Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Media discourse (cont.)

Attitudes towards confessional and sexual minorities in the discourse of the media in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from a historical perspective 

The public has already been initially defined here and discussed here.
Van Ginneken’s approach to public may be formulated as follows: “a public is a dispersed group of people interested in and divided about an issue, engaged in a discussion of the issue, with a view to registering a collective opinion which is expected to affect the course of action of some group or individual” (2003: 11, quoting Turner and Killian 1987: 179).
The definition of an issue “excludes the points about which people agree from the start. Those will not be problematized; they are perceived as mere background, taken for granted. But it also excludes those points about which people disagree so thoroughly that any meaningful discussion is excluded; those will not be problematized either—they cannot form a meaningful issue for debate. Issues are about the controversies that feed everyday debate and social interaction.
So controversies that lead to considerable polarization, for instance, about civil rights or abortion (…), do not so much form one evolving pattern but two evolving patterns, closely interwoven; the discourse and network of the protagonists and the discourse and network of the antagonists, with only a small neutral zone in between” (van Ginneken 2003: 12).
The above definition of public mentions also the concept of collective opinion. Following on that, “a culture is a dynamic configuration of subcultures, and a public is a dynamic configuration of publics. Collective opinions, as well as individual opinions, may change every minute; every impression we undergo may slightly alter the pattern. Every event reported may do the same” (p. 11).
In this context, it is important to remember that “the public agenda is largely framed by the media agenda, and the media agenda by the institutional elites. The battle for public opinion is not so much about what one wants the public to think, but about what one wants the public to think about” (p. 13).

Collective behaviour
“Typical collective behavior usually involves: (a) relatively large numbers of people, (b) getting involved in a heightened interaction process, and (c) the accelerated emergence of alternative patterns of thought, feeling, and action. This process involves relatively large numbers because one characteristic is that people do not so much react to each other as identifiable individuals, but rather to each other as a diffuse group. There is also a heightened interaction process because it is some kind of psychosocial, rapid occurrence. There are alternative patterns because it is a way to surmount conventional patterns, which are somehow experienced as inadequate or unsatisfactory” (van Ginneken 2003: 73-74).

Van Ginneken distinguishes the following three levels of interaction:

psychological crowds
opinion currents
social movements
large numbers of people that are psychologically (not incidentally) connected to each other or to the same events because their attention is drawn by a performance or an incident
mobilization on the basis of a belief which redefines social action; established patterns loose their forceful grip so that there is more room for possible alternatives to take hold
a conscious, collective,
organized/coordinated attempt to bring about or resist large-scale change in the social order by non-institutionalized means
“deindividuation” theory amounts for loss of restraint
theories of mental confusion, social unrest, alienation, etc. amount for established patterns loosening their grip
social unease encourages emergent patterns of social interaction that could not be predicted from antecedent conditions

Van Dijk reminds us that such collectivities do not fall under the definition of a group, as they do not share social representations which take time to develop and presuppose a common history of experiences (1998). What they may share, however, is the feeling of social injustice, which is enough to initiate the emergence of new groups over a period of time. Hence, van Ginneken’s approach to collective behaviour may be useful in investigating both the LGBT movement and the anti-LGBT movement (!). And his account of media hypes may find its application in this project as well, e.g. with regard to the media coverage of gay pride parades in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

So far, the picture of the media drawn here has been rather negative, with their discourse creating the public opinion rather than representing it, maybe even to the point of “controlling the public mind” (Chomsky 1997). However, Coleman & Ross remind us of the existence of counterpublics that effectively resist and defy hegemonic discourses:
“Counterpublics have a dialectical relationship to the “general” public, standing some distance away with a view to protecting, preserving, and nurturing their defining characteristics, while at the same time standing on the periphery with a view to infiltrating, influencing, and reconfiguring the wider entity upon which they are dependent as citizens.
They are both outsiders and insiders; the other to a self-defined “us,” forever seeking to encourage the “us” to become other than its hegemonically conceived self-characterization. This anti-hegemonic instinct of counterpublics has led to their being identified as emancipatory by nature. There is an expectation in liberal democracies that counterpublic voices will have opportunities to articulate alternatives to the norms and patterns of the dominant public. But, in reality, their capacity to do so via mainstream mass media is rather limited” (Coleman & Ross 2010: 73).
Counterpublics thus make use of alternative media, as already mentioned when discussing the framework of positive discourse analysis here. Coleman & Ross also offer an account of alternative “zines” as sites of resistance (p. 82).

This project shall also have a closer look at the “mediatized political discourse”.
For a general account of political discourse analysis, see van Dijk 1997.

“Bourdieu describes political discourse as a field of struggle, internal struggle to produce and sustain a coherent political discourse within the current structured set of political discourses, external struggle to constitute a political public and a base of support and trust for that political discourse and the institution and charismatic individuals associated with it” (Fairclough 1995: 184).
“Much critical work on mediatized politics has stressed complicity between the media and politicians, but it is also important to be alert to tensions, contradictions and struggles in the relationship between the political order of discourse and the order of discourse of the media” (p. 183).
Within the order of mediatized political discourse, there may be tensions caused by differing interests / differing discourses of various social actors / various voices, that include political reporters; politicians, trade union leaders, etc.; experts; representatives of new social movements; ordinary people (p. 185). There is also an opposition between professional political discourses and lifeworld discourses based in ordinary experiences, appropriated by professional politicians (p. 187).

Prior’s (2007) goal is to offer a systematic treatment of how the media environment affects political behavior. It is an interesting case study which shows that the public opinion is influenced and shaped not only by the way the media construct representations, identities and relations (discourse features, introduced here), but also by discourse-external aspects of media environment, such as people’s access to some media outlets and not others, the choice of programmes available, and so on.
Prior writes: Sunstein (2001) “conjures up a world of almost perfect selection in which media sources conform neatly and reliably with one’s prior beliefs and expectations. Such constant and nearly exclusive encounters with like-minded viewpoints will, he argues, lead to group polarization… it might limit the diversity of arguments that viewers encounter and expose them to biased information” (2007: 272).
Prior argues, however, that “the marketing strategies of advertisers, not technology per se, cause the fragmentation of society. Media offer specialized content and formats that allow advertisers to target desired populations more effectively (…) Several important pieces of evidence suggest that fears of audience specialization may be exaggerated. (…) With regard to political information, it appears that many people do not routinely tune out the other side” (pp. 272-273)
[Exaggerated or not, Prior’s position is that the audience specialization along ideological lines that does exist has largely been made possible by the increase in media choice.]
I am reminded here of a study on homophobic speech in Lithuanian press. According to a survey quoted in the study, “34.8 % of the Lithuanian people say that the Lithuanian mass media are biased towards homosexual people, 7 % say that the mass media promote intolerance towards them, and 15.7 % state that there is not enough information about homosexuals. In all, 57.7 % of the Lithuanian citizens are not happy with the media’s attitude towards sexual minorities” (Tereškinas 2007: 24). If more than half of a society which is notoriously reported as the most homophobic in Europe notices and complains about media bias, maybe we need to rethink the relationship between hegemonic media discourses and the public opinion, and the former’s influence on the latter?

No comments: