Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Zukunftskolleg - project introduction

Project summary
Embedded in the frameworks of critical and historical discourse analysis, this project examines the construction of attitudes to confessional and sexual minorities in the post-socialist, transitional societies of Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, and the role played in this process by the media. The project regards the construction of religious and sexual minorities against the backdrop of national identities, showing that in the post-socialist societies, identification with a religious or sexual minority may put into question an individual's loyalty towards the nation and state, making it a political issue. This project examines the role of the media discourse in sustaining such harmful and prejudicial notions.
The project examines a corpus of samples in the three languages excerpted from printed periodicals, radio and television programs, digital versions and websites of mainstream newspapers, radio and television channels, and blogs, all published after 1991. Following the historical development of discursive strategies marked with textual means over this period of time, it shall reveal the developments of explicit and implicit attitudes under the influence of important political, economic and cultural events, thus reflecting on the larger context of globalization and Westernization and the transitional societies' response to these processes. The critical part of the analysis is based upon the hypothesis that the media discourse serves power groups in legitimizing their ideologies and thus shaping and affecting public opinion. Exposing ideological content that is often subtly concealed and imposed on the public opinion may help to educate a more critical and informed media audience. 

The approach applied in this project may be called transdisciplinary (in Fairclough’s (2003, 2005) terms) or pluralist interdisciplinary (in van Leeuwen’s (2005) terms). Interdisciplinary research of this kind is problem-oriented rather than method-oriented, and recognizes that the problem “may rightfully belong to a number of different disciplines” (van Leeuwen 2005: 6). This approach is believed to be required for the study of the phenomenon of attitudes.
An attitude is one of the basic concepts in social psychology, which makes it interdisciplinary in its essence, if social psychology is understood as the discipline serving as “interface between the study of cognition and the study of society” (van Dijk 2009: 23). Attitude may be defined in purely “individualistic”/psychological terms, as “a relatively enduring organization of beliefs around an object or situation” (Rokeach 1968: 112); however, most modern approaches define it in one of the two prevalent interdisciplinary ways: 
1. emphasizing its social nature: “attitudes are the apotheosis of social cognition, because they are unobservable cognitive constructs that are socially learnt, socially changed, and socially expressed” (Hogg & Terry 2000: 1); 
2. emphasizing its discursive nature: attitudes are “the subjective evaluation experiences that are communicated through various channels but particularly through language” (Eiser 1987: 5).
So, attitudes are subjective entities that are socially determined and discursively expressed. We have thus three objects of study: the individual, the society, and the discourse. We have three processes associated with attitudes: construction (by the individual), internalization (of attitudes prevalent in the society) and reproduction (in discourse). This network is illustrated in Fig. 1.

The diagram also shows – very roughly and approximately – the disciplines involved in the project:
1. discursive psychology – “studies texts and talk for how they are constructed and what they do”; “emphasizes the way versions of actions and events are constructed in discourse” (Potter 1996: 168); see also Potter & Wetherell 1987, Edwards & Potter 1992;
2. social psychology – interested in such intra- and inter-personal phenomena as attitudes, self-concepts, identities, group dynamics, social influence and persuasion, among others. See Wetherell (ed.) 1996;
3. discourse analysis – a loose interdisciplinary framework of methodologies to study text and talk that (should) have the following in common:
· an interest in natural language use,
· a focus on units larger than words or sentences,
· a study of action and interaction beyond sentence grammar,
· the extension to non-verbal (semiotic, multimodal, visual) aspects of communication,
· a focus on dynamic (socio-)cognitive moves and strategies,
· the study of contexts of language use (Wodak & Meyer 2009: 2).
Different strands of DA attend to “a vast number of phenomena of text grammar and language use”, such as coherence, anaphora, speech acts, turn-taking, politeness, argumentation, and others, to different extents. Critical discourse analysis, in contrast, is interested in studying social issues – here, the analysis of the phenomena listed above is a means rather than an end. More information on:
· approaches to discourse – Schiffrin 1994, Schiffrin, Tannen & Hamilton (eds.) 2008;
· methods of textual analysis – Stubbs 1983, 1996, Wetherell, Taylor & Yates (eds.) 2001, Fairclough 2003, Richardson 2007, Wodak & Meyer (eds.) 2009;
· more on CDA in Wodak & Ludwig 1999, Wodak & Chilton (eds.) 2005;
· (socio-) cognitive approach to CDA – van Dijk 2008b, 2009.
For case studies and examples of applying the CDA framework in social research, see Gelber 2002 (on hate speech), Blackledge 2005 (on power in a multilingual society), Fairclough 2006 (globalization discourse), Hodges & Nilep (eds.) 2007 (war and terrorism in discourse), and many others.

 State of the art
This project rests upon two extensive sets of scientific literature. The first set provides the background of historical, political and cultural events, conditions and consequences of transition in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland (e.g. Pollack, Jacobs, Muller & Pickel (eds.) 2003, Savicka 2004, Juknevičius (ed.) 2005, Myant & Cox (eds.) 2008, Berg & Ehin (eds.) 2009, Mole 2012, Wangler 2012), against which the results of the empirical study will be presented. The second set provides the methods and measures of carrying out this empirical analysis (this post). 

When it comes to the literature on minorities in the countries in question after the fall of communism, the discussion so far has mostly focused on ethnic minorities – especially Russians in Latvia, Russians and Poles in Lithuania, Ukrainians (e.g. Wangler 2012) and Germans in Poland. These texts often focus on the process of nation-(re)building carried out by the “titular nations” and the role played in it by the minorities – “historical” or more “recent” immigrants (e.g. Jubulis 2001, Galbreath 2005, Mole 2012). There are also many sources that look at the identity of the Russian Diaspora in the post-Soviet countries in general (e.g. Kolstoe 1995, Laitin 1998, Commercio 2010) and in the Baltics in particular (e.g. Agarin 2010). Due to the fact that the breakup of the Soviet Union left millions of people uprooted and displaced (cf. Polian 2004), leading to conflicts and tensions in many places, the issues of ethnic identity and ethnic minorities in the post-socialist world has been topicalized, neglecting the questions of other, e.g. sexual or religious, minorities. The former have been mentioned in passing by Mole as he writes that homosexualism is now being constructed as a new “threat to national survival” in Latvia and Lithuania, and that the problem requires further attention (2012: 167). The latter is brought up by Juknevičius (2005, see above). 
The method of discourse analysis adopted in this project has been slowly claiming its place in the research on ethnic and other minorities and related issues in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland over the past few years. Worth mentioning are Golubeva & Gould (eds.) 2010 and Muižnieks (ed.) 2008; while the former deals with the political and media discourse on non-citizens in Latvia, the latter focuses on the portrayal of Latvia by the media discourse in Russia. When it comes to Lithuania, the method has been used to study the “positive” construction of nationalism against the backdrop of the imperial past (the Grand Duchy of Lithuania), national minorities (Dudzińska 2011) and the emerging European identity (Savukynas 2005). With regard to Poland, the method has been applied to the study of official patriotic discourses that construct “foreign influences, cosmopolitan values and cultural diversity” as challenges to the Polish “way of life” (Cox & Myant 2008: 5, also Sidorenko 2008). 
Overview of the literature regarding the situation of sexual minorities in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland may be found here and here

No comments: