BOOK PROPOSAL (Tao Papaioannou and Suman Gupta)
Title: Grievances, Identities and Agency: Media Representations of Anti-austerity Protests in the EU
Grievances, Identities and Agency analyzes discursive constructions in news and social media of injustice, group identification and participation in anti-austerity protests in the European Union (EU). Since 2008, EU member-states have witnessed waves of protests and demonstrations against the adoption of austerity measures and alignment of domestic economies with the prevailing global neoliberal order. Since the institutional politics and social demands that animate dissent have now become more extensively mediated and complex than heretofore (Cottle, 2008), understanding how the media represent these and bear upon public deliberation is of critical importance. It is widely accepted that the media are integral to contentious politics and are consequential for overcoming (or not) possible disconnects between publics, and within opinion formation and policy-making. It is accordingly necessary to explore the strategies deployed and role played by news and social media in representing and perhaps acting upon anti-austerity protests in the Eurozone crisis. This volume undertakes such a critical exploration.
The following are some of the key questions addressed here. How do media negotiate with and represent forms of economic, political and social conflict that give rise to anti-austerity protests? How does discursive struggle over visibility and representation of social and political interests become manifest in news and social media across the EU (within and across member-states, and beyond the union)? How are collective forms of identification portrayed in and materialized through media discourse? How do the evolving constraints and potentials of social media relate to political activism and protest actions? What emerging developments in the state of media influence forms and spaces of citizen advocacy? And what ethical considerations attach to journalism in the neoliberal, democratic and pluralistic contexts of the current crisis?
This book is structured in three sections: constructing grievances, group identification and articulating agency. The first section examines ideological and political contestations and discursive processes and strategies in media representations of grievances. Articles included in this section discuss the selection, description and contextualization of grievances manifested in news and social media. The second section aims to offer insights on how collective identities are portrayed in and materialized through media discourse and how they politicize and radicalize action through (social) media. Media constructions of grievances and identities influence the extent to which agency and contention resonate within targets of protest mobilization and the wider community. The last section of the book explores the functions of media representation of anti-austerity protests in consensus and action mobilization. These analyses investigate the circumstances under which news media representation of protests potentially fosters or impedes citizen articulation of advocacy and discuss mobilization strategies and tactics, in particular, through online and social media.
Given the prodigious number of scholarly publications on austerity, protests and the media in Europe over the last five years, it is with some surprise that the editors found a lacuna therein – a lacuna that the proposed book will fill. There are numerous monographs and edited collections which are close to the concerns of the proposed book, and will inform contributions therein, but none that squarely address the critical issue of media representation of anti-austerity protests in Europe. This issue usually appears as an ancillary or tangential concern, an interstitial factor, theme of the occasional context-specific paper or chapter, but eludes focused and sustained analysis. And yet, the kinds of scholarship and publications that this issue is at the nexus of – necessarily working across them all – attest to its importance. Such areas of existing scholarship and publications could be outlined briefly as follows:
This has, then, been a rich field of investigations and analysis and production; and yet, though all the above have a bearing on the proposed book, none actually do what the proposed book will – explore how media works in the interstices of all the above issues, by presenting, representing, moulding and (often tacit) advocacy. The above kinds of publications are therefore not so much competition but sources for the proposed book, and their existence argues for the necessity of the proposed book: focused on media representations of anti-austerity protests in Europe.
The proposed edited book deconstructs discursive representations in news and social media of grievances, identities and agency of anti-austerity protests within the European Union (EU). Since 2008, EU member states have witnessed waves of protests and demonstrations against the adoption of austerity measures and alignment of domestic economies with the prevailing global neoliberal order. Few would disagree that the implementation of austerity policies has revealed political dynamics contributing to social conflicts within a member state, among EU countries and between citizens and elites. Anti-austerity protests largely condemn the neoliberal concept of democracy and seek to center a renewed understanding of justice and equality, both material and discursive (Della Porta, 2012). These collective actions have challenged the neoliberal turn of global capitalism and indicated a European democratic deficit (Demetriou, 2013). Using protests as a mechanism of political representation, protesting citizens usually aim to achieve their objectives through either influencing particular target groups such as key decision makers and constituencies or communicating their agendas to as wide an audience as possible. In this process, protestors rely on media to convey, amplify and sustain their messages in order to obtain validation in the public discourse, mobilize political support and broaden the scope of conflict (McCarthy, McPhail and Smith, 1996). Consequently, media portrayal of protests – or a lack thereof – influences the dynamics and outcomes of social protests. Since the institutional politics and social demands that animate dissent have now become more extensively mediated and complex than heretofore (Cottle, 2008), understanding how the media represent these and bear upon public deliberation is of critical importance. Such a project is of particular significance amidst misgivings about the rising power of media conglomerates and the dominance of financial institutions in the political sphere. As such, anti-austerity protests provide a context for examining the media’s functions and capacities for providing information and analysis, encouraging deliberation of differing policies and interests, and thus enabling democracy to function. It is widely accepted that the media are integral to contentious politics and are consequential for overcoming (or not) possible disconnects between publics, and within opinion formation and policy-making. It is accordingly necessary to explore the strategies deployed and role played by news and social media in representing and perhaps acting upon anti-austerity protests in the Eurozone crisis. This volume undertakes such a critical exploration.
The following are some of the key questions addressed here.
With these questions in mind, analysing media discourse on anti-austerity protests calls for reflective deconstruction of media representation wherein the relations between national and international governing institutions and elites, state agencies and citizens, are constructed and performed. There have been attempts to offer accounts of the dynamic interplay between public response, political economy and media coverage of the crisis and neoliberal politics in some individual EU member states (Mercille, 2015; Papaioannou and Hadjimichael, 2015). However, a wider and comparative perspective on this, across EU member states, is much to be desired. There is a critical need to examine media response to national and transnational protests and issue-based campaigns and networks with an emphasis on how these formations relate to social movements from domestic to transnational to global levels.
Arguably, the media politics that bears upon anti-austerity protests is now often unclear and unpredictable. A number of social, political and technological transformations might be responsible for this (Cottle, 2008; McLeod, 2007). First, public demonstrations are increasingly moving from the political margins, aligned to traditional political ideologies, towards mainstream acceptance for an expanded range of causes, involving many political groups and actors at various levels. The politics informing these erstwhile marginal protests are becoming more main-stream and their agendas of wider import. Globalization, Europeanization (alongside the tugging of renationalisation), the global or Eurozone financial crisis and the war on terrorism have produced a new world order in which geopolitical interests and outlooks have shifted. News reporting of demonstrations taking place across different EU countries has become more intricately interconnected and relevant to the audiences within specific member states. Such changing dynamics in turn lead to more complex media interactions with governments and global institutions and representations of dissent. Second, the social and technological trend of freer and wider access to information and complex and pervasive media ecology -- comprising mainstream, alternative and independent media platforms and increased communication flows and interactive capabilities – have made possible new forms and spaces for contentious politics. Combined with the rising of consumer-driven provision and intense media competition, now the media’s political orientation towards relevant social criticism and their own agenda in championing certain causes and issues need to be taken into account. Third, it has been observed that news reporting of protests is inflected by the increasing convergence between anti-austerity protestors and journalists as members of the middle class, resulting in more supportive media coverage and criticism of neoliberal policies and their polarising social effects (Tenenboim-Weinblatt, 2014).
These recent developments prompt new approaches for the analysis of the contemporary media politics of dissent. This crucial field of mediated democracy, in the context of anti-austerity protests, requires comparative examination across time, national contexts, media, issues of conflict and protest agendas.
This volume consequently examines the distinctive yet interrelated functions and roles of grievances, identities and agency in the processes of anti-austerity protests in the EU, discursively constructed in national and international, news and social media. Through such analyses, this collection discusses how well regional distinctions and national contexts fit within broader theories of media representation of contentious politics. Further, it identifies trends in public sentiment and articulation of participation in social change, the collective identities of social groups and citizen advocacy in everyday life. Finally, this collection explores some underlying themes of the debates of economic and political alternatives to dominant neoliberal concept and the potential of the networked public sphere to enhance citizen activism.
This book includes nine chapters which are divided into three sections: constructing grievances, group identification and articulating agency. The following section of the proposal briefly describes these key terms and outlines the research questions which are discussed in each section.
Grievances stem from a shared perception among a group of individuals of relative deprivation, injustice and moral indignation (Berkowitz, 1972; Gurr, 1970; Lind and Tyler, 1988). Grievances provide the motivational impetus for the formation, communication and interpretation of protests. Especially in terms of political mobilization, shared, group-based grievances (Jasper, 2011) play a strategic role in fostering and sustaining protest participation within other structural opportunities or constraints in the wider political and institutional environment. The significance of grievances is vital in the processes by which frame alignment among protestors and the construction of collective identities can be successful (Jasper, 1998).
Grievances can be defined, crystallized and manipulated by political entrepreneurs (Stekelenburg and Klandermans, 2010). Within Goffman’s theoretical framework of framing (1974), William Gamson (1992) has identified the emotion-laden-injustice frame as the most crucial in the motivational framing for collective action. Injustice has to be articulated through social construction to indicate a moral indignation about or illegitimate inequality in the current state of affairs which calls for change (Klandermans, 1997). And it is in and through the news media especially that protestors may gain public recognition, support and legitimacy for their claims (Khondker, 2011). It is by the same means that the politics of dissent is generally conveyed to wider audiences. As signifying agents (Hall, 1982), how the media represent claims of injustice and give voice to oppositional views are all integral to the media politics of protest. By presenting social demands and criticism within selective frames, the news media define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgments and suggest potential consequences as well as possible remedies (Entman, 1993). In this process, the media become ideologically powerful agents in defining, shaping and (de)legitimating dissent in the public sphere.
Hence, discursive struggle over media visibility, description and contextualization of grievances is central to social protests for the wider communication of dissent and the pursuit of instrumental or expressive goals. This section on constructing grievances presents three chapters, illustrating and discussing the ideological and political contestations, discursive processes and strategies and technological mechanisms in media representations of grievances in various anti-austerity protests. All of these are of particular significance for validating, marginalising or neutralising the scope, claims and mobilization effects of protests.
The pro-establishment orientation of mainstream news media often manifests in bias both in the selection and in the description of grievances they choose to report (McLeod, 2007). Earlier studies have documented that mainstream news media tend to report demonstrations through a protest paradigm, emphasizing deviance and violence, obscuring assertions of injustice and their context and reducing protest scope and claims. However, recent research is detecting less clear media responses, indicating ‘fractures’ in the protest paradigm (Tenenboim-Weinblatt, 2014, p.412) and the need to identify the extent of application of the paradigm and the conditions for potential variations. Chapters in this section examine news media coverage of anti-austerity protests in different national and political contexts, especially when a protest or national crisis reveals unique or changing political dynamics during its development. Such analyses will allow for identification of any representational bias. Finally, these chapters debate the possibilities offered by online news websites and social media for protest organizations, activists and supporters to articulate their grievances, challenging protestors’ dependence on mainstream, traditional media.
The conception of identity is connected with a vast majority of theoretical perspectives and empirical studies on protest action. Politicized collective identity, dual identity, and multiple identities are analytical constructs that have become increasingly central to the understanding of collective action (Hunt and Benford, 2004). This section, again consisting of three chapters, offers insights into identity-centered processes in protest participation in and through media.
Gamson (1995) understands collective identity as the “we-ness” of collective mobilization which unites movement participants and distinguishes them from those outside. Identity is vital in producing solidarity among members, and a consciousness of common struggle for a specific cause. The collective negative “others/they” is required in order to define a “we”, and this duality is utilized in order to attribute blame and provide a causal direction. The negotiation of collective identity requires goals and means. The goals may entail interest/ideological struggle and grievance construction (in media). Through textual tactics such as posts within groups on Facebook or Twitter and dramaturgical tactics in street demonstrations, social movements engage in attempts to enlarge the personal identities of (potential) participants “to include the relevant collective identity as part of their definition of self” (Gamson 1992b, p.60). In most cases, “collective beliefs and identities alike are formed and transformed through public discourse” (Klandermans, 1992, p.93). It is helpful to think of a group’s collective identity construction as impacted by its members’ self-constructions on the one hand, and the public construction of its identity on the other. Public constructions occur in a discursive space where relatively disembodied ideas interact with other views and may be only loosely tied to the self-perceptions of individuals and groups.
Collective identities in media discourse are relevant for understanding how groups define their boundaries, goals, strategies, and tactics with (or without) regard of external judgments of efficacy (Jasper, 1997). They also explain why protesting groups have different definitions of collective goals, situated in their political, ideological, and communication contexts. One of the central themes that require investigation is locating and identifying the meaning and the dynamics underlying forms of identification emerged in media reporting of anti-austerity protests. Contextualizing these discursive strategies in national and international news media reveals the conditions in and processes through which such identities are established and amplified. With a number of anti-austerity protests having taken place not only on ground but also online, facilitated by the use of social media, it is important to investigate identity issues as they are negotiated in the online environment. Social media offer the platforms where people mediate their political interests and claims, providing resource for creating collective identity (Bond et al., 2012; Kroh and Neiss, 2012).
Key here are the pertinence of media representation and negotiation of identification processes in relation to the exercise of power, both nationally and internationally. There is a close, but still insufficiently explored, relation between politicizing collective identity and its manifestations in (social) media discourse. Questions still remain as to how collective identity and subsequently the tactical choices among protestors adapt with the changing opportunities and constraints in the political environment as a protest develops. In this interactional process, the politics of dissent is also constructed and conveyed to wider audiences through the media. Combined with the myth of “(ir)responsible politics” in media discourse, such practices impact the development of group identities in social action.
The following are some of the key questions addressed in chapters of this section:
Agency refers to amplification of the capacity of personal engagement to alter conditions (Snow and Benford, 1988, 1992; Snow et al., 1986). Injustice and identity have to be constructed in ways that lead to actual participation. Within framing theories in social movement studies, particularly influential has been the concept of strategic framing of grievances. Strategic framing denotes “an active, process-derived phenomenon that implies agency and contention at the level of reality construction” (Snow and Benford, 1992, p. 136). For action to occur, injustice-frames must be accompanied by shifts in attributive orientation that assigns blame or responsibility away from the individual to the system. Regardless of the particular demands put forward, protest needs to be interpreted as a critical reaction to established systems of political representation. Thus, mobilization depends not only on the existence of grievances or structural strain, availability and deployment of tangible resources, opening or closing of political opportunities, and a cost-benefit calculation, but also on the way these variables are constructed (in media) and the degree to which they resonate within targets of mobilization and the wider community.
Protests emerge and are shaped within dominant cultures (Morris, 1984). Conversely, movements play a role in social change by challenging established values and interests and potentially transforming them by creating their own culture in the form of narratives, imageries, shared passions, texts and myths. Movement activists are strategic actors, consciously seeking to draw on old frames or create new ones which will resonate with their targets and enhance movement mobilization. Yet their ability to do this is constrained by the cultural meanings their audience and other social actors bring into the interaction. With regard to news media construction of protests, how does media framing of issues affect protest mobilization? This relationship can be examined in terms of the degree of congruence between media-framing and social-movement-framing of the conflicts involved (Cooper, 2002) amidst discursive strategies of (in)validation and (de)legitimation within the wider political and institutional environment. Anti-austerity protests are largely publicly defined and elaborated in the news media; however, the informing processes of political economy have become too complex to address protests without consideration of issues including national and international elite consensus/dissensus, policy certainty or uncertainty, strategies deployed by national governments to contain or support protests as well as the symbolic power played out on the ground of political and moral opposition (Cottle, 2008). All of these factors influence how state-media-citizen interactions are expressed in the media and subsequently protest mobilization.
Beyond the significance of concrete practices, identities, ideologies and technological mechanisms within anti-austerity protests, for those who are willing and able to take advantage of the networked sphere, it remains debatable whether sustaining the participatory opportunities afforded by online media is dependent upon institutional support. Whether participation through/in media will circumvent the exercise of power and its dissemination within the institutional environment is a critical issue. Research on mobilization tactics through online media requires further exploration of the complex determinants, mechanisms and meanings of the identities and action constructed and consolidated in order to account for any variations in protest mobilization.
With these considerations in view, the three chapters in the section of articulating agency explore the role of media representation in consensus and action mobilization in relation to political and social structures and processes. Media representation in this sense allows for identification of specific meanings a given society attributes to social relations and analysis of how they promote or hinder political mobilization and practices of protests. In particular, these chapters investigate the circumstances under which news media representation fosters or impedes collective action, especially through online and social media.