What I’m Listening To: Best of the Left

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

The Best of the Left podcast is a twice-weekly podcast discussing American progressive political ideas. The podcast compiles clips from other left-wing podcasts around a central theme. Episode 972 discussed the Syrian refugee crisis, specifically America’s response to it. There was also some reaction the response of the American media.

In the first clip, Glenn Greenwald, speaking with Democracy Now, points out that Muslims should not feel obligated to condemn terrorist attacks, even though they definitely do (Best of the Left 2015).  Keith Ellison, the first Muslim US Congressman, condemned restrictions on Syrian refugees, arguing that America’s xenophobia aided recruitment amongst terrorist groups (Best of the Left 2015). Democracy Now also points out the parallels with Jewish refugees, calling the nativist response strange given the immigrant nature of the country (Best of the Left 2015).

In the second clip, The Young Turks describe the US screening process and how thorough it is, calling it more thorough than any other country (Best of the Left 2015). Another clip from the Young Turks points out that most victims of the attacks of Daesh are Muslim. For those government officials, calling for religious tests is called “unAmerican” (Best of the Left 2015).

Many of the arguments on this podcast were also made by John Oliver on his shows about the refugee crisis. These will pair well with the conservative media pieces I will have to read to prove my thesis.

photo: Jim Black

What I’m Reading: Political Discourse Analysis

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Isabela and Norman Fairclough collaborated on Political Discourse Analysis: A Method for Advanced Studentsa new theory of discourse analysis that looks at politics as a deliberative method of creating action and not just a moral stance (Fairclough and Fairclough 2013).

Politics have become a major part of deciding how the world works. In Western, democratic governments, politics has been overtaken by the wishes of powerful people over the minority (Fairclough and Fairclough 2013); many times, decisions are made for expediency’s sake.  However, deliberative politics “involves weighing reasons in favour of one or several proposals and reasons against” (Fairclough and Fairclough 2013: 26). This may seem as though it is happening in democratic societies, but it is often difficult to do so and so, quick decisions take precedence over deliberative ones.

Fairclough and Fairclough argue that deliberative political decisions are only achieved when it “involves the participation of all those who will be affected by the decision,” which in turn “makes decisions legitimate and binding” (2013: 30).

Political discourse analysis is important for my thesis because it is important to see how political speech directly affects society, especially the speech during the refugee crisis and the Arab Spring movement directly before it.

photo: John Hain

What I’m Reading: Language and Globalization

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Norman Fairclough’s Language and Globalization is a treatise on how language is being used to prop up neoliberal hegemony. Proponents of globalism conflate the idea of an increasingly connected world with the idea of free trade and low government interference.

Globalism and globalization are not the same thing: globalism is the neoliberal idea of capital moving freely around. According to Fairclough there are six tenets of the globalist idea (2007: 33); remember that globalization (the connectedness of the world) and globalism (capital moving across international borders) are two different ideas. However, in globalist texts, they are one and the same.

According to Fairclough “globalism can be seen as having created a space for unconstrained and highly profitable action on the part of the corporations of the most power countries on earth…on the basis of the claim that markets work benignly without external regulation which the crises of the late 1990s…have shown to be false” (2007: 34). Even the move from industry and manufacturing to the so-called Knowledge Based Economy has been described as inevitable, and globalists insist that there should be no regulations on this economy (Fairclough 2007).

So how has globalism affected media? Fairclough uses Chouliaraki’s ideas from her books to describe how globalism still paints news from a Western perspective, but he also points out that most Western news is controlled by Western multinational corporations (2007). Fairclough writes that “they have contributed to the dissemination of globalist discourse, claims and assumptions, and of the values, attitudes and identities which are culture conditions for the successful implementation of globalism” (2007: 85).

Knowing that media is affected by outside forces will help me be able to analyse the articles and videos that I am going to read for my thesis. Fairclough is a leading expert on critical discourse analysis, and his books will help me strengthen my arguments.

photo: Andras Barta

What I’m Reading: The Ironic Spectator

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Lilie Chouliaraki’s book The Ironic Spectator analyses how solidarity has shifted from spiritual or revolutionary ideas to the performative aspects of therapy and aesthetics. I was most interested in her analysis of media’s influence on how we view suffering. As in her other two books (previously discussed here and here), there is a sense that media, whilst transformed by social media and easy access to technology, it is still constrained by old models of transmitting the news and centring it on Western sensibilities.

Chouliaraki describes the difference between spiritual solidarity, revolutionary solidarity and the post-modern “ironic solidarity” (2013). According to Chouliaraki, ironic solidarity ‘explicitly situates the pleasures of the self at the heart of moral action, thereby rendering solidarity a contingent ethics that no longer aspires to a reflexive engagement with the political conditions of human vulnerability’ (2013: 14). That is, instead of the solidarity of a group of religious cohorts or the solidarity of the proletariat, there is just the solidarity of pity or sympathy, without any religious or political support.

This new ironic solidarity is tied with the marketisation of humanitarian efforts. With the explosion of aid agencies, they must compete in capitalistic terms. So they must advertise themselves as if they were commodities by using tactics that cause the spectator to feel pity or sympathy; NGOs have become a brand (Chouliaraki 2013). However, these economic approaches completely gloss over the ‘”big picture” questions of injustice and redistribution that are specific to the contexts of development” (Chouliaraki 2013: 18).

Using media is the easiest way to market NGOs. By harnessing the new social aspects of mass media–that is, traditional media’s call for tweets, personal videos and personal testimonies–humanitarian agencies are basically given free commercial access (Chouliaraki 2013). However, media is still a moralising force throughout the world and in constant threat from authoritarian regimes and even capitalist market forces that choose what is important to Western spectators.

Like her other books, Chouliaraki analyses media sources in order to build her arguments, something that I hope to emulate well when it comes to my own thesis. Her books were helpful, although I did struggle with the sometimes dense, overly-academic language.

photo: Engin Akyurt

What I’m Watching: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is a satirical and serious show that looks at current events issues. Every week, Oliver focuses on an important issue from the news. In two episodes, he focused on the refugee crisis. In one video, he parses the hateful language used by European governments, especially in The Netherlands, Hungary and Denmark. He softens the language with jokes, as when he calls a Polish minister who calls the refugees ‘human garbage’ “the Polish six flags guy” (Oliver 2015a). He backs up every joke with a bit of research, including research about how helpful refugees and immigrants actually are to an economy, especially ones in Europe with a slow birthrate (Oliver 2015a). The end of the video is a tribute to Noujain Mustaffa, whom he especially highlights in the clip. Unlike short clips on the evening news, this first segment from John Oliver places the crisis in some historical context. However he neglects to mention the full context of the crisis itself; that is, the attack on dissidents in Syria and the civil war there.

In the second clip, released after the 13 November 2015 attacks, Oliver updates the situation and adds to it the US response. One of the attackers was rumoured to have posed as a refugee, setting off fears of refugees coming into America on the same pretenses. After the attack, 31 state governors banned refugees from coming into their state, a pointless bit of grandstanding as Oliver points out they have no legal right to do so, and that refugees can just go to more accepting states (2015b). He also debunks a fear-mongering video from Fox News showing a group of Muslim men calling out Allahuakbar whilst riding the metro; the video had been uploaded five years previously (Oliver 2015).

Oliver places the crisis in context for the American audience in the second clip; he points out that Americans have been slow to accept refugees, even sending a boat with Jewish refugees back to Belgium in 1939, and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two (2015). With the recent news that the United States is lowering its threshold of refugees it will accept, there is a certain sense of déjà vu.

Oliver’s sarcastic take on the hyperbolic language used by politicians and the media is a less scholarly, but still important, way to explain how media influences policy, and why it is added to my bibliographic resources for my thesis.

photo: geralt

What I’m Reading: The Spectatorship of Suffering

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

In Lilie Chouliaraki’s book The Spectatorship of Suffering, she discusses and analyses the various ways that Western spectators view suffering of a distant ‘Other’. Television and other forms of media has put a veneer of aesthetics over suffering, where there is a disconnect between the visualization of suffering and the actual reality of it (Chouliaraki 2006). In this age of hyper-visualisation, Chouliaraki says that “spectators today are not required to call on their capacities to create and interpret meaning” (2006: 51). This means that, like other parts of their lives, they are only consumers.

Chouliaraki defines three types of news reporting of disaster news: adventure news, emergency news and ecstatic news (2006). I concentrated on adventure news and emergency news, as my thesis will go over media coverage about the so called ‘migrant crisis’ and conservative immigration reform in the United States.

Chouliaraki defines adventure news as “news items that […] consist of random and isolated events” (2006: 97). In normal news, they are stories of tragedy that are told in a minute or so, and given no context. In this way, the spectator not only has no chance to feel pity, the sufferers are completely dehumanized (Chouliaraki 2006). Adventure news is categorised by three main themes:

  • descriptive narratives that register only ‘facts’
  • singular space-times that restrict the spectator’s proximity to suffering
  • the lack of agency that dehumanizes sufferers and suppresses the possibility of action in the scene of suffering (Chouliaraki 2006: 98)

Adventure news is especially prevalent in 30-minute news shows, where there are multiple bits of news to get through. These news stories are usually devoid of context and seemingly unconnected to any other events happening either at the same time, or historically (Chouliaraki 2006).

The other type of news I concentrated on was emergency news. Emergency news is news that demands action from the spectator, but not in any direct way (Chouliaraki 2006). In emergency news, the suffering is closer, both verbally and visually. Instead of static maps and lists of those killed or injured, there are dynamic images and videos that place the disaster in a specific time. Finally, the suffering a slightly humanised by their actions, however limited they may seem to Western spectators (Chouliaraki 2006).

Chouliaraki’s books are quite dense with complicated academic writing that can be intimidating, but the research and analysis is quite helpful, especially when deconstructing how news brings suffering to indifferent spectators. I hope, with my thesis, to create context for media’s impact on actual political policy.

photo: jane b

 

What I’m Reading: Self-Mediation

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Self-Mediation: New Media, Citizenship and Civil Selves is a collection of essays studying an analysing the rise of social media in the daily lives of people around the world, and how this new form of media is allowing otherwise oppressed voices to speak out. Of course, this rise has also come with new oppressions and also self-conscious displays of a new form of aesthetic.

I chose two essays: Greg Myers’ “Stance-taking and public discussion in blogs” and Lilie Chouliaraki’s “Ordinary Witnessing in post-television news: towards a new moral imagination.” In Myers’ essay, he writes that blogging, which is seen as independent from traditional media, is “not independent of prevailing ideologies and institutionally organised campaigns” (Myers 2012, pg 56). This means that a blog writer, though writing independently, brings their own ideals, morals and ethical beliefs into every post. Myers also quantifies words that are considered stance taking, ironic takes in comments and more conversational style of writing (2012). He uses the speech analysis software called WMatrix to pore over 50,000 words collected over five blogs, with comments included. Looking at comments on a blog can be particularly insightful, but only to a point; as Myers says, comments tend to go off-topic, either deliberately or by “gradual mutation” (2012, pg 57). Commentators also tend to use irony in their comments, in order to throw something they see as incongruous into relief or as a mocking strategy (Myers 2012). Myers’ essay will help me in quantifying and sorting words in the conservative media that I will be reading.

In Chouliaraki’s essay, she writes about mass media and its growing reliance on direct witnesses (2012). She argues that whilst this direct witnessing gives audience members “potential to care” (Chouliaraki 2012 pg 113), most of the direct witnesses are still part of the powerful majority or some way part of an existed power structure. So instead of the victims’ voices, we hear from the NGOs who are ‘saving’ them. There is also a lack of objectivity in order to be the first source on television or other forms of mass and social media (Chouliaraki 2012). Chouliaraki also points out that in order to be first, there is no time to analyse or deconstruct the history or reasons behind certain disasters (2012). This is especially true when natural disasters hit former colonies that have been stripped of most of their resources by their colonial powers.

Both of these essays offer valuable insight into the language usage in current mass media, whether traditional or social. As I am not a conservative media consumer, Myers’ essay will help me decipher stylistic usage, and Chiouliaraki’s will support my findings of non-objective witness reporting.

photo: geralt