Archive for October, 2008

29 October 2008

CDA in Sydney Morning Herald

Responding to the use of the passive in The Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘Last koala habitats get the chop’ story, a reader sent in the following letter:

Incident of the passive verb

The article “Last koala habitats get the chop” (smh.com.au, October 28) refers to the police issuing “a warning against violent protests, in light of recent logging-related incidents in Tasmania, which saw an activist’s car smashed”. Please get rid of that passive verb. It was loggers who took a sledgehammer to a car with an activist inside it – the incident saw nothing.

Naomi Blackburn Darlinghurst

Critical Discourse Analysis in action.

Via John Knox.

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26 October 2008

Critical Discourse Studies 5(4)

“Class and discourse” is the focus of the new issue of Critical Discourse Studies (Volume 5, Issue 4) is now available online. Abstracts – where available – are linked below:

Renewing an academic interest in structural inequalities
Pages 281 – 287
Authors: David Machin; John E. Richardson

The denial of class struggle by British Governments in their anti-union discourse (1978–2007), Pages 289 – 301
Author: Claudia Ortu

Urbanisation: Discourse class gender in mid-Victorian photographs of maids – reading the archive of Arthur J. Munby
Pages 303 – 317
Author: Sarah Edge

(Mis)recognition and the middle-class/bourgeois gaze: A case study of Wife Swap
Pages 319 – 330
Author: Samantha. A. Lyle

Doing class: A discursive and ethnomethodological approach
Pages 331 – 343
Author: C. M. Scharff

‘Underclass’ and ‘ordinary people’ discourses: Representing/re-presenting council tenants in a housing campaign
Pages 345 – 357
Author: Paul Watt

A war on the poor: Constructing welfare and work in the twenty-first century
Pages 359 – 370
Author: Greg Marston

25 October 2008

Financial Times goes Discourse Analysis

Financial Times Deutschland turns its hand to metaphor analysis in today’s leading financial crisis story. Metaphors such as the finance-tsunami, the earthquakes that shake Wall Street or the meltdown of capitalism suggest that the crisis was caused be acts of nature; ‘the powers that be’. Or Josef Ackermann, the head of Deutsche Bank who earned more than €12 million worth of bonuses in 2007, plus natural powers.

Das Problem beginnt mit der Sprache: Da toben Stürme, ein Finanz-Tsunami sucht uns heim, ein Erdbeben erschüttert die Wall Street, wir erleben die Kernschmelze des Kapitalismus. Diese Metaphern, die ja auch von Journalisten stammen, liegen auf der Hand, um irgendwie zu erfassen, was da draußen los ist. Und doch suggerieren sie, zumal den Betroffenen, die sie aufgreifen, dass hier Naturgewalten und höhere Mächte am Werk sind. Nein, nicht wir Dilettanten haben mit Schrottpapieren gehandelt – ein Tsunami zerstört unsere Welt!

But no, says the FTD, these metaphors lead us astray. The crisis comes from us; from the deeper inner core of ourselves and our society. It comes from our greed and our lust from profit. From bankers to chipshop owners who only change the oil every three days to the consumer who shops around for the cheapest electronic goods – all are part of the problem, according to the FTD.

The story also links to a photo series of conspiracy theories on who caused the crisis. Number 5 is a version of their own theory: the devil and human greed. Number 8 has the best image. Of world governments who are preparing massive underground bunkers to use after the huge planetary catastophe which will flood much of the earth in 2012:

24 October 2008

Hegemony and Moskalenko

The mercury found in Karinna Moskalenko’s car may have come from a barometer that the previous owner of the car had accidentally spilled, according to the French authorities (see Le Figaro, BBC, IHT). When Moskalenko, a Russian lawyer whose clients have included Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the family of Anna Politkovskaya, was recently diagnosed with mercury poisoning, she feared the mercury was planted intentionally to poison her and her family. Indeed, she then remained away from the opening of the trial over the murder of Politkovskaya.

Peter Lavelle sums up almost exactly what I was thinking:

When the story broke that the lawyer for slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was allegedly suffering from mercury poisoning, I braced myself for the now standard reaction: “Putin did it”. When it comes to Russia, the West’s commentariat refuses to use logic or attempts to investigate. The fact is, writing sensational stories about Russia sells and serves time-honoured stereotypes, prejudices, and reinforces a sense of Western hubris. Actually, I am a bit surprised the global financial meltdown has not also been pinned on Putin!

At the time, The Washington Post wrote:

Perhaps this was an unfortunate accident; the police in Strasbourg say they are still investigating. But history suggests otherwise. Numerous opponents of Mr. Putin have been killed or gravely sickened by poisoning.

Yes, the standard reaction. But I do disagree with Lavelle on ‘stereotypes’ and the western commentariat’s lack of logic. There most definitely is a logic at work here: a hegemonic logic. In Lavelle’s words:

Some dots were quickly and erroneously connected: “Kremlin critic – dead journalist – lawyer – poison – Kremlin.”

At any one time, and/or in any one place, there will be a set of expectations, conventional understandings, political exclusions and inclusions, sets of norms and values, leading definitions, etc. All this makes up the fully formed hegemonic (in Gramsci’s sense) discourses of that time and place.

Russia is one of the prime examples of media hegemony. By no means do the media speak with one voice (Lavelle and other bloggers are not the only exceptions), but by and large, when something vaguely political happens, the immediate interpretation is that the Kremlin was to blame. Be this Litvinenko, Politkovskaya, Ukraine’s gas, Estonia’s computers. The ‘dots’ are connected and a binary opposition is set up: Kremlin vs. The Others.

New information appearing on a journalist’s radar is embedded into this already existing binary. If someone is not an associate of the Kremlin, they must be in danger from the Kremlin. I am quite convinced that most of these news reports are not ill-intentioned. Journalists see their job as passing on the most recent newsworthy information they receive. Of course the initial news story is more likely to be noticed and remembered than the small correction printed later.

Lavelle challenges the comentariat ‘to grow up and get real’. Maybe there is something in this. If more individuals shift the discourse, as he does in his in-depth analyses of Russian politics, then the current hegemony will be destabilised. But this only addresses part of the problem. Individuals alone can only do so much to change such entrenched discourses. A fundamental aspect of most significant social or political transformations is a serious ‘dislocation’, i.e., a moment when conventional understandings break down and can no longer help us to make sense of events.

I am watching carefully what happens in the wake of the conflict in the Caucasus. The standard reaction there was also that Russia invaded. The Sunday Mail wrote of Russian ‘barbaric’ ‘slaughter’ of civilians. And then it turned out that western intelligence reports answered the Spiegel’s headline ‘Did Saakashvili lie?’ with ‘yes, he did’.

This is a massive dislocation for most western observers. Wait a minute, they have to think, the standard interpretation doesn’t fit. Georgia-the-innocent-victim-attacked-by-Russia doesn’t wash.

Not that Russia was the innocent victim. But now is the chance for new hegemonic projects — new reports which offer a different take on events — to gain media space. In this phase of dislocation, there is less need to argue with the (old) hegemonic account of events. Instead, it’s time to offer new interpretations, new vocabulary, new discourses. This should (optimistically) be the time when even the Washington Post is open to stories from an ‘alternative’ commentariat.

24 October 2008

Wiki: Religion and New Media

A new wiki has just been launched for scholars and students interested in religion and new media. This collaborative space for sharing resources, research and tips on project funding welcomes all contributions. It also lists scholars in the field who blog, currently Heidi Campbell, Paul Emerson Teusner, Peter Fischer-Nielsen and Andrew Steele.

22 October 2008

McCain asks Russia for donation

Most amusing news story of the day. Apparently, sending a letter beginning “Dear Friend” to Ambassador Vitali Churkin, Russia’s permanent representative at the UN to ask for between $35 and $5,000 was a “mistake”. Meaning, no, not that McCain’s campaign managers realised it was a faux pas, but that the letter was not indeed intended for Ambassador Churkin. Yuri Saikin and Yuri Yershov report for Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

October 22, 2008 Requesting a donation from the office of the Russian Ambassador at the United Nations was a mistake. This belated admission has been made by Brian Rogers, spokesman for Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Rogers said it was due to an error in the mailout address list.

The office of Russia’s permanent representative at the United Nations reported on October 20 that it received a letter, signed by McCain and addressed to Ambassador Vitali Churkin, requesting a donation to the Republican candidate’s presidential campaign. In the six-page missive, McCain requests Churkin to donate between $35 and $5,000 – paying the money directly to a special campaign committee for McCain and running mate Sarah Palin.

A substantial part of McCain’s letter is devoted to criticizing his rival, Democratic Party candidate Barack Obama. The letter doesn’t mention the word “Russia” at all. The author also forgets to relate the potential advantages of his position for Russia if he wins thanks to Russian tax-payers’ money. But he does guarantee that once he is elected president, the USA will “advance freedom and democracy worldwide.”
The Russian representative’s office at the United Nations isn’t inclined to take this letter to Ambassador Vitali Churkin seriously – if only because McCain addresses the Russian diplomat as “Dear Friend,” instead of the proper “Your Excellency Mr. Ambassador.”

Nevertheless, the letter has been answered. A press release from Russia’s UN mission indicates that “neither Russian state officials, nor the office of the Russian Federation’s Permanent Representative at the UN, nor the Russian government finance political activities in other countries.”

McCain’s supporters maintain that the letter was a mistake, at best; at worst, it could have been an act of provocation or a fake. They claim that someone might have used a facsimile of McCain’s signature. McCain’s opponents say that signature-facsimiles have been used by candidates (including Obama) for many years, but there have never been reports of a candidate’s name and signature being used in controversial letters.

Meanwhile, Obama has set a new record by collecting over $150 million in private campaign donations in September. This is almost double the sum that McCain received from state sources for the last two months of his campaign.

Translated by InterContact. Via Johnson’s Russia List.

22 October 2008

Virilio and the financial crisis

Cryptom.org presents Paul Virilio’s take on the financial crisis, first published in Le Monde, now translated by Patrice Riemens. For Virilio, the current crisis is the ‘integral accident’ par excellence, i.e., a catastrophe with massive global resonance, whose seeds were lain in the very technology that led to progress in the financial field. The eyes of thousands are trained upon one issue. He argues that we can not undestand the crash if we think of it as a political and economic issue. We must consider the political economy of speed, the speed brought about by technological progress. Le Monde’s interview:

Gerard Courtois/Michel Guerrin:

In 2002 you produced an exhibition at the Maison Cartier under the title “Ce qui arrive” (‘that which occurs’). It was about the accident in contemporary history: Tchernobyl, 9-11, the Tsunami… A statement by Hannah Arendt was the banner of your demonstration: “progress and catastrophe are the two faces of the same coin”. Is this where we have come to with the ‘crash of the stock exchange’?

Paul Virilio:

Well, of course. In 1979, at the time of the mishap at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in the U.S., I did mention the occurence of an “original accident” – the kind of accident we bring forth ourselves. I said that our technical prowess was pregnant with catastrophic promises. In the past, accidents were local affairs. With Tchernobyl, we have entered the era of global accidents, whose consequences are in the realm of the long term. The current crash represents the perfect ‘integral accident’.

Its effect ripples far and wide, and it incorporates the representation of all other accidents.

For thirty years now, the phenomenon of History accelerating has been negated, together with the fact that this acceleration has been the prime mover of the proliferation of major accidents. Freud said it, speaking of death: “accumulation snuffs out the perception of contingency”.

Contingency is the key word here. These accidents are not contigent occurences. For the time being, the prevalent opinion is that researching the crash of the stock exchange as a political and economic issue and in terms of its social consequences is adequate enough. But it is impossible to understand what is going on if one does not implement a (policy based on the) political economy of speed, the speed that technological progress engenders, and if one does not link (this policy) to the ‘accidental’ character of History.

Let’s take just one example: the dictum “time is money”. I add to this, and the stock exchange testifies to it: “speed is power”. We have moved from the stage of the acceleration of History to that of the acceleration of the Real. This is what ‘progress’ is: a consensual sacrifice.

[…]

Full interview in English at cryptome.org.

On a different similar note:

22 October 2008

Making the local global

Investigative journalism 101. How to find the global relevance of the story you’re reporting and ways to help readers/viewers connect with it. Some story-telling tips from writer and poet Kwame Dawes.

From Project:Report in association with the Pulitzer Center.

20 October 2008

The art of press releases

Media research findings scandalised Britain’s journalistic community earlier this year when it was announced that only about 12% of news items about domestic news in the UK is not based to some extent on press releases or agency newswires.

Unfortunately, it is mainly the most financially secure corporations who can afford to pay former journalists to write press releases in good journalistic style. These companies are pro-actively managing the news we read about their activities. Now, an online guide is available for other organisations and users, outlining the tips and tricks of the trade. Calliope shows you how to write good press releases, ‘preformulated’ so that newswriters have to change very little to make it fit the news style.

It is well-known that the media can make or break organisations. That’s why more and more organisations are now taking the initiative: instead of simply responding to the journalists’ enquiries (or, worse, refusing any comments at all), they are also trying to pro-actively manage the news about themselves. Good or bad, the media are effective tools for communicating an organization’s priorities and accomplishments to the public. In this module we’ll look at one such way of initiating coverage: viz. issuing press releases. Here are some of the questions that we’ll try to answer in this module:

We’ll also introduce the central concept of preformulation.

Thanks to Tom for drawing my attention to this.

19 October 2008

Publication publication

Quote of the day today is from Gary King in a paper titled ‘Publication, Publication’ on ways to approach academic writing for publication:

Your point should unambiguously answer the question: Whose mind are you going to change about what? If that question isn’t answered, then you’re not making a contribution and there’s little reason for the paper to be published. (p.119)

Thanks to Tobias.

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