naples "L'Orientale")

Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=58822

Haider on Choi, Poertner, Sambanis

Native Bias’s preface provides a delightful, personal look at the genesis of the project that eventually gave rise to the book. The authors note, with self-reflexive humor, that the planning of the project seemed to occur exclusively in immigrant-owned restaurants all over the world, as a site of inspiration for the work that would eventually become the book.

The authors, all political scientists by training, seek to understand whether “conflict over ideas, norms, and values underlies discrimination against immigrants.” They analyze “whether native bias against immigrants can be overcome when natives come to believe that immigrants share valued norms that define the idea of good citizenship in native society” (p. 4). The authors locate their study in Germany, a research site selected over other possibilities such as the United States because native Germans are far less likely to be recently descended from immigrants in the way that natives to the United States would be. Ultimately the authors argue that an emphasis on shared cultural values is the best way to reduce such nativist attitudes and behaviors.

While this justification does raise some questions, including that the authors’ methodology has no way of differentiating between white people who are native to Germany and recent immigrants from another western European country, and that white nationalism in the US does not make a distinction for how long a white citizen’s family has been in the US, the result is a study that uses observable behaviors in public spaces combined with online survey data to assess natives’ biases toward foreigners. The first chapter serves as the introduction to the text, in which the above frameworks are laid out. This includes the authors’ identification of their goal to expand the Common Ingroup Identity Model (CIIM), a framework that argues for a cognitive shift away from divisional attributes and toward a common identity (p. 11). Chapter 2 begins with a review of the literature on confronting parochialism and a rearticulation of the expansion of CIIM to create a shared identity of “the citizen” between natives and foreigners (the terms that the authors use in the text). The chapter then moves to an overview of the methodology for the first field experiment, its findings, and a discussion of its results.

The first experiment requires one of three “confederates”—a native German woman, a foreign woman with no hijab, and a foreign woman with a hijab—to have a phone conversation in their respective language on a crowded train station platform. The confederate then drops a bag of produce, and the researchers measure how many native German bystanders, if any, come to her aid. The authors do not account for their exclusive use of female confederates, nor do they account for racial or ethnic distinctions of women who might wear a hijab. For instance, a Somali woman, hijabi or not, will read differently to a native German audience than will a Palestinian Muslim woman, than will a Balkan Muslim woman. The authors note that the hijabi confederate received the least amount of help, but the design of the experiment makes it difficult to know what other factors may have contributed to that outcome. Chapter 4 opens with a review of literature on linguistic nationalism in Germany, and then outlines a study very similar to the one in chapter 3, save that here, all three confederates speak German on the phone. Here, the authors conclude that religious differences are more likely to result in anti-immigrant bias than linguistic differences are. Chapter 5 moves to a new experiment: the authors discuss the German cultural norm against littering and then lay out the experimental design. Here, a new, native German male confederate litters on a train station platform and is scolded by one of the three female confederates: a German native, a foreigner with no hijab, or a foreigner with a hijab. After the male confederate properly disposes of his litter and leaves the scene, the female confederate once again spills her groceries, and the researchers measure how much help she receives from bystanders. The authors chose not to use a male confederate, native or Muslim, to enforce the norm against littering. Here again, the authors identify religion as the biggest driver of anti-immigrant bias, but they do not explicitly identify this behavior as “xenophobia” or “Islamophobia.”

Chapter 6 opens with a robust discussion of gender, with an emphasis on perceived differences between native German women and foreign Muslim women. The authors write extensively about the perception that the hijab is the symbol of the oppression of women in the Islamic world. Once again, the text would have benefited from a discussion of race, but even absent that, the authors clearly articulate the findings of an experiment with both hijabi confederates and those without hijabs: the hijabi confederates receive the least amount of help from bystanders.

Chapter 7 details the findings of an online survey in which participants watched videos of the above experiments and indicated their responses to the confederates. Specifically, participants were asked if they viewed the women as “upstanding citizens” (p. 180). Here, the authors found that respondents were more likely to view Muslim women enforcing norms around litter disposal as exceptions to broadly held biases against foreigners, rather than respondents’ negative views of foreign women changing as a whole (p. 194). Finally, in chapter 8, the authors review their contributions to the literature, to methods, and to policy design.

Social scientists will likely find this a clear, focused contribution to literature on anti-immigrant bias, and will be pleased to see a set of experimental designs that would be easy to replicate in a variety of contexts. The authors clearly and concisely chart where discrimination manifests against foreign Muslim women, and discuss statistically significant outcomes. They also provide space for future research on native German attitudes toward Muslim women of different races or national origins, and on native German attitudes toward Muslim men writ large. But scholars outside of the social sciences may be frustrated by the lack of interrogation of the intersectional causes of biased or anti-immigrant behaviors and attitudes identified in the text.

Citation: Janna E. Haider. Review of Choi, Donghyun Danny; Poertner, Mathias; Sambanis, Nicholas, Native Bias: Overcoming Discrimination against Immigrants. H-Migration, H-Net Reviews. April, 2023.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=58822

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.