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Asylum Politics, the Internet and the Public Sphere: UK Refugee Support Groups Online
Unformatted Document Text:  4 (2000), both of which focus on particular Internet uses, Womenslink and Slashdot respectively, and use their empirical material to comment on and empirically enrich our understanding of the public sphere. In this respect, the current effort aligns itself with this work, and adds its voice to it, but also aspires to criticise and expand the public sphere model drawing on the empirical observation of the online conduct of asylum politics. Issues of Method and Analysis The empirical material consists of 45 Web sites, representing British refugee support groups. They were collected through an Internet search engine (Yahoo UK), through following links between these groups, and through Asylum Support Information, an online facility providing a wide range of resources on asylum. The Web sites studied here represent not-for-profit non-governmental organisations, with no party-political, academic or commercial affiliations. The groups ranged from the Westminster Diocese, to the Institute for Race Relations, to the Ethiopian Community in Lambeth. A full list of the Web sites is annexed at the end of this paper, but for now, it should be noted that the Web sites collected represent a diverse and heterogeneous range of groups, which are nevertheless united in their defence and support of refugees and asylum seekers. Given that the empirical aim here is to identify the actual Internet use, coupled with the current theoretical preoccupation with the public sphere theory, the analysis considered all Web sites as comprising a ‘text’ on asylum politics, and proceeded through focusing on the issue of the public(s) addressed in these Web sites. The following question constituted the centre of analysis: who is addressed? The responses to this question have provided a means by which to discuss the types of the communications of the refugee support groups thereby enabling an understanding of the way in which these groups use the Internet. In more methodological terms, and given the number of websites involved, this paper initially focused on the home pages of the groups, where these were available, and on the main introductory pages on asylum, where the home pages of the groups concerned did not directly deal with asylum (as, for instance in the case of Oxfam UK). The various addressees were identified, or rather reconstructed, using the links as a unit of analysis, starting from the home pages. The threshold for inclusion into a category of addressee was presence: in other words, all types of addressees were included, irrespective of the frequency by which they were addressed, or the diffusion of the same category across websites. This inclusive analysis aimed at preserving the complexity and heterogeneity of the groups under study. All addressees were subsequently grouped and classified under a category that seems to describe them best: three such categories were found, the general public, the public of specialists, and the refugee public. The links encountered in all the websites, both external and internal, were subsequently used as a means by which to validate the categories of addressee reconstructed here; thus, all the links were accounted for, that is, could be fitted under at least one of these categories. It should also be made clear here that a link could fit under more than one of the categories encountered, or in other words, it could be addressed to more than one category of addressee. This shows that the categories are not mutually exclusive; at the same time they cannot be reduced to each other, in that there were instances of links, or information, that only addresses or concerns one of these publics. Addressing the General Public This is the most widely diffused category of addressee. Most, if not all, home pages of the refugee groups address first the general public, both those who purposely visit the site out of some interest, and the ‘onlookers’, those who may have come to it by happenstance. The general public is addressed in the following ways: first, through descriptions of what the group aims at, its mission statement; second,

Authors: Siapera, Eugenia.
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(2000), both of which focus on particular Internet uses, Womenslink and Slashdot respectively, and use
their empirical material to comment on and empirically enrich our understanding of the public sphere. In
this respect, the current effort aligns itself with this work, and adds its voice to it, but also aspires to
criticise and expand the public sphere model drawing on the empirical observation of the online conduct
of asylum politics.
Issues of Method and Analysis

The empirical material consists of 45 Web sites, representing British refugee support groups.
They were collected through an Internet search engine (Yahoo UK), through following links between
these groups, and through Asylum Support Information, an online facility providing a wide range of
resources on asylum. The Web sites studied here represent not-for-profit non-governmental
organisations, with no party-political, academic or commercial affiliations. The groups ranged from the
Westminster Diocese, to the Institute for Race Relations, to the Ethiopian Community in Lambeth. A full
list of the Web sites is annexed at the end of this paper, but for now, it should be noted that the Web
sites collected represent a diverse and heterogeneous range of groups, which are nevertheless united
in their defence and support of refugees and asylum seekers.

Given that the empirical aim here is to identify the actual Internet use, coupled with the current
theoretical preoccupation with the public sphere theory, the analysis considered all Web sites as
comprising a ‘text’ on asylum politics, and proceeded through focusing on the issue of the public(s)
addressed in these Web sites. The following question constituted the centre of analysis: who is
addressed? The responses to this question have provided a means by which to discuss the types of the
communications of the refugee support groups thereby enabling an understanding of the way in which
these groups use the Internet.

In more methodological terms, and given the number of websites involved, this paper initially
focused on the home pages of the groups, where these were available, and on the main introductory
pages on asylum, where the home pages of the groups concerned did not directly deal with asylum (as,
for instance in the case of Oxfam UK). The various addressees were identified, or rather reconstructed,
using the links as a unit of analysis, starting from the home pages. The threshold for inclusion into a
category of addressee was presence: in other words, all types of addressees were included, irrespective
of the frequency by which they were addressed, or the diffusion of the same category across websites.
This inclusive analysis aimed at preserving the complexity and heterogeneity of the groups under study.
All addressees were subsequently grouped and classified under a category that seems to describe them
best: three such categories were found, the general public, the public of specialists, and the refugee
public. The links encountered in all the websites, both external and internal, were subsequently used as
a means by which to validate the categories of addressee reconstructed here; thus, all the links were
accounted for, that is, could be fitted under at least one of these categories. It should also be made
clear here that a link could fit under more than one of the categories encountered, or in other words, it
could be addressed to more than one category of addressee. This shows that the categories are not
mutually exclusive; at the same time they cannot be reduced to each other, in that there were instances
of links, or information, that only addresses or concerns one of these publics.
Addressing the General Public

This is the most widely diffused category of addressee. Most, if not all, home pages of the refugee
groups address first the general public, both those who purposely visit the site out of some interest, and
the ‘onlookers’, those who may have come to it by happenstance. The general public is addressed in
the following ways: first, through descriptions of what the group aims at, its mission statement; second,


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