The impact of perceptions of Russia upon Russian-speaking migrant communities in the UK

Ruth McKenna is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Glasgow, working towards an ESRC funded PhD entitled ‘Imagining Russia in British political, media and popular discourses post-1999: the impact upon Russian-speaking migrant integration in the UK’

What is the purpose of this project?

In September 2013 I began working towards an ESRC funded PhD entitled ‘Imagining Russia in British political, media and popular discourses post-1999: the impact upon Russian-speaking migrant integration in the UK’. The aims of this project are threefold. Firstly, it will study the way in which Russia and Russian speakers are represented in British political and media discourse. Secondly, the project will explore how such information is interpreted by the British public and used in the formation of opinions about Russia and Russian-speakers. Finally, it will consider the way in which these representations and perceptions affect and influence Russian-speaking migrants living in the UK. The project will engage with ‘Russian-speakers’ rather than ‘Russians’ because of the large volume of people who live outside of Russia but identify as, and speak, Russian.

Why is this research important?

The relationship between Russia and Britain has faced a variety of challenges over the past 15 years. A number of high profile points of conflict, for example, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2006 assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, or more recently, Russia’s approach to LGBT rights, as well as the current situations in Syria and Ukraine, have significantly strained Russo-Britain relations. Russia has consequently been the subject of a high volume of strongly worded criticism from British media and political sources.

In contrast, Britain remains a popular destination for Russian migrants, with a 2012 Office for National Statistics report documenting 46,000 people from Russia living in the UK.[1] This figure does not include those who self-identify as Russian, but originate from other areas of the post-Soviet space. Having previously carried out research relating to the experiences of Russian-speakers in the Scottish voluntary sector, as well as having worked at the Russian Centre in Scotland for 18 months, I have a connection to, and interest in, the integration experiences of Russian-speaking migrants. I am interested in exploring how the representation of a particular country within the media and political domains filters into the consciousness of the public, and consequently influences the integration experiences of migrants from that country. Whilst my research focuses upon Russia and Russian-speakers specifically, it is hoped that this project could create a research framework which could be applied to other countries and migrant groups.

How will the research be carried out?

The research will be carried out in three stages. The first will involve a detailed discourse analysis of media and political sources relating to Russia, for example newspaper articles or foreign policy documents. I will scrutinise the types of words and phrases that are used when referring to Russia, tracking recurring trends and themes. I will then interview members of the native British population in order to find out how the public perceive Russia, as well as what sources of information they refer to in order to form such opinions. The interviews will be semi-structured; I will not use a set list of questions but rather engage interviewees in general discussion about Russia, possibly referring to pictures or newspaper articles. Finally, I will interview Russian-speaking migrants in order to understand how the representation and perception of Russia and Russian people in Britain influences their experiences of integration. These interviews will be similarly semi-structured. I may also carry out some survey work in Russian as, whilst my Russian language skills are insufficiently developed to conduct an interview, a questionnaire in Russian would allow me to access the experiences of people with similarly limited English skills.

Fieldwork will be carried out in three research locations; London, Central Scotland and Manchester. This will ensure that the project engages with people living in areas with differing population density, economic status and migration trends.

What are the expected results of this project?

At this stage, I am unsure as to what the results of this project will be. From reading newspapers and listening to politicians I anticipate that the first stage of the research may show primarily negative representations of Russia. That said, I am also aware that Russia is often praised for counteracting ‘Western’ power and so I am keeping an open mind as to what I may find out.  There is very limited academic engagement with popular British perceptions of Russia or the experiences of Russian-speakers in the UK, so in terms of the second and third stages of research, I really have no idea what I will discover. I see this as a benefit however, as it means that I will be more able to analyse the data I produce without letting my own pre-held ideas influence the results. The project will be completed by 2017.


For more information please contact r.mckenna.1 [at], or tweet @Ruth_McKenna

[1] See: ‘Underlying Datasheets for Population by Country of Birth and Nationality Tables Jan2012-Dec2012’, (accessed 26/02/2014)

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