Archive for March, 2009

31 March 2009

Projection onto Moscow

Here we are, in a time of crisis, and once again Russia operates as a space onto which “western” (in this case, German) fears can be projected.

Moscow, so the German state television channel ZDF tells its viewers (at prime time this evening), is a city of mega-rich and shockingly-poor. While the rich ignore the crisis and continue to party, drink champagne and eat caviar (fade in: image of ballroom dancing, tuxedos, etc), the poor get poorer (fade in: image of poor homeless couple, freezing, being picked up by the police).

The strong implication of the rhetoric in the opening minutes of this “documentary” is that these issues are specific to Moscow’s glittering elite.

Such excess would never be relevant in Germany or anywhere else in the West/North, now would it? Especially not during a financial crisis.

Or would it:

  • Partyelite Berlin. Vodka only 60 € for 1 litre
  • “JPMorgan Chase, beneficiary of $25 billion in taxpayer bailout dollars, plans to spend $138 million for swank corporate jets and a new hangar”
  • AIG’s infamous payout of $165 million in bonuses in this same crisis year. (Plus public backlash)
  • Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension of £703,000-a-year. The former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s “departure from RBS was negotiated on the weekend of October 11/12 [2008] when the bank was saved from collapse by an injection of £20bn by the taxpayer.”
  • “Bob Diamond, the hard-charging boss of Barclays’ investment banking arm […] has suffered a brutal £4m cut to his annual remuneration – leaving him last year with a meagre £17m in cash and shares.”
  • Josef Ackerman, Deutsch Bank boss, also took a massive 90% pay cut, leaving him with only 1.39 million euros ($1.89 million) earnings last year.

And at the same time:

  • “Numbers of Homeless Increase as Nation’s Financial Crisis Continues” (USA)
  • “From June 2007 through May [2008], PADS [Lake County’s homeless shelter] saw a 17 percent increase from the previous year in new clients and a 48 percent increase in children.” (USA)
  • Estimates place Germany’s number of homeless people between 300,000 and 860,000. (More on Günter Wallraff‘s experiences)
29 March 2009

Blogs vs. joint action?

A thought I’ve been having recently is mirrored in a New York Times commentary on the lack of riots in the face of the current financial mess:

The texture of discontent (or lack thereof) can say a lot about a nation, and that Americans today are less likely to rebel may not be an entirely positive sign.

It certainly doesn’t mean we have more love, patience or tolerance for one another. Indeed, it may mean just the opposite, that we tend not to trust one another and that we are more alienated from our neighbors than ever before. The lack of direct action could signal the weakening of a social contract that keeps people meaningfully invested in the fate of our country — which may, in turn, be hindering our ability to resolve this crisis.

Before blogs and radio call-in shows, people joined forces and turned to the streets as their most effective means of expression; a unified, angry crowd was often sufficient to win concessions from employers and governments. And so most rebellions of the 20th century were over bread-and-butter issues like unsafe work conditions, wages and high prices for basic commodities. Even “race riots” were usually motivated by competition between ethnic groups over access to jobs and housing subsidies.

But some outbreaks of lawlessness were also indicators of strong, shared sentiments and were driven by a sense of higher purpose. […] Today widespread anger and collective passivity exist side by side.

Where “passivity” means spending time with oneself and one’s internet/tv/radio/___________ (insert preferred form of media)?

After suggesting that at least one of the reasons that Americans are not acting out our anger is our personal shame about not being able to pay the mortgage or credit card bill, Sudhir Venkatesh ends with:

To restore our social bonds, each one of us must overcome our isolating feelings of embarrassment and humiliation and understand that this is a shared plight. We’ll also have to accept that anger, real anger, has a role to play in producing collective catharsis and fostering healing.

Fury, after all, can manifest itself in more productive ways than urban rioting or cable-TV ranting. Fury can inspire real protest, nonviolent civil disobedience, even good old-fashioned, town-hall meetings. That’s how we’ll recover our public life and perhaps help one another through this crisis — storming angrily into the streets and then, once we’re out there, actually talking to one another.

Sudhir Venkatesh, Professor of Sociology at Columbia, wrote the inticingly titled “Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets”.

27 March 2009

Discourse analyst on MTV

Yes, discourse analysis is fashionable enough for MTV. Simon Lindgren, Associate Professor of Sociology at Umeå University, Sweden, is starring in four short clips on Swedish MTV.

In the first one, I say a few words about reality television as a research subject. The second one is about the fact that one can actually make a career out of analyzing popular culture. The third one will appear before episodes of The Hills, and represents an ultra brief reflection on identity work and beauty culture. The fourth and final one will air before episodes of Life of Ryan, and gives an equally brief analysis of changing ideals of masculinity.

He is also presenting an interesting paper at the upcoming CAQR2009 (2nd International Conference on Computer-Aided Qualitative Research), which combines Laclau and Mouffe’s approach to discourse with bibliometric and network analytical tools — albeit focusing analysis on the print-textual level.

22 March 2009

“Dissident” – a resignification?

Something interesting happened in the news media last week.* After the fatal attacks on security forces in Northern Ireland on 9 and 10 Marc, the suspects were repeatedly referred to as “Irish Republican Army dissidents” (AP), “dissident republicans” (Guardian), “IRA dissidents” (The Star), “dissident republicans” (BBC), “dissident republican groups” (Telegraph), etc.

This fits with the standard dictionary definition of dissident (“disagreeing, esp, with an established government, system, etc.” according to the Oxford Concise Dictionary). But it does not fit with recent corpora, i.e., databases of the ways in which language is actually used. For example:


Note the distinct tendency for the majority of these “dissidents” to be positively valued (for a particular political position)? The dissidents are disagreeing with very particular types of governments and systems, and in a way which is pro-liberal, pro-democracy, pro-West and/or anti-Communist.

This is a random selection from the Collins WordbanksOnline English corpus (56 million words; contemporary written and spoken English). The British National Corpus (100 million words; British written and spoken English) returns similar results. (Oxford also now has a corpus, but they only have a video demo online.)

*It undoubtedly happened earlier, but I only became aware of it last week, reading the British coverage of the recent killings in Northern Ireland.

21 March 2009

Alice in Wonderland

Žižek has had his influence. Impossible to watch Alice in Wonderland at the Kammerspiele in Berlin’s Deutsches Theater tonight without thinking of Althusser’s interpellation. The play provides a beautiful example of interpellation when the rabbit refers to Alice as his maid:

Why Mary Ann, what are you doing out here? Run home this moment, and fetch me a pair of gloves and a fan! Quick now!”

In the play (although not in the original book), Alice then contemplates what this means for her identity. She isn’t Mary Ann. Mary Ann is not who she is. But then, if the rabbit calls her Mary Ann perhaps she is Mary Ann after all. Etc.

Lovely moment in a nicely absurd play.

13 March 2009

Birkbeck: On the Idea of Communism

communismThe discoursologists are on tour. To London. Hanging out with Judith Balso, Alain Badiou, Bruno Bosteels, Terry Eagleton, Peter Hallward, Michael Hardt, Jean-Luc Nancy, Toni Negri, Jacques Ranciere, Alessandro Russo, Alberto Toscano, Gianni Vattimo and Slavoj Zizek until Sunday.

12 March 2009

Discourse Analysis: A Way of Seeing

Discourse Analysis: A Way of Seeing. That should be the title of my (next) book. Copyright and patented here. Although I’ve unabashedly lifted it from Harry F. Wolcott’s Ethnography: A Way of Seeing in which he argues that ethnography is not simply a way of “looking” but — the subtitle says it — a way of “seeing”.

A way of looking refers, in this sense, to a set of methodological techniques to look at the field, e.g., participant observation, interviewing, case studies, field work in general, etc. A way of seeing, on the other hand, is this way of looking plus “how data subsequently are organized, analyzed, or reported” (p. 46), i.e., an interpretive position integrating the methods with a purposeful way of looking and describing, integrating theory and — central to Wolcott — an orientation to culture.

Now this all sounds eminently plausible and chimes with the way I have begun to think about discourse analysis. Many people think of it as a set of methods; some think of it as an approach, a perspective, a way of seeing, but then conduct and write up studies in which it turns into a way of looking. And many researchers engage with discourse analysis as a way of seeing. This was, in a way, what Teun van Dijk was trying to achieve by renaming the field “discourse studies” rather than “discourse analysis”, since the term “analysis” does seem to encourage the reduction to method.


Review of the second edition of Ethnography: A Way of Seeing (2008) available here, including:

This casual yet informed synthesis, written in an engaging style, is what sets Wolcott’s book apart from the humdrum of texts that discuss methods formally, often in a staccato, bland, and abstracted tone, usually detached from application except to highlight the method by tacking on a case study. By contrast, Wolcott’s excursion is a wonderful raft ride through the flows, eddies, and rapids of anthropological experience that is always theoretically informed.

7 March 2009


Another term for the glossary: Ecolinguistics. And a two day symposium on current trands and developments in Ecolinguistics: The Ecology of Science is to be held on 11 and 12 June 2009 at the University of Southern Denmark (Odense).

Symposium on Ecolinguistics: The Ecology of Science

Call for Papers. Deadline: 18 Apr 2009

Ecolinguistics emerged in the 1990’s as a new paradigm of linguistic research which emphasises the ecological context in which societies are embedded. Einar Haugen’s “The Ecology of Language” and Michael Halliday’s 1990 work “New ways of Meaning: the challenge to applied linguistics” are often credited as a seminal works which provided the stimulus for linguists to consider the ecological context and consequences of language.

Among other things, the challenge that Haugen, Halliday and others put forward was to make linguistics relevant to the issues and concerns of the 21st century such as the the widespread destruction of ecosystems and the loss of languages. Since Haugen’s and Halliday’s initial comments, the field of Ecolinguistics has developed considerably, especially in Europe with a working group “Human  Ecology and Language” and symposia held in Austria and Germany. The discipline of Ecolinguistics is divided into two main branches: eco-critical discourse analysis and the ecology of languages. However, Ecolinguistics is still about to find its own home but it holds an interdisciplinary potential with academic subjects such as cultural geography, environmental history, eco-feminism, cultural studies, anthropology, eco-psychology and social ecology.

The aim of the symposium is to trace and merge current and new trends and developments in Ecolinguistics in order to explore avenues for future research.

Please submit tiles and an abstract for 20 minutes presentations to Jørgen Bang

6 March 2009

DAAD position at University of Essex

For German post-structuralist discourse theorists: the DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst) is sponsoring a temporary lectureship (min 2 years; max 4 years) in political science at the Department of Government, University of Essex, Colchester, England. Not that all the Essex political scientists are of discourse theoretical colour (by no means). But still.

Deadline: 20.03.2009. Position starts Sept/Oct 2009. Applicants must have doctorate.

Der Lektor / Die Lektorin wird im Undergraduate- und Postgraduatebereich
eines der renommiertesten politikwissenschaftlichen Departments des
Landes tätig sein.

Lehraufgaben: Lehrveranstaltungen vorwiegend in englischer Sprache,
darunter Vorlesungen, Seminare und Tutorien zu Themenbereichen deutscher
und europäischer Politik, v.a. EU-Politik. Mögliche Schwerpunkte: das
politische System Deutschlands, die Politik der Bundesrepublik
Deutschland, deutsche Außenpolitik und EU-Beziehungen, die Politik der
BRD in vergleichender Perspektive.

5 March 2009

Jon Stewart on CNBC and the financial crisis

Best counter-discourse on the financial crisis is once again provided by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show.

Vodpod videos no longer available.