What I’m reading: Language and Power


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.

Critical discourse analysis is the study of language as social practice. The analysis is mostly leftist and oppositional. In Norman Fairclough’s book Language and Power (2015), he argues that language has been changed by a neoliberal, globalist and capitalist society in order to suppress resistance and individualise issues that are caused by social ills. This book will be particularly helpful in revealing how conservative media outlets in the United Kingdom, the United States and France control and constrain the audience (Fairclough 2015).

There are many ways media may control and constrain the discourse, especially in public, one-way communication such as TV broadcasts and newspaper articles, either by suppressing certain voices or placing more emphasis on ‘powerful’ voices (Fairclough 2015 and Bell 1991). One important way of suppressing certain voices is by creating a standard language and making anyone who does not speak that standard language seen as either less educated or less reliable (Fairclough 2015). Though Fairclough uses the example of Standard British English and Received Pronunciation (2015), this happens in the United States as well; African American Vernacular English [AAVE] is seen as non-standard and inferior. For French, the standard is the French spoken in France and not its former colonies; television news broadcasts will often put subtitles under people speaking non-standard French, though they may be perfectly understandable.

One way that capitalism has been particularly invasive and insidious is its use of social justice and change type language in order to sell a product. Most recently, Colin Kaepernick as the face of Nike and Kendall Jenner’s tone-deaf ad for Pepsi, the former hailed and the latter panned, has made consumerism a form of political discourse (Fairclough 2015). By building a certain ‘image’ of their company, these multi-national companies can hide behind language of resistance whilst creating more consumers for their products.

Social change in general has taken a blow by the creation of centre-left parties that have taken on neoliberal, capitalist ideals and deemphasising their pasts as socially progressive, anti-capitalist parties. Hence New Labour and New Democrats in the United Kingdom and the United States respectively and Emmanual Macron’s République en Marche (The Republic on the Move) in France. By erasing their more socialist pasts (or, in the United States’s case, completely switching ideologies after the Southern Democrats jumped ship after the Civil Rights amendment passed), these parties have capitulated to the idea that capitalism is the only way forward and so must work within that parameter (Fairclough 2015).

Fairclough’s book is going to be very helpful in dismantling the ways the news media has constructed the language surrounding the plight of the refugees and asylum seekers in the critical period of 2011-2016, and the current language of immigrants in general.

photo: Bruce Emmerling

What I’m Reading: Les disparus

europe-2069532_1920.jpgI 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.

Les Jours is an independent French media source bankrolled by subscribers and investors. (Full disclosure, I am a subscriber.) Each ‘obsession’ is a long-form multimedia article that can be read on any type of technology. It is almost an online magazine, with each article being called an episode and filled with photos, sounds and other information. The obsession that I chose to read, amongst others, was Les disparus: sur la trace des migrants morts en Méditerranée (The vanished: following the path of dead migrants in the Mediterranean). The first episode is available to read, and is in French. I chose three particular episodes on which to focus: episodes five, ten and twenty. I am solely responsible for the translation, and regret any errors.

Released over a span of seven months, Taina Tervonen describes efforts to identify dead or missing migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from objects left behind from sunken vessels. She also describes the European Union’s reaction to the crisis–mostly negative and unhelpful.

In episode five, Après les tragédies, l’Europe refermée (After the tragedies, Europe shuts down), Tervonen visits the island of Lesbos, where many asylum seekers washed ashore, dead or nearly so. She writes that “in October [2015] alone, there was a peak of 220.579 people” arriving from the Mediterranean (Tervonen 2018). Instead of helping Greece and Italy, the European Union decided to reinforce border controls and not much else (Tervonen 2018). This may have been the simplest measure, but it did not reduce the flow of people. The people of Lesbos, according to Tervonen, were “abandoned by Europe, whilst also suffering under austerity imposed by Brussels” (2018). Showing a strong front against refugees and asylum seekers may assuage the minds of xenophobes within the EU, but does nothing to help the people aiding refugees and asylum seekers.

Tervonen writes that at the height of the crisis, in September 2015, the EU entered into negotiations with Turkey “to limit and organise the influx of migrants” (2018), and then also with some African states to propose development aid in exchange for better border controls. She writes, “for the first time, development was officially conditioned on border control” (2018). Numbers, whilst reduced, did not fall to zero; however, the European Union has made those seeking refuge and asylum more and more uncomfortable, meaning they make more dangerous choices in crossing.

Tervonen describes the effects of the ‘better border controls’ in episode ten, L’Europe délocalise le tri des migrants (Europe outsources the sorting of migrants). The European Union sorts exiled people into two groups, refugees and economic migrants, and for the most part, that sorting happens in Greece and Italy (Tervonen 2018). However, after 2016 negotiations, that sorting started happening in Libya and Niger, the former a country with no central government and the latter incredibly poor and unable to handle the amount of people that are trying to cross through.  The refugee camp in Agadez, Niger is run by international organisations, and concerns itself with the sorting of ‘real’ refugees and ‘fake’ asylum seekers (Tervonen 2018), as if people leaving their country are doing so for some sort of amusement. There are many steps and interviews at these camps, where there is not enough food or sanitation for the numbers that keep arriving. Also, the development aid is slow to come, angering people in the city (Tervonen 2018).

In episode 20, Le jeune homme et la mer (The young man and the sea), Tervonen updates the story with new measures from Europe. They are cruel and Kafkaesque, and do not help the countries from which people flee. The conditions in Libya, a country that deals with the sorting of asylum seekers, are “well-known and regularly denounced in NGO and various UN agency reports” (Tervonen 2018). There is a system of voluntary returns, but as Tervonen writes, ‘voluntary’ is a laughable concept when you’ve been starving in a camp or prison in Libya and Niger (2018). As of July 2018, Tervonen writes that there are “at least 6500 people detained in official prisons and multiple thousands in clandestine ones, according to the UN” (2018).

The European Commission put forth three possibilities for a continued system of sorting: asylum centres in Europe organised by Frontex and the European bureau of asylum; asylum centres in Northern Africa organised by the UNHCR; finally, countries neither EU or NATO, in Europe or in Africa, with no real oversight by any organisation (Tervonen 2018). The extreme right in Europe does not like the first option, and the second and third options are places where asylum seekers are being treated poorly.

Though the numbers of new arrivals has lowered, there are still thousands in camps waiting for some word. A legal route is nearly impossible; the EU is only concentrating on “border surveillance, on sending people back and [so-called] control centres” (Tervonen 2018).

This control is only one way, of course. As Tervonen (2018) writes, sitting in the Gambia in Palma Rima, enjoying the sun: “There are so many White [Europeans], like me, who travel without issue from one continent to another, without any risk except for a pick-pocket or a hangover.” Europeans do not give the same rights to those to whom they have caused harm, and it is most obvious in these countries that must support tourism but are not allowed to seek something better, or receive help from those countries that used them in the past.

photo credit: Kreative Hexenküche

#atozchallenge: Tout et rien- a September 11th Story


11 September 2001: We watch the towers come down in horror from a classroom. I sit in the office at school; my mother is coming to take me home. We are all scared, and there are a million rumors flying about. All we know is that it is definitely a terrorist attack and the last plane, the one that came down in Pennsylvania, is the one that was headed to the White House. I write in my journal:

In praise to our Lord and Lady
Help us see the light through the smoke.
Help us in our quest for justice

For it is JUSTICE, not REVENGE
for which we are searching.

I am for the Operation Enduring Freedom. We are no longer allowed to wait for our friends and family at the boarding gate. My mother tells me that my grandfather was at the opening of the World Trade Centres.

15 March 2005: My very best university friend and I go to New York. We visit Ground Zero; it is a huge gaping wound that we stare at through a chain-link fence. We are both stunned, tears in our eyes. We stand and stare at the hole, and then walk on, shaken, saddened. It greys the rest of our day. (New York City itself was a wonderful experience. I can see why it it is easy to fall in love with the place.)

11 September 2006: I am in Lyon, France for a semester abroad. I am out with friends in an elegant café and there is suddenly a crowd of people demonstrating, waving Palestinian flags and carrying anti-zionist slogans. The year before there had been massive demonstrations in Clichy-sous-Bois, near Paris, and a few months previous there had been demonstrations across France. Both of my parents are nervous but I am twenty and fearless.

The demonstration scares my friends and me, and we nervously head to the subway and to our respective homes. I live in the centre of the city, in the Presque-Île. I call my mother from my bedroom, watching the demonstration from my window. She warns me to stay inside. I don’t even realise the date until the next day.

4 December 2006: I am at a house party in Lyon, sitting on a sofa. The man across from me is drunk, like I am. He keeps asking me questions about Bush, about Iraq, and I am struggling, not just in French, but with my ideology. I feel as though I must defend and explain the American psyche, even though I myself don’t agree with it. I spend a lot of time on the balcony, staring down the beautiful boulevard, confused and dismayed.

11 September 2011: I am in London. It is a beautiful day and I am walking home on the Edgeware Road. There is a police presence, and of course I am curious. There are men with long beards and taqiyahs and hijabi women holding signs that say America is at war with Islam and Muslims and anti-war slogans. I am filled with shame for having supported the strikes in Afghanistan, and I stand and watch the protest.

Photo taken by the author.

My neighbour tells me that one of the bombs that exploded during the 7 July bombings was the tube station that is directly behind our flats, platform 4, Edgeware Road. It has been a decade for me, but only five painful short years for her. Britain was America’s first ally during Operation Freedom. I do not know anything any more.

Until we meet again. – SDM


If you’d like to read the other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check out my category!

Lead picture by Unsplash

#atozchallenge: Liberté, égalité, fraternité


I am stopped every time I go to France. I don’t mind; the security theatre must be played by both actors. But I am stopped every time, and questioned about my movements. I have an EU passport, so I naively thought that granted me some latitude, some freedom, but it does not.

I am asked why I speak French so well (I’m a French teacher); I am asked how long I’m planning on staying (a week, two?); I am asked where my place of birth is (yes, that is an American military base–my mother is German, hence, I have jus sanguinis, or birthright citizenship). It is a constant play. Then, they open my bag on some pretext, compliment my packing skills (almost every time) and then I am sent on my way. I am not offended or put off, but I feel that the official French line is that brown people who speak their language are suspicious. It’s ridiculous considering France’s long history of colonialism and imperialism.

Living in a militantly secular but historically Christian nation is interesting, coming from a ‘secular’ but actually quasi-Christian nation like America. Living in a militantly secular state means that ‘ostentatious’ displays of religion are offensive, and talking about Christian holidays in the classroom is verboten.

I was a senior in high school in America when France passed its law against ostentatious displays of religion. I remember being outraged and disappointed: France for me had been the bastion of culture and true liberalness of thought, society and politics. When you live in the Bible Belt, anything seems liberal. I’ve learnt since that France is still entrenched in its colonial mindset, and is still struggling (and in some senses, failing) with immigration and integration.

Being a French teacher means I not only teach language, with vocabulary and grammar structures, but also differences and similarities in culture. Most of my students think that France is a liberal bastion, just like I did, but I am slowly opening their eyes to the fact that even in la belle France, there are some ugly and deep scars. – SDM


If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by Nuno Lopes

What I’m reading this week: 11 March 2016


I apologise for not updating my weekly reads in a week. Last week was horribly hectic and busy; this week hasn’t been much better, but I have a small collection of reads from the past fortnight.

First up, a little bit of good news from France, in honour of International Womens’ (Workers) Day. François Hollande, president of France, was profiled in the latest issue of Elle France, discussing various ‘feminist’ issues. Le Monde‘s Catherine Mallaval and Virginie Ballet summarise the article and discuss the history of French presidents and their attempts at connecting with women. France in general, in my view, still has an issue with equality amongst the sexes, but Hollande calling himself a feminist is probably better than anything we’ll get out of our male American leaders. [Article is in French.]

It’s not all good news in la belle France, though. Le Monde reports on findings from the European Council on issues of racism there, especially in the rise of harassment towards Muslims and Jews, along with general xenophobia. The council especially notes that France’s concept of la laïcité is taken to extremes very often, by banning outward expressions of religion that are deemed ‘ostentatious’. France is the very definititon of a ‘problematic fave’ as my students would say. [Article is in French.]

Coming back to America, then. The election continues apace, and now we are in an interesting place: the Republicans don’t want their winner to continue to win, and the Democrats are pushing further and further to the left. Danielle Kurtzleben writes about Tuesday’s (9 March) primaries, and what there is to learn.

Veit Medick, the Washington correspondent for Der Spiegel, writes about Donald Trump’s rise and the worry it is bringing people in the Republican party and in intellectual circles in his article Donald Trump und der Super Tuesday: Angst um Amerika. You can see my thoughts on his Super Tuesday win, and Super Tuesday in general, right here.

And finally, Emma Lindsay explains parts of the complicated history of racism tinged with classism and why it’s helping Donald Trump at the Medium. Being white and being poor, she explains, is probably still better than being black and being poor, because:

To summarize, no one wants to occupy the “last” place in society. No one wants to be the most despised. As long as racism remains intact, poor white people are guaranteed not to be “the worst.” If racism is ever truly dismantled, then poor white people will occupy the lowest rung of society, and the shame of occupying this position is very painful. This shame is so painful, that the people at risk of feeling it will vote on it above all other issues.

Whilst this is not a new argument, Lindsay’s essay is well-timed and well-written and a good look at the mindset of poor, white America.

Until next time. – SDM

Photo by Javier Rodriguez

What I’m reading this week: 19 February 2016


The thing about politics is that it is everywhere. People have a horror of talking about it, but it invades our daily life. Politics affects me as dual citizen; it affects me as a woman; it affects me as a person of colour. It insinuates every part of my life, so I take an interest in it (some may say it is quite an unhealthy interest).

In huge political news, Justice Antonin Scalia passed away the 13th February 2016. You can read my thoughts on his passing here, but I was also interested in seeing how his death affects cases already on the docket. Ian Millhiser at Think Progress wrote an interesting article about how his death affects decisions already made and those upcoming ones. The ramifications of his death are still to be seen, especially with the Republican obstructionist streak we are seeing now.

Justice Scalia was a lover of opera, and a comment I spied in NPR’s obituary about him mentioned that his favourite was Der Rosenkavalier. The opera was performed at PROMS 2014, and I read an article from July 2014 by Simon Callow in The Guardian about the opera. I’m not a fan of opera in general, but I do like comic operas, so I may just have to check this out.

Continuing on with The Guardian. In the US version’s Comment is Free, George Soros writes that Putin’s aggressiveness and dishonesty makes him a bigger enemy for the European Union than Daesh and Al-Qaida. Putin is looking at the instability of the EU as a good sign–an unstable EU is a weaker enemy.

Some of that instability in the EU is from the refugee crisis; the EU is scrambling to find the best solution for the issue. I will write about this later, at great length, because it is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. Le Monde’s Frédéric Lemaître writes about the increasingly strained and divisive talks happening in München (Munich) right now.

And finally, an article from The New Yorker that is quite personal to me. I teach French, and I’ve been working as teacher for the past five years. In David Denby’s Cultural Comment, Stop Humiliating Teachers, he writes that Americans tend to denigrate the teaching profession as a whole, even as they recall their favourite ones. Teaching is a stressful and usually thankless job, so reading this had me nodding my head vigorously at every line.

So, until next time then. – SDM

Photo by le bateleur

#weekendcoffeeshare: A Weekend of Politics


I do not actually drink coffee. So, were we having a cup of coffee, I would opt for a nice cup of tea. Today’s cup of tea is actually a cup of Fortnum & Mason’s Queen Anne blend of Ceylon and Assam. (I am a bit of a tea person.) It is a bright and sunny but impressively cold day for a southern state (3°C).

Currently, I am curled up on my sofa listening to my enormous backlog of podcasts. I am a big fan of podcasts and I listen to a wide range of them. My favourite political one, other than the BBC’s The Week in Westminster is The Best of the LeftI’ve been listening to them for a while. I’m on episode #985, A conservative policy showcase (Flint’s poisoned water). Obviously, I can only say that this sort of thing is infuriating, and were we having our caffeinated beverages, we’d probably spend a lot of time talking about it. My favourite bit about this podcast is that they have a segment called Activisim, where they tell you about petitions, awareness campaigns and other proposals to help once you’ve been informed and angered.

If we were in France and having coffee, it would be an espresso, and I would be overjoyed (I do love France). I would be gushing about my new favourite news magazine, Les Jours. It is a subscription-based, completely independent and online news source created by a team from Libé, a left-wing newspaper which I also love. I’ve just finished reading a longform article about the collège system in France. Collège is French for middle-school, and it was an amazing look at it. I’m current reading a first-person account about the days after the 13 November attacks. I have found a new love. I would be telling you to subscribe!

Later, I will probably binge-watch The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. I was a huge fan of the show with Jon Stewart, and I love Noah’s very different look at our political system. I also think he’s very cute, superficially. So were we having coffee, I’d probably be repeating a joke poorly or telling you about something I learnt from the show.

And finally tonight, the Republican debate on CBS. Were we having coffee, you would probably ask why I would torture myself. I would tell you that I am really funny on Twitter and that the Republican debates are a source of much horrified amusement.

So, let’s drink on, friends. – SDM

NB: Read all the other Weekend Coffee Share posts for this weekend here.

Photo by Greg (Vanderdecken)