BOOK PROPOSAL (Suman Gupta and Marnie Holborow)
Title: The Wording of Financial Crisis and Austerity, 2007-2017
The proposed book will examine the financial crisis of 2007/2008 and its consequences through the following decade in terms of language, text and discourse analysis. More precisely, such analysis will be brought to bear on the public understanding of the crisis and the management of the public through the crisis. It will be argued that in this respect the financial crisis and its aftermath is, so to speak, constituted in certain kinds of texts and through everyday discourses with specific ideological effects..
Research into textual and rhetorical strategies in presenting and representing the financial crisis for a general public has so far been undertaken predominantly with a focus on print, broadcast and electronic media (especially news media). At book-length, such studies include, among numerous others, Dean Starkman’s The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark (2014), Julien Mercille’s The Political Economy and Media Coverage of the European Economic Crisis (2014), George Tzogopoulos’s The Greek Crisis in the Media (2013), Daniel Chartier’s The End of Iceland’s Innocence (2010). The proposed book will naturally be informed by such media studies, but its foci are – unusually – quite different. In this instance, the texts in question are books addressed to a broad readership, i.e. extended descriptive or reflective or prescriptive narratives which are disseminated/marketed accordingly. The discourses of interest here are, as observed already, those that pertain to everyday circuits rather than those familiar in narrower professional or academic circles. Particular attention will be given to naming or labelling practices and their implications in everyday discourses. The manner in which interlingual translation works in/through such texts and discourses will also be explored.
The financial crisis of 2007/2008 is understood here in a distinctive fashion. Insofar as this study goes, the context of the financial crisis is not confined to the operations of financial institutions and matters of state policy and governance. Rather, the financial crisis is regarded here as a juncture which crystallises and puts pressure upon various facets of social and cultural life in the geopolitical contexts where it is experienced. These are facets of life, in other words, which have often obtained for long but which, amidst the crisis, appeared as inextricably enmeshed within a dominant political and economic rationale. This rationale is variously apprehended under the rubric of “financialization”, “neoliberalism”, cost-benefit accounting in “biopolitics”, the ethical weight of “sovereign debt” and strategies of “austerity” regimes; and the structures and agencies of the rationale are tested through numerous modes of resistance and expressions of disaffection (through ballot boxes, marches, occupations, riots, strikes, hacktivism and so on). It could be said that conceptually the financial crisis radiates from its core in the banking sector into a web of social and cultural crises which cohere under this dominant rationale. The texts and discourses under examination in the proposed book have variously engaged with or expressed an attitude towards the broad rationale which appeared to underpin, and was seemingly thrown into relief by, the financial crisis of 2007/2008.
For the proposed study, the term public (in “public understanding” and “management of the public”) is not defined immediately in political terms (as implied in res publica or as participants in democratic process or civil society) or juridical terms (as in “public interest” or “public ownership”). Here, public is taken as coterminous with broad readership (addressed to “common readers”, “ordinary readers”, “average readers”) and with participation in everyday discourses (“ordinary language” users). These qualifications of readership and language usage are, however, far from being free of political and juridical nuances, which will be explored.
Apart from an introduction laying out the context, design and objectives of the study, the proposed book will have three parts: Crisis Narratives, Crisis Language, and Crisis Translated. The first two parts will draw upon sources available in the broad Anglophone textual and discursive circuits; the final part will widen the discussion by considering a range of languages in the more specific geopolitical context of the European Union. Brief descriptions of the three parts follow.
Part 1: Crisis Narratives
With reference to book-length narratives which putatively explain/clarify the 2007/2008 financial crisis and its aftermath for a broad readership, this part will pursue three lines of enquiry. First, a material bibliographical one: that is, examining the patterns of such book production, packaging and marketing. Second, in terms of address: in other words, how the broad readership (or average reader) is constructed within such texts while answering a public demand for understanding which is, ostensibly, out there. Third, what sorts of explanative authority and generic expectations are called upon through such book production and textual address – this also is textually constructed while appearing to be prefigured or precedent to the texts in question.
The third line of enquiry allows for some broad categorizations of such texts, some of which will be analysed separately and in relation to each other thereafter. These are:
Alex Brummer (Daily Mail), 2008, 2014; Nick Kochan (various) with Hugh Pym (BBC), 2008; Michael Lewis (various), 2008, 2010, 2011, 2014; Robert Peston (BBC), 2008, 2012; Danny Schechter (TV broadcaster/ independent journalist), 2008, 2010; Roger Boyes (Times), 2009; John Cassidy (New Yorker), 2009; Fintan O’Toole (Irish Times), 2009; Shane Ross (Sunday Independent), 2009, with Nick Webb (Sunday Independent), 2010; Andrew Ross Sorkin (New York Times), 2009; David Wessel (WSJ), 2009, 2012; John Authers (Financial Times), 2010, 2012; Michael W Hudson (WSJ, Forbes etc.), 2010; Paul Mason (BBC), 2010; Joe Nocera (New York Times) and Bethany McLean (Vanity Fair/Fortune), 2010; Wolfgang Münchau (Financial Times), 2010; Trevor Sykes (Australian Financial Review), 2010; Simon Carswell (Irish Times), 2011; Philip Coggan (Economist/Financial Times), 2011; Matthew Lynn (Bloomberg/Spectator), 2011; Philip Inman (Guardian), 2012; Yalman Onaran (Bloomberg), 2012; Ray Perman (Financial Times and others), 2012; Iain Martin (Sunday Telegraph and others), 2013; Zanny Minton Beddoes (Economist), 2014; Tom Clark (Guardian), 2014; Ian Fraser (various), 2014; Hugh Pym (BBC), 2014; Yannis Palaiologos (Kathimerini), 2014; Martin Wolf (Financial Times), 2014
Ben Bernanke (2013; Chairman of the US Federal Reserve 2006-2014); Gordon Brown (2010; UK Prime Minister 2007-2010, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1997-2007); Vince Cable (2009; Deputy Leader of Liberal Democrats UK 2006-2010, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 2010-2015); Meyrick Chapman (2010; Fixed Income Strategist at UBS AG); Alastair Darling (2011; UK Chancellor of the Exchequer 2007-2010); Donal Donovan (with Antoin E. Murphy 2013; former staff member ending career as Deputy Director at IMF 1997-2005); Andrew Duguid (2014; UK Department of Trade and Industry and then senior executive at Lloyds Bank); Timothy Geithner (2014; US Secretary of Treasury 2009-2013, President of the Federal Reserve Bank NY 2003-2009); Tetsuya Ishikawa (2009; former investment banker at ABN AMRO, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley); Lawrence McDonald (with Patrick Robinson 2009; Vice-President of Distressed Debt and Convertible Securities Trading at Lehman Brothers 2004-2008); Henry Paulson (2010; US Secretary of Treasury, 2006-2009, CEO Goldman Sachs 1998-2006); Peter Schiff (2008, 2009, 2010, 2012; CEO Euro Pacific Capital Inc. 2005-, investment broker); Mike Soden (2010; CEO Bank of Ireland 2002-2009); George Soros (2009, 2012; Chairman of Soros Fund Management); Mark Zandi (2009, 2013; chief economist of Moody’s Analytics and cofounder of Moody’s Economy.com).
Geraint Anderson (2011 and 2012, Headline); Sebastian Faulks (2009, Vintage); Cyrus Moore (2009, Hachette); Jess Walter (2009, HarperCollins); Tilly Bagshawe (2010, HarperCollins); Jonathan Dee (2010, Constable and Robinson); Ben Elton (2010, Black Swan); Adam Haslett (2010, Anchor); Sophie Kinsella (2010, Black Swan); Alexandra Lebenthal (2010); Alex Preston (2010, Faber & Faber); Justin Cartwright (2011, Bloomsbury); Felix Riley (2011 and 2012, Penguin); Robert Harris (2011, Hutchinson); Cristina Alger (2012, Penguin); Dave Eggers (2012, Penguin); John Gapper (2012, Random House); John Lanchester (2012, Faber & Faber); Darin Bradley (2014, Resurrection).
Slavoj Zizek, Paul Krugman, Daniel Drezner, Joseph Stiglitz, Colin Crouch, David Graeber, Robert Shiller, Maurizio Lazzarato, Christian Marazzi, Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, Pierre Dardot, Nouriel Roubini, Christian Laval, Jürgen Habermas, David Harvey, Costas Lapavitsas, Amir Sufi, Leo Panitch, Stephen Haber, Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt, Zygmunt Bauman and others.
Part 2: Crisis Language
Since 2007/2008, analyses of crisis discourses (linguistic practices) in everyday life have tended to expand beyond that historical juncture toward an apprehension of the general ideological character of everyday language usage. To some extent, such analyses have turned upon the super-signified nuances of the term “crisis” itself. Suggestively, for instance, in Anti-Crisis (2013) Janet Roitman argues:
Crisis is a blind spot that enables the production of knowledge. It is a distinction that […] is not seen as simply paradox, but rather as an error or deformation – a discrepancy between the world and knowledge of the world. But if we take crisis to be a blind spot, or a distinction, which makes certain things visible and others invisible, it is merely an a priori. Crisis is claimed, but it remains a latency; it is never itself explained because it is further reduced to other elements, such as capitalism, economy, neoliberalism, finance, politics, culture, subjectivity. In that sense crisis is not a condition to be observed (loss of meaning, alienation, faulty knowledge); it is an observation that produces meaning. (p.39)
More often, everyday linguistic practices have been analysed in this context as an ideological dispersal and embedding of the kind of dominant political and economic rationale mentioned at the beginning of the proposal. In this vein, researches on language usage by, for instance, Christian Marazzi in Capital and Language (2002) and Franco Berardi’s various writings on language and finance have been oft translated, revisited and reiterated; Marnie Holborow’s Language and Neoliberalism (2015) is a particularly useful recent contribution in this direction.Investigating the overlap between official language and the dominant ideology of neoliberalism, the role of social agency, and its connections to the political project of capital to ‘manage’ the crisis will constitute the main theme of this section of the book. With such analyses in view, the proposed study will focus on three areas. First, the manner in which professional jargon (such as financial terms) enter everyday vocabulary will be explored. Apart from the obvious mass media channels for this, a point of interest here are various glossaries/lexicons of banking terms that appeared around the financial crisis of 2007/2008 (such as John Lanchester’s How to Speak Money, 2014). Second, the shifting connotations of terms used widely for naming or labelling specific events, policies, movements in this context will be unpacked – terms such as, for instance, “crisis” itself, “austerity”, “debt”and “sovereign debt”, “efficiency”, “regulation”, “protest”. Holborow’s notions of neoliberal keywords will be drawn upon here. Third, some everyday discursive contexts (situations) in which “crisis”, “austerity” and related terms are variously evoked will be analysed – such as, shops, offices, classrooms, community centres as well as examples from speech and slogans within movements against austerity .
Part 3: Crisis Translated
This part will extend the discussions in Parts 1 and 2 by taking account of a factor which cuts across both: interlingual translation. Whereas the first two parts draw upon material from broadly English-speaking/English–reading circuits (which already includes translations, though that wouldn’t have been substantively addressed yet), this part will analyse exchanges across some European languages – particularly within the EU. The appointment of the EU as a geopolitical field in this part (as opposed to the Anglophone sphere, which is loosely conceptualised thus far) has specific advantages: it offers a coherent descriptive and policy framework for analysing the relationship between different languages. An outline thereof will be followed by exploration of three sets of research questions:
In brief, it is expected that this section will enable a purchase on the extent to which experience of the financial crisis and its aftermath is inflected by local histories and cultures. This is, as yet, a somewhat vague expectation – this part remains to be conceptualised in detail. I am not aware of any current scholarship devoted to this specific area; but, again, various media studies papers/monographs offer useful observations on how the crisis and its consequences were presented in different languages and linguistic contexts and in global and local media outlets – including in books cited above.