Archive for September, 2008

30 September 2008

Putin’s popularity

One question dominated a recent workshop on New Stability, Democracy and Nationalism in Contemporary Russia’ at the University of Basel. How did Vladimir Putin manage to gain the trust of the population and such impressive popularity figures? And how has he managed to sustain the public trust in his person throughout his presidency and into his position as prime minster today? The latter question is easier to answer: constant economic growth, increased feelings of stability, the re-emergence of the Russian Federation as an important global political power. But the first question?

Speaker after speaker expressed the view that traditional/conventional (western) political science models, methods and theories are simply unable to explain why Putin suddenly attracted such support when he was promoted to Yeltsin’s Prime Minister in 1999.

This seems to be the gap in the literature that a discourse theoretical approach may be able to fill. We will be watching the output of Philipp Casula, the workshop’s central organiser, keenly to see which proposals he makes, drawing perhaps on Ernesto Laclau’s theorising of populism in On Populist Reason (i.e., did Putin and his advisors manage to unite a wide range of popular demands; something that Yeltsin and his ‘Family’ clearly failed to do?).

Full workshop programme available as pdf file.

Selected data from the Levada Centre (March 2008):

Relation to Vladimir Putin

Results: largely favourable (mid blue), largely unfavourable (dark blue), don’t know enough about the issue (light blue).

Trust, Optimism and Wellbeing

Results: Index of Trust in the Presidency (green), Index of Economic Optimism (red), Index of National Wellbeing (blue).

29 September 2008

Citizen’s Journalism

In a recent issue of Journalism Studies, Zvi Reich presents a thought-provoking investigation into the daily practices of citizen’s news media, arguing that ‘ordinary citizens can serve as a vital complement to mainstream journalism, however not as its substitute’. Although he lists several advantages of citizen reporters, one central issue is couched in a lexis of deficiency. Citzen reporters have ‘inferior access to news sources’, an ‘aversion of human agents’ and thus ‘limited news access’.

Reich thus opens up fascinating terrain for those exploring citizen’s media. Is it necessarily a deficit that citizen reporters do not rely as heavily as their mainstream counterparts on elite sources, given that, as he points out, mainstream reporters are regularly criticised for giving some of their elite sources ‘extensive and favored coverage’?

The paper also – controversially – implies an analogy between (i) the differences between citizen’s journalism and mainstream journalism and (ii) traditional modes of describing the differences between the genders: women have well-developed intuition; men have authority and rationality:

[The study] may very well yield significant insights concerning mainstream journalism as well. For instance, the present study’s findings may point to those elements of journalism that can be tackled by lay citizens, on account of their developed intuition or common sense. Conversely, the findings may shed light on those areas that are best left to the discretion of professional journalists. (p. 740)

Worth reading:
Reich, Z. (2008). How citizen’s create news stories. Journalism Studies, 9(5), 739 – 758.

27 September 2008

Applied discoursology

Applied discoursology posted on sweet-indiana‘s livejournal blog:

*Republican Sociology 101*

If you’re a minority and you’re selected for a job over more qualified andidates, you’re a token hire.
If you’re a conservative and you’re selected for a job over more qualified candidates, you’re a game changer.

Black teen pregnancies? A crisis in black America.
White teen pregnancies? A blessed event.

Grow up in Hawaii and you’re exotic.
Grow up in Alaska eating moose burgers and you’re the quintessential American story.

If you name your kid Barack, you’re unpatriotic.
If you name your kid Track, you’re colorful.

A Democrat who picks a VP without fully vetting the individual is reckless.
A Republican who doesn’t fully vet is a maverick.

If you are a Democratic male candidate who is popular with millions of people, you are an arrogant celebrity.
If you are a popular Republican female candidate, you are energizing the base.

If you are a younger male candidate who thinks for himself and makes his own decisions, you are presumptuous.
If you are an older male candidate who makes last minute decisions you refuse to explain, you are a maverick who shoots from the hip.

If you are a self-made man who recently finished paying off school loans, you are an elitist, out of touch with the real America.
If you are a legacy graduate of Annapolis, married to money, and don’t know how many homes you own, you are one of us.

If you attend a church on the south side of Chicago, your beliefs are extremist.
If you believe in creationism and don’t believe global warming is man made, you are strongly principled.

If you kill an endangered species, you’re an excellent hunter.
If you are raped and have an abortion, you’re a murderer. (And you had to pay the police for your own rape kit.)

If you spend 3 years as a community organizer growing your organization from a staff of 1 to 13 and your budget from $70,000 to $400,000; become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review; create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new African American voters; spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor; spend nearly 8 years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people and becoming chairman of the state Senate’s Health and Human Services committee; then spend nearly 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of nearly 13 million people, sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works, and Veteran’s Affairs committees; and manage a multi-million dollar campaign; you are woefully inexperienced.

If you spend 4 years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with fewer than 7,000 people, then spend 20 months as the governor of a state with 650,000 people, you’ve got the most executive experience of anyone on either ticket.

25 September 2008

VJing Theory

Realtime books: The VJ Theory project explores philosophical perspectives on the practices of working in realtime media, analysing and considering a series of related questions and issues. A recent project, which was created as a collaborative writing project through blogs, is now available as a printed book. The blog posts are still available discussing the performer, performance and interactors, audiences and participators. Overview of the whole project on

24 September 2008

Thank You for Smoking

Thank You for Smoking is a satirical film that should be required viewing for all NGO spokespeople or grassroots activists. Hugely entertaining and highly informative on how to debate, persuade and — above all — never lose an argument.

In discourse theoretical terminology, the key is to create chains of equivalence, that is, to ‘divide social space by condensing meanings around two antagonistic poles’ [1]. Nick Naylor, Vice President of the American Tobacco Academy, i.e., spokesman for the US tobacco lobby, constantly creates frontiers in the social space so that he is on the side of the good and ethical, with his opponents merging into one single antagonistic position.

He links the rights of smokers to general civil liberties (against those who try to deny them those liberties); he connects the defense of beleaguered tobacco corporations to the universal right of the global oppressed to a competent defence (against the powerful oppressors), and presents himself as a man of the people (against the political/health advocacy elites who only aim for personal gain).

A simplified model of equivalential chains is provided by Ernesto Laclau in On Populist Reason [2]

The example I had in mind was that of an oppressive regime – in that case Tsarism – separated by a political frontier from the demands of most sectors of society (D1, D2, D3, … etc). Each of these demands, in its particularity, is different from all the others (this particularity is shown in the diagram by the lower semicircle in the representation of each of them). All of them, however, are equivalent to each other in their common opposition to the oppresive regime (this is what the upper cemicircle represents). This, as we have seen, leads to one of the demands stepping in and becoming the signifier of the whole chain – a tendentially empty signifier. But the whole model depends on the presence of the dichotomic frontier: without this, the equivalential relation would collapse and the identity ogf each demand would be exhausted in its differential particularity.

More on empty signifiers, and an exploration of a less simplified model to follow…

[1] Howarth, D., & Stavrakakis, Y. (2000). Introducing discourse theory and political analysis. In D. Howarth, A. J. Norval & Y. Stavrakakis (Eds.), Discourse Theory and Political Analysis: Identities, hegemonies and social change (pp. 1-23). Manchester: Manchester University Press, p. 11.

[2] Laclau, E. (2005). On Populist Reason. London: Verso, p. 130-131.

Thank You For Smoking, 2006. Directed by Jason Reitman. Produced by David O. Sacks. Nominated for the Golden Globe Award.

23 September 2008

School soap in Berlin

“Große Pause” is a fictional tv soap opera set in the Goethe High School in Berlin.

All summer, free four-day workshops have been running in different Berlin districts to make trailers for the soap. Over the four days, 14 to 18 year olds learn how to work behind and in front of the camera, to layout on the computer and to deal with audio recordings. Professional media producers tell participants about their daily work, and about career options.

The final workshop is being held on 20/21 September and 27/28 September in Wedding. On 12 October, the results of the workshops will be presented live on the public access tv channel, Offener Kanal Berlin. A jury will choose the best ads. The tv show on OKB will be designed, planned and produced together with the workshop participants.

22 September 2008

Save the internet

More news and action from This time the issue is access to the internet in the US. Empty space (‘white space’) between TV channels could easily be used to connect millions of people to the internet. The Federal Communications Commission has already tested how mobile wireless devices can use empty portions of the public airwaves – that is, those broadcast spaces that were established to avoid interference between channels, and which are now, with today’s technology, no longer necessary. According to Timothy Carr, in a recent email sent to the freepress email list, adding your name to their campaign could support widespread internet access through these white spaces.

The technology exists to do just that. But a powerful corporate lobby is standing in the way with a multimillion-dollar misinformation campaign aimed at Rep. Jerrold Nadler .

Washington faces a critical choice: Use new technology to open the Internet for everyone, or side with the lobbyists and prevent millions from getting connected. Help Rep. Nadler make the right decision:

Tell Rep. Nadler : Open the Internet for Everyone

The latest front in the battle over the future of the Internet is about “white spaces” — empty frequencies between TV channels on the public airwaves. New technology can open this unused spectrum to powerful high-speed Internet services, bringing ubiquitous and affordable broadband to millions of Americans now left off the grid.

Here’s the problem: The National Association of Broadcasters and cell phone companies want to hoard this publicly owned resource. Their lobbyists have been blitzing Washington with misinformation to prevent white spaces from being used to benefit millions of people.

Too many Americans have been left on the wrong side of the digital divide — sidelined in a nation that increasingly demands high-speed Internet access to get things done, keep up in school and find out what’s happening in the world. The answer to this problem is right in front of us.

Take Action: Open White Spaces for Everyone

If you sign the letter, we promise to hand deliver it next week to Rep. Nadler . A second copy will go to the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees spectrum policy.

Unless we urge Congress and the FCC to open up white spaces, Rep. Nadler could side with the lobbyists and deny us one of our last, best opportunities to build a better Internet.

It’s a familiar story. Big media companies use any means possible to squash new ideas that threaten their control over information.

With your help today, we can stop them and open up the Internet for everyone.

Thank you,

Timothy Karr
Campaign Director
Free Press

1. Learn more about white spaces

2. Read Free Press Campaign Coordinator Megan Tady’s recent article ‘Wireless to the people’ about the opportunities this campaign presents.

3. Read the New America Foundation’s report about the revolutionary potential of ‘white space devices (pdf).

22 September 2008

Michael Palin for President

Go to and sign up for the Michael Palin for President Newsletter. How about this Palin for US (vice-)president? Wonder what his views on Russia are?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Video thanks to More about “Michael Palin for President“, posted with vodpod.
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21 September 2008

Media Pedagogy

Media Pedagogy: Media Education, Media Socialisation and Educational Media.
In the most recent (Vol 4[2]), Lars Qvortrup presents an outline of ways to understand the discipline of “Media pedagogy”. A short six minute video on the site introduces his paper, and the complete paper is available.

[Qvortrup] sketches out a variety of perspectives on media education, how it has been researched upon, and how it has been considered as an intellectual field, as well as an area of practical application. Qvortrup presents this within the theoretical framework of Niklas Luhmann. Lars Qvortrup is a professor in media studies, and was formerly the director of He is presently the rector of the Danish “Royal School of Library and Information Science” in Copenhagen. Professor Qvortrup is also a co-editor of

Personal highlight of the paper. On ‘media socialisation’, and learners as ‘non-trivial machines’:

All teaching presupposes that the teacher makes a “picture” of the pupil. If the objective of teaching is to change pupils into certain directions, i.e. to meet the aims of the curriculum and to make the students learn certain things, then the teacher must act as if the student is a simple device.

However, the teacher knows that this isn’t the case. Students or pupils are not simple devices or trivial machines, but non-trivial devices. When students are influenced by the interaction of the teacher, they will react in non-foreseeable ways. “Their reaction on impulses will always be mediated through self-reference. That is: They will ask themselves what they can do with – or should understand – a certain input, and they can react on the same input in different ways at different moments.”

Thus, often the teacher interacts with the students or pupils as if they were, what they are not: Trivial devices. He asks them what two times two is, knowing that there is one correct answer, or he asks them when Homer was born, knowing that the one and only correct answer is: “That is not known”. Translated into categories of knowledge, the teacher interacts with students as if all knowledge is factual knowledge, although it is well-known that this is not the case

This, thus, represents another inherent dilemma of the educational system: That teachers interact with students as if they were trivial devices, knowing that in reality they are non-trivial devices. They communicate with students as if communication is transportation of knowledge, knowing that the basic condition of communication is double contingency: The teacher cannot observe the learning processes of the student, and the student cannot observe the intentional processes of the teacher’s selection of communicative utterances.

18 September 2008

Real Battle in Seattle

Well over 40,000 activists (40,000 is the lowest estimate) from movements across the world converged in Seattle nearly ten years ago to fight the World Trade Organisation. Now a battle is ensuing over how to represent –and mediatize– this moment in history. The website is contesting the major film “Battle in Seattle” that will be distributed across the US this autumn. It is calling for social movements to reclaim their histories, stories and futures.

[“Battle in Seattle”] is a docu-drama—a fictional story based on real events—that features extensive archival footage. It may shape what most people in the US and around the world think happened for decades to come—unless we speak up. We call for social movements to take action: to reclaim our history, our stories, and our future.

The story of popular resistance to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle in 1999 is a story of how people power can change the world. It is a dangerous example for the global elite, and a powerful one for movements.

For eight years, the US corporate media, global elites, and their police have been twisting and marginalizing the truth, in order to invent their own story of Seattle 1999 and the stories of social movements’ resistance and victories. These lies and revisions of history have been used in an attempt to criminalize and repress our protests, movements, and mobilizations.

The movie will be released on the eighth anniversary of the 1999 Seattle anti-WTO uprising and shutdown. It was written by a well-meaning actor-director, but is unlikely to reflect the motives, experience, or thinking of the movements behind the shutdown of the WTO. The potential is high and the possibilities are infinite to interrupt this narrative and claim the history that we helped create.

It’s time that we in the social movements tell our own stories, reclaim our own histories, and publicly fight damaging myths of our movements past and present. We must intervene in the public understanding of what happened, what is happening, and what it all means. Stories are how we understand the world and thus shape the future—they are part of our fight against corporate power, empire, war, and social and environmental injustice and for the alternatives that will make a better world.

The real story of Seattle 1999 is of tens of thousands of people rising up, taking direct action, and changing history; standing up to corporations and governments and winning; joining with movements around the world in our common struggle against the WTO.