Tuesday, December 01, 2009

David Howarth, University of Essex, UK - Towards an Understanding of 'Mediatized Politics': The Contribution of Poststructuralist Discourse Theory

Together with Steven Griggs at De Montfort University, David Howarth focuses on the importance and impact of media in the political field. Mediatization of politics (Hajer). The media has problematized the classical-modernist image of politics where media is the messenger and reporter. Government and policymaking is mediatized, they become a part of government. How does communication thus work?

The alleged deficits of the discursive turn Numerous approaches to discourse analysis (DA) in recent time. A growth of poststructuralist discoruse. Five alleged deficits: reality, sociological (stresses notions of undecidability), methodological (description rather than explanation, no formalized techniques and research strategies), epistemological (relativism) and normative (it can't criticize, only explore). One challenge: "In the final analysis we are not confronted with exclusive choices: either empirical theory or interpretative theory or critical theory. Rather, there is an internal dialectic in the restructuring of social and political theyory, When we work through any of these moments, we discover how the others are implicated. An adequate social and political theory must be empirical, interpretative and critical"

Poststructuralist discourse theory CDA or DHA, Argumentative Discourse analysis (Hajer), Discursive Policy Analysis (Gottweis, Fischer), Discursive Psychology (Parker). Focus: political dimension of social dimensions (the constestation, institution and transformation of particular practices and regimes. A focus on the micro-level (particular texts or speeches), but mainly focused on the macro-level of analysis (the construction of hegemonic projects and discourses). Discourse theory is problem-driven, a species of critical theory (not problem-solving, stressses the importance of ethics and values), partakes in the transcendental turn (Kant, Husserl and Heidegger, the importance of meaning and how it is shaped and formed, the possibility for change), takes an ontological turn (not just epistemological or methodological questions, but also ontological (concerned with the what, how and that of phenomena).

Four basic features. Ideological (complicit in concealing the radical contingency) vs the ethical (where subjects are aware and attentive to the radical contingency of social relations) dimension and the social (sedimentation of social relations) vs. the political (reacting and challenging and reconstituting the contingent foundations) dimension.

The discursive, onthological category. Discourse, a particular system of meaningful and articulatory practice, is stabilized and challenged by hegemonic operations and involves the exercise of power as well as forms of exclusion. Discourse analysis refers to the empirical investigation of specific discourses. Five steps: Problematization (how can you construct a problem?), retroduction (the form of explanation (Peirce) to the problem), logics (the content of an explanans, the means to characterize, explain and evaluate/criticize practices and regimes. What makes a practice tick? Social, political and fantasmatic, the affective or ideological level, logics). The logic of fantasy operates by providing a fantasmatic narrative that promises a fullness-to-come once a nmed or implied obstacle is overcome, utopian or dystopian. articulation links together elements in a way that modifies each particular element, critique an internal connection between explanation, critique and normative evaluation, open up for other explanation.

Example: Steven Griggs takes over and discusses the politics of sustainable aviation. Tension between environmental pressures and continuing demands for economic growth. Problematizing sustainable aviation: a letter sent from the Climate Change Committee to the Environment Secretary that warned of the sustainability problems of increased traffic and additional landing strips. How do you critically explain the installation, sedimentation and reproduction of the post-war regime of (sacrosanct) aviation? Conflicting demands for expansion, for the government to formulate a clear plan, for less noise pollution and proper compensation to local communities, for greater environmental protection, for open government and transparency. Protests over time. New coalitions: Freedom to Fly (airport companies, airlines and trade unions), AirportWatch (conservation groups side by side radical environmental groups). The shift: We see moves to more universal and global challenges to aviation and air travel. A diversification of strategies and tactics, links together local resident campaigns, communities and direct action protest, increasing importance of the visual.

Engagement with the media from a broad resident coalition, of which one is Plane Stupid, a non-violent direct action anti-aviation network of grassroot groups which was created in 2005. The group is non-hierarchical with consensus leadership "they are young, attractive and, in some cases Oxbridge-educated". Media campaign: Stort movies, youtube, blogs, webpages, camp for climate action, celebrity endorsements etc. Staged acts of protest designed for media dissemination (Delicath and DeLuca, 2003), staging forms of protests with strong visual dimension. Media often portrays them as people who trespass and do illegal things, but they are also being heard. The activist make fantasmatic appeals, appeals to action, appeals to global justice and a construction of air travel benefitting privileged minority whilst huge costs for majority, storylines, appeals to science as truth, science as a driving policy but science is also contested. The logics of the media: storylines, images, tabloidization, celebrities.

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