What I’m reading: Language and Power

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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.

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: The refugees who gave up on Britain

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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.

Kate Lyons, writing in the Guardian in 2018, followed an Afghan father and his son as they made their way to Britain and then back again. She details his time in the United Kingdom, weaving information about the refugee process throughout. According to Lyons, “more than a million people arrived in Europe by sea in 2015, of whom 50% were estimated to be Syrians and 20% Afghans” (2018).

The refugee process in the United Kingdom seems designed for the asylum seeker to fail. There are two interviews for refugees, a screening interview and the substantive interview (Lyons 2018). Since most asylum seekers do not have “documentary evidence proving the danger in their homeland”, the interviews are the only way to verify their claims (Lyons 2018). Caseworkers and interviewers tend to latch onto small inconsistencies in the interviews to deny claims, according to Lyons (2018). Of course, asylum seekers tend to be suffering PTSD and depression, and may not be able to be coherent during interviews. Along with the fact that only 30% of interviews have an interpreter, it is no wonder that only 32% of initial asylum claims were granted in the UK in 2017 (Lyons 2018).

This article followed one family and their failure to be granted asylum. Using human traffickers, jumping lorries and sneaking into a country may be illegal, but it is because of stringent rules regarding asylum seeking that people are forced into these desperate measures.

photo: Michael Gaida

#atozchallenge: Winner Takes All

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When Cameron and the Conservative Party became the majority in the 2015 elections, there was an uproar. How did an unpopular Prime Minister keep his place? Blame was meted out: Ed Miliband was a milquetoast leader with no teeth; the Scottish National Party dominated; the Labour Party had no good ideas. The Conservative Party took 330 seats, an absolute majority.

But then, the numbers came out, and things became curiouser and curiouser. The Conservative Party had actually only won 36.8% of the vote, whilst Labour got 30.5%. And here is where first past the post voting breaks apart: No matter how slim your majority, when you win, you win everything.

If this were a two-party system, this would make sense. But the United Kingdom has multiple parties, with different stakes in the system.  In the United States, we are stuck with two parties because that is how it has always been. (I hope that changes, I honestly do.)

In the UK, one might be better served by the Single Transferable Vote system, whilst the United States might be better served by the Alternative Vote (also called the Instant Run-Off). If we are stuck with the systems we have now, we will see two parties that are dissimilar enough to anger the constituency, but never enough to change. – SDM

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

Photo by Harry Lustig

#atozchallenge: State of the (European) Union

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The goals of the European Union have morphed. From being the cure to extreme nationalism to a powerhouse economy, the European Union has shifted its targets. Whilst I am a proud European, I also understand the travails of bringing together 28 extremely proud countries with their own cultures, values and beliefs. But there are cracks appearing in the surface, and perhaps they have always been there.

The United Kingdom will vote on its Brexit the 23 of June. I shall be watching this, mostly scared. I called the UK home for many years, and if they remain in the EU, I will call it home again. Many of the arguments in the Leave and Remain camps focus on the economic salvation and-or disaster that might occur, depending on how Britain votes.

Perhaps the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union would do well to recall their original reasons for becoming a Union. Now, more than ever, Europe needs a strong front against the growing nationalist trends in the UK, France and even Germany. Europe is stronger together, and Britain’s grumbling about leaving is shaking the entire Union.

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

Photo by moerschy

#atozchallenge: Question Time with the Prime Minister

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When I finished high school, I had a whole summer before university, and I had a very hard time going to bed at any good time, or I would get up too early because my body was used to waking up to get ready for school. So when I woke up, I would switch on the television and flip through the channels. I usually just settled on something quiet that wouldn’t wake up the rest of the house. That channel was usually C-SPAN.

One particular Wednesday, I came upon C-SPAN whilst it was broadcasting the House of Common’s Question Time. For those of you who are unaware, the Prime Minister of England sets aside half an hour or so each Wednesday to take pre-approved questions from the House of Commons. It is a fascinating study in political drama.

When I was in high school, Tony Blair was the Prime Minister and was called, derisively, the poodle of George W Bush because of his decisions with regard to the current Iraq War. And if I recall correctly, the “proof” that had been offered up by MI5 and MI6 had been shown to be, if not wholly fabricated, at least incredibly misleading. So the Question Time was fairly difficult.

It goes without saying that I was hooked! I woke up early every Wednesday to watch it, and when I lived in England, I made sure that I was either home or around a television so I could watch it. Nowadays, UK Parliament is on YouTube, and I watch Question Time when I have the chance, and I have shown one or two to my students here in America, who are fascinated. I suspect it’s mostly the accents.

It is a wonderful piece of political history and theatre, so if you are so inclined, please do check it out. You won’t be disappointed. – SDM

 

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

Photo by the author

#weekendcoffeeshare: Brexit for Breakfast

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I’m drinking a Masala chai from the Curiosity Shop. My week has been wildly busy and my Saturday is full as well. But now I am drinking my tea and contemplating existence. There’s a lot to contemplate. It’s a beautiful sunny day here, and only 5°C!

I’m going to be a bit personal, so if we were having coffee today, I would tell you how anxious I am about the Brexit. I want to live in Britain, but their leaving would make it exceptionally difficult to get a visa. I am wondering what arguments the British people are hearing, and how much of them feel threatened by the EU. I would also be questioning the fact that, though the EU was supposed to create opportunities for everyone living in its borders, it has just become an economic bloc, and a messy one at that.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I am also waiting to hear back about my Master’s application. I have applied to Uppsala University to get my Master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies. I would be telling you about how I don’t feel qualified or clever enough, and that I’m worried I did the application wrong.

I’d also tell you I’m worried about Super Tuesday, next week, where Donald Trump will perhaps gain even more delegates. I would be wondering aloud how we got to this place. Is America so bad? Are people so jingoistic and ignorant? Americans who constantly say ‘no foreigners’ are quite blind and wilfully dumb: unless we are Native American, we are just as much foreign as the people arriving to our borders today.

This is a heavy chat I’m having today. I would have chocolate for you, to ease the conversation. I hope you are doing well. Until next week, then? – SDM

NB: Check out the other posts here!

Photo by condesign