In cooperation with my colleague Erik Hekman (Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the University of Applied Sciences Utrecht) we designed a new series of masterclasses on the fundamentals of data-driven design that aims at professionals, researchers, and lecturers in the media, communication, and creative business areas. The sessions are scheduled for April 2020 and will take place in Utrecht, the Netherlands.
The course prepares you for the unique position as an intermediary between academic knowledge and the practical application of that knowledge. You will build up solid expertise for designing user-centered, data-driven solutions as a facilitator between the digital and human domains. Moreover, it teaches you to be aware of the circumstances in which you need to perform your job.
The main perspective in this series of masterclasses is to link academic thinking to practical performance. Aside from critically discussing the fundamental transformations that shape the digital society, as well as its implications for social and economic interaction, you will learn the practical fundamentals of data science. This includes programming skills in Python to load, save, collect, scrape, process, clean, transform, analyze and visualize data. At the end of the course, you will know how to critically examine the opportunities and the limitations of data, code and basic algorithms from a critical, user-focused perspective.
Every masterclass consists of two parts:
Theory where you learn and critically discuss transformations in digital society. This part will be conducted in English.
Practical skills where you collect, store, clean, transform data from social media and other internet sources with Python programming (including locating sources of open data), and you know how to extend your skills set by independently learning how to gather data from sources or in ways that were not covered during the masterclasses. The projects can be developed in English or Dutch (or German).
This week I had the pleasure of hosting another highly urgent, relevant and insightful debate on the digital transformation of modern society. In collaboration with the Swedish Embassy in Den Haag, we met with practitioners for academia, governance, the legal sector and business and discussed how the concept of data ownerships constantly changes and raises critical ethical questions.
Some of the key points that we distilled were:
Data sharing needs a new open-source and open-science inspired approach
Data sharing models need to beware of social, political and cultural filters that may delimit diversity of stakeholders
Data collection and analysis need to have quality and validation checkpoints throughout the process
AI already shapes many people’s lives even thought why are not aware of it
AI raises critical questions about reproducibility of results and liability for outcome
Blockchain is a tech still in its infancy but use cases go way beyond cryptocurrency
Blockchain and similar decentralisation technology create transparency but are not a secure or private per se
Blockchain is a technology that only makes sense when combined with other systems and does not solve problems when isolated
Overall, human oversight and intervention is paramount for ensuring technology is used in the most beneficial way – this ask for diverse strategic coalitions that unite differentiations stakeholders
Last week I had the great privilege to host an event in collaboration with the Swedish embassy in Den Haag, Netherlands, on the highly urgent and somewhat controversial topic of ‘How Does Technology Transform Media & Public Opinion?” at the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht.
Seven prolific speakers discussed current developments and challenges that come with the digitalisation of public communication and the rise of online platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter.
The program was based on ‘fireside talks’ between the invited experts from academia, governments, and media; emphasis was placed on three aspects:
Technological Foundations and the Revolution of Communication – How Big Tech Changes the Public Sphere
The first section deals with how the rise of Internet technology first provided seemingly endless potentials to new modes of communication and access to the public for individuals and marginalised groups. News Media is no longer the sole source of mass-distributed information.
The mass distribution of Internet access enabled the rise of big tech companiessuch as Google and Facebook, that responded with constantly evolving services to the needs of a highly interconnected digital society. Leading Internet companies have turned into complex multi-purpose platforms that aim for binding users to their brands with a diversity of functions. They create spheres of increasing economic, cultural and political influence.
The implications for freedom of expression become apparent in transformations in media consumption and production. Traditional news media find themselves in a tough spotbetween ethical considerations, political missions, business goals, and an increasingly sceptical audience with access to countless alternative sources for information. Finally, there is the emerging trend to rely more increasingly on artificial intelligence in many web services which comes with an additional baggage of ethical and political questions.
Potentials vs. Threats – Assessing the Pro’s and Con’s for Free Speech
On one hand, there are progressive social movements such as #metoo and Black Lives Matter, that make use of the open accessibility of the Web and highlight how marginalised groups apply freedom of expression in the digital public sphere. On the other, the Web is often a highly toxic place where racism, misogynism, trolling, hate speech, misinformation, and cyberbullying thrive; the so-called ‘Alt-Right’ and current forms of right-wing populism partly originated from or made intensive use of online platforms. Groups apply the technologies in order to organize their members, spread the message, contest mainstream politics and media, and thus framing issues from their world views.
Fake news and filter bubbles are often-cited downsides of the rise of social media and personalised web experiences. But is the situation that black and white? It’s a fact that trust in mainstream politics and media is undermined and questioned and the fact that political factions engage in trench warfare and hate speech in various forms is a widespread problem.
Today, when determining freedom of expression one has to consider that no one really lives a completely private life in the age social media and search engines.
The question is also what the role of businesses, journalists/media and governments is in all of this? There are different levels of ‘public’ communication that are affected by current tech trends and obviously all three play central roles the digital public sphere but the relationships between them are changing.
Responsibilities and Remedies
The question of responsibility where different social, economic and political factors need to be considered. Tech is not going away; the Internet is not some separate place we got to but has become an integral part of our daily lives in various ways. What is the role of journalism in a data-driven age? How can companies be creative and innovative without losing sight of mid- to long-term consequences? How can they balance ‘what they can do’ with ‘what they should do’? What is the role of regulators and governments? Finally, what are the responsibilities of the user?
This book provides a detailed analysis of the transnational web sphere that emerged at the height of the Eurozone crisis between 2011 and 2013. During these turbulent years, a diverse spectrum of professional communicators from the media and political sectors as well as from opinionated individuals on blogs and social media discussed, and thus framed, the crisis in the digital public sphere. The analysis focuses on the various fields of contestation of the crisis that became detectable in the transnational online discourse and shows how conflict and fragmentation shaped political communication in this context. Nguyen concludes that there was not a single crisis but a chain of intersecting and profound political and cultural conflicts triggered by the economic upheavals, which led to the emergence of an extremely dynamic and unstable transnational digital public sphere, where different political and cultural viewpoints collided.
Soon, I will create a section where readers can download all graphs in higher resolution.
Thanks again to all people who supported this project!
The past four months have been incredibly busy, especially since I started a new job as a lecturer in Utrecht. Now that I have finally settled in I hope I will find the time to post here more frequently. I will try to place focus on my research, teaching experiences, as well as interesting developments in (transnational) media politics.
Another reason that kept me from writing for this blog was a publication project that drew a lot of energy/attention in its final stages – but now it’s “done”! In a few months our new volume on the digital transformation of the public sphere and its relation to crisis, conflict and migration will be available (published by Palgrave). Co-edited with my former PhD supervisor Dr Athina Karatzogianni and colleague Dr Elisa Serafinelli I am proud to present a brief sneak preview below.
My chapter proposes an integrative methodology for the analysis of transnational web spheres based on my own research on the EU/Eurozone crisis. Also, I contributed to the chapter on the MIG@NET research project. The next major project is now turning my PhD thesis into a book (in talks with Palgrave as a potential publisher).
The Digital Transformation of the Public Sphere: Conflict, Migration, Crisis, and Culture in Digital Networks
Introduction: The Digital Transformation of the Public Sphere
Athina Karatzogianni, Dennis Nguyen and Elisa Serafinelli
Part I Theorising Migration, Crisis, Culture and Conflict in the Digital Public Sphere
The Migration of Normative Principles and the Digital Construction of Transnational Ethics (Martin Gak)
The Digital Golden Dawn: Emergence of A Nationalist-Racist Digital Mainstream (Eugenia Siapera and Mariangela Veikou)
From Bulletins to Bullets to Blogs and Beyond: The Karen’s Ongoing Communication War (Geff Green)
Online Content Control, Memory, and Community Isolation (Artur Matos Alves)
The Critique of Videology: Games and the Digital Transformation of the Public Sphere (Luke O’ Sullivan)
Part II Cyberconflict and the Digital Diaspora: Nigeria, India, China, Mexico
Veterans of Diaspora Activism: An Overview of ICTs Use Among Nigerian Migrant Networks (Shola Olabode)
Online Gender Activism in India and the Participation of the Indian Diaspora 2012-2015 (Adrija Dey)
Beyond the Great Wall: Locating Expatriate Media Environments in China (Fan Mai)
Social Networks and Communicative Meaning in Mexican Migration Networks in the US (Joel Pedraza Mandujano)
Part III Migration and Crisis Discourses in the EU Public Sphere
Analysing Transnational Web Spheres: The European Example During the Eurozone Crisis (Dennis Nguyen)
Intercultural Conflict and Dialogue in the Transnational Digital Public Sphere: Findings from the MIG@NET Research Project (2010-2013)(Athina Karatzogianni, Oxana Morgunova, Nelli Kambouri, Olga Lafazani, NicosTrimikliniotis, Grigoris Ioannou, and Dennis Nguyen)
Understanding the Greek Crisis And Digital Media: A Cyberconflict Approach (Ioanna Ferra)
Digital Ethnicities and the (Re-)Construction of Ethnic Identities on Social Media (Slavka Karakusheva)
Frontex: Its Human Rights Obligations and the Role of the European Ombudsman (Nikos Vogiatzis)
Part IV Digital Culture and Communication Shifts in the Public Sphere
Political Selfies: Image Events in the New Media Field
(Achilleas Karadimitriou and Anastasia Veneti)
Italian Migrants and Photosharing in the UK (Elisa Serafinelli)
The Politics of Transformation: Selfie Production of the Visually Marginalised (Patricia Routh)
YouTube, Migrant Rappers and the Early Cinema Aesthetics: Is there a Digital Public Sphere? (Giacomo Nencioni)
Banoptikon: Walking Through a Dystopia – European Project MIG@NET’s Digital Game (Ilias Marmaras)
…by preparing my move to Utrecht where I will be working as a lecturer from this month on. As soon as I have finalised the transition to my first work placement after completing my PhD I will post a brief summary of my “post-doc job-hunt” (i.e. an overview of my experiences and advice for all of you who are close to finishing or already have passed their viva).
I was also busy with some other projects, such as writing for a new online magazine with a focus on international and European politics: Vocal Europe. You can read two of my analytical pieces on the Eurozone crisis as well as migration crisis there; both topics continue to dominate most discussions in the transnational public sphere on the continent.
The past few weeks saw heightened activity in the Eurozone crisis discourse, catalysed by the European lenders’ tough stance towards Athens and Alexis Tsipras’ subsequent call for a referendum on the last bailout. Once more, the extremely volatile relation between national sovereignty and transnational “solidarity” almost led to the infamous “Grexit” and a breakdown of European cooperation. Interestingly, the quite hostile dispute between the Greek government and their European counterparts also reinvigorated the left’s case for Euroscepticism – a political domain that was long a stronghold of the (extreme) right. And of course, there is the very peculiar case of Yannis Varoufakis – former Greek finance minister who held his post only shortly (there must be a reason why academics often fail in politics) – who seems to be an iridescent example for increasing personalisation in the otherwise extremely complex and confusing crisis discourse. I will soon post a brief article on the latter phenomenon by comparing him and Tsipras with their German counterparts, their predecessors, and other European politicians.
The cover image shows Hong Kong seen from Victoria’s Peek, which I visited for personal and professional reasons in June.
This is just a quick post since I am currently very busy with writing applications, articles, and getting books published (the usual “post doc” stuff). This is also the reason why I didn’t find the time to update this blog lately, despite so much going on right now in transnational Europe.
So why this update now? Well, it looks like the Eurozone crisis and the Greek dilemma are back on the top of the news agenda across the European media landscape. In recent weeks the transnational discourse, or more precisely, the blame-game between EU member-states, focused on the still unresolved migration crisis and relatively limited attention was given to the continuously swelling financial- and debt crisis (though it was always there). However, the political row between Greece’s creditors and the current Syriza government has yet again gained in momentum with the threat of a “Grexit” allegedly closer than ever (which has been repeatedly claimed over the past five years and thus has lost some of its actual shock potential).
A closer look at the different comment pieces, analyses, and reports reveals that actually no new arguments, visions, or plans have entered the discourse. The only real difference to the years 2010 to 2014 is that Tsipras, Varoufakis & co. are much less compliant than their predecessors – which is also a factor to consider in the intensifying ideological-cultural conflicts that are currently unfolding in the shadow of the economic-fiscal dispute. Just to give you a few examples for how the crisis made it back into the top news, here’s a selection of stories that were published on different international and national news media websites this week:
Whether this week is actually more decisive for the Eurozone’s future than any other remains to be seen but the increased activity in the transnational web sphere at least indicates that the dispute between Athens and its creditors will probably return to the centre stage of the European public sphere.
A potential “Grexit”, its probable impact, and an eventual collapse of the Eurozone have been repeatedly discussed by a variety of political commentators as well as economists – and for many it has long lost its “shock effect”. Not that anything has really changed in regards to the fundamental, potentially dramatic -and probably traumatic- consequences it would have for the single currency union and the political framework of the EU altogether.
However, it has become “the new normal” (Grusin 2010, citing brilliant comic artist Art Spiegelman) to live in an economic climate of constant crisis, fear for the future, depression, lack of innovation (not only in an economic but also political respect!) etc., just as Western societies have somehow accommodated themselves with a constant fear of religious terror since 9/11 (ibid). Against this background it is not really surprising that more optimistic assessments of the Eurozone’s future appear rather unconvincing to many.
What’s interesting here from an analytical perspective on the EU crisis debate in the media is that almost any thinkable outcome of the crisis has been brought up in the transnational public sphere – and new analyses, evaluations, as well as prognoses are added on an almost daily basis. These seem to differ only slightly in their general narratives, which can be broadly separated into two categories: stories about the end of the Euro and stories about its eventual survival and/or success. However different both are in their general prognoses for Europe’s future, they seem to fulfil a similar function: they are attempts to reduce the level of surprise and to provide orientation for future actions.
Indeed, it seems that there hardly is a scenario that has not been thought through yet and the spectrum of expectable outcomes for the crisis were brought down to a handful of possibilities. Economists, political commentators, journalists and other public communicators are central drivers of this process since they, willingly or unwillingly, pre-fabricate “potential futures” through media communication (pre-mediated). These are repeated over and over again with small updates (re-mediated).
Premediation and the Eurozone Crisis – a Very brief Overview
Richard Grusin, Professor of English at Wayne State University, describes this process as ‘premediation’ (2010: 38), a logic ‘in which the future has always been pre-mediated‘ (ibid, original italics). According to him, in today’s highly mediatised society public communicators engaged in a style of discourse that moved away from the past and present to a mode of communication that placed increasing emphasis on “what could happen next (and what could come after that)”. Different scenarios and their outcomes are played through in public discourse by e.g. journalists, government representatives, experts etc. so that no eventual outcome comes truly unexpected.
However, premeditation should not be confused with prediction, since premeditation served not for finding an ideal “result” to a specific development:
Unlike prediction, premeditation is not about getting the future right. In fact it is precisely the proliferation of competing and often contradictory future scenarios that enables premediation to prevent the experience of a traumatic future by generating and maintaining a low level of anxiety as a kind of affective prophylactic. Premediation is not like a weather forecast, which aims to predict correctly the weather for tomorrow, or the weekend or the week ahead. To premediate the weather would be to try imagine all of the possible scenarios that might conceivably arise so that the weather could never come as a surprise (ibid).
Grusin uses the US media landscape after 9/11 and during the War on Terror as his primary empirical example to describe the mechanisms of premeditation but his observations are transferable to other crises and conflicts, including the current Eurozone crisis. The political implications and the entailed clash of different future scenarios ingrained in framing processes, which dominate public communication, are of particular relevance for understanding the transnational public discourse in Europe:
To think of premeditation as characterizing the media regime of post-9/11 America is therefore to be concerned not with the truth or falsity of specific future scenarios but with widespread proliferation of premediated futures. Premediation entails the generation of possible future scenarios or possibilities which may come true or which may not, but which work in any event to guide action (or shape public sentiment) in the present. These scenarios are perpetuated both by governmental actors and by the formal and informal media […] (ibid: 47)
Premediation can serve as an instrument for framing a particular problem in a very specific way in order to achieve concrete political goals; claiming to know how the future will turn out often comes with precise agendas for how to organise current social, economic, and political orders. Seen from this perspective, the transnational public sphere currently takes the shape of a conflict-loaded communication sphere in which polarising scenarios compete with each other; this turns the crisis into a contest about the future as much as about the present.
There are plenty of examples, which include the debates on austerity/anti-austerity, integration and sovereignty, isolation and solidarity, Eurobonds, the financial transaction tax, bailout programmes, structural reforms etc. Once the future has been pre-mediated, it is instantly fed into the constant flow of remediation, i.e. the pattern of repetition in public discourse which creates an atmosphere of constant insecurity and anxiety that seems to characterise the “new normal” for many people in Europe.
Grusin, R. (2010): Premedation. Affect and Mediality after 9/11, London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
With the UK general election 2015 only a few weeks away (May 7th), the major parties’ campaigns have become hot topics across British political online platforms, which in turn caused the formation of a nationally oriented web sphere that is not only moulded by the classic Tory-Labour fault line but has extended to the (former) political fringes, especially on the right with the growing importance of the Eurosceptic UKIP . To promote their framings for current issues in UK politics in the public sphere all major political players, media observers, and commentators disperse polarising problem definitions, causal interpretations, ethical judgements, and – most importantly for the election context – recommendations for actions (Entman 1993) based on seemingly irreconcilable values.
I think it is in this respect appropriate to take a look back at the last general election in 2010, for which each political party invested considerable efforts into online campaigning. Back then I conducted a comparative content analysis of British political web blogs with a focus on the general election for my MA thesis at Coventry University.
The main research question were: how open are political online platforms in terms of a pluralism of attitudes/opinions? How do sub-genres of political blogs differ in regards to their discourse potential? Who does actually partake in online debates via commenting and how do they express their opinions? The sample included online articles and their comment sections from twelve popular British political online platforms and news media sites published between April 6th and May 5th 2010:
The platforms were separated into three larger categories, which are political party blogs, “independent” but politically-affiliated A-List bloggers, and news media sites. Altogether the selected weblogs/websites produced 3150 articles with 105293 comments left by readers who engaged in relatively few but partly quite intensive follow-up discussions. Due to certain practical limitations (this was a only an MA thesis), the enormous amount of potential research subjects had to be reduced; otherwise the study would have remained unfeasible to accomplish with the given temporal and human resources at my disposal (less than three months, one graduate student).
The empirical sample eventually included 120 articles and 2286 comments; this is less than ten percent of the total population and all claims must be interpreted with clear limitations to the overall representability of the final analysis.
However, since it was a pilot study that analysed an equal amount of articles per platform in considerable detail, I think its results are still interesting for the assessment of current modes of political online communication in the UK election context. The most important findings concern the limited levels of dialogue, tendencies towards fragmentation, verbal/textual violence, and the digital transformation of public discourse. It became quickly apparent that online media indeed played a central role in the election campaigns across the British political landscape – with ambivalent implications for trends in political online communication and public debates.
“No Response” – Limited Levels of Dialogue
There was considerable activity on part of the different communicators, i.e. operators of the sampled websites, who produced large amounts of content on a daily basis (over 3500 in four weeks). These articles also stimulated on-site communication in form of commenting in even larger quantities (over 105000).
However, it seemed that this high-frequency level of online communication seldom transformed into genuine dialogues or deliberation-based discussions. For example, less than half of all comments in the sample were directly connected to each other; readers did express their opinions in various forms but only in a few instances longer exchanges of arguments took place.
A lot of people posted their comments but most never stimulated any responses from neither the post’s author(s) nor other readers. In fact, most bloggers and journalists hardly engaged in the comment sections at all and left the field entirely to their site visitors.
Only a few bloggers – e.g. Hopi Sen or Charlotte Gore – engaged on the comment level with their audiences in mentionable frequencies, if compared to the other websites in the sample. However, only a fraction of these responses dealt with actual political issues; most were mere expressions of gratitude, approval, or non-political messages in irrelevant, de-contextualised side debates.
To sum up, the different online platform hardly became integrative-democratic stages for the reasoned exchanged of arguments but rather resembled transmitters for unidirectional communication flows and collections of mostly isolated messages that did not condense into meaningful conversation.
Though the majority of commenting users did not express any distinct ideological affiliation, many platforms still showed tendencies towards political fragmentation or balkanisation (Sunstein 2007).
Quite unsurprisingly, it were party blogs in particular that seemed to attract like-mined people in the respective comment sections.
The findings implied that back in 2010 users with similar political attitudes tended to “flock” on the same online platforms. This does not mean that there were no comments that expressed diverging opinions at all, but it happened only occasionally that a staunch conservative left a message on a Labour blog and vice versa. This probably limited the chances for real on-site contestation between site visitors on party- and A-list blogs. However, in these particular contexts forms of in-group deliberation sometimes materialised:
On news media sites, due to their broader scope, the situation looked a bit different and a polarising attitudes beyond the context of intra-party micro-politics met in higher frequencies. Quite interestingly, over half of all posted comments on party- and A list blogs were not directly related to the actual article but dealt with some form of side issue or sub-topic; these were not always “political” in a strict sense but focused on “soft issues” (jokes, socialising between users etc.). The analysis showed that conservatives were especially “talkative” on their respective websites/blogs:
The UK’s political right appeared extremely active on the Web and aggressively campaigned against the then-ruling Labour government.
Exclusion and Verbal/Textual Transgression
The analysis further showed that only a small group of highly engaged users produced the majority of comments, who probably presented a mere fraction of the UK’s entire population. This observation tends to support the argument that political discourses on the Web are often limited to a handful (relatively speaking) of interested and invested users. It seems that mainly “hardcore” politics nerds and professionals in the field felt compelled to actively participate in online debates.
This leaves an ambiguous impression: on one hand, this appears as a considerable shortcoming in terms of pluralism (many political attitudes, especially different nuances, are not really represented); on the other, even if limited in their ideological scope, these on-site debates still tend to expand the informative content of each blog/website in a technical sense: potentially critical, different, or new perspective are added to the the original article. However, the ‘tone’ of debate reached partly extremely toxic levels and, depending on the context, could became downright aggressive.
Manifestations of verbal violence not unlike discursive forms that one normally associates with extreme forms of racism and dehumanisation frequently emerged in the sample. Especially politicians and other public figures became targets for offensive, hostile and vulgar comments:
It is indeed difficult to assess in how far these comments were genuine political positions or mere “trolling”. In any case, individual seemed to take advantage of their online anonymity to express their personal, sometimes very emotional positions in a rather uncivilised, practically violent manner that displayed features of hate speech.
Depending on the blog and audience, such provocative statements could find wider approval and initiate “rants” against the person or group in focus, who mostly happened to have a different political position. In this regard, party and A-List blogs in particular seemed to foster the rifts between political camps and hardened the fronts.
The Digital Transformation of Public Discourse
To sum up, in 2010 online media, especially political blogs, played an increasingly relevant role as information sources on different campaign programs; they also extended the spectrum of publicly communicated positions and attitudes, though different social filters determined the scope of actively partaking audiences. Party- and A list blogs tended to attract people who shared a certain set of political values, which diminished the potential for contestation and deliberation across ideological “silos”; at the same time, they occasionally served for intra-party discussions that could display the democratic-integrative features of consensus-seeking, deliberative discourse. However, forms of verbal violence, mostly addressed at the respective political opponent, were also part of political online debates and could reach extremely aggressive levels in some cases.
From a normative perspective, this leaves an altogether ambivalent impression and raises the question of whether this trend leads to a better informed, more transparent society – or whether it rather causes an increased fragmentation of our socio-economic lifeworld.
A significant different between the today and the last general election is the rise of the Eurosceptic-nationalist UKIP and the question about a referendum on Britain’s EU membership, which has gained in relevance over the past few years (the Eurozone crisis and systemic inconsistencies in the EU’s political framework may have contributed to this situation). The transnational developments on the European level are therefore potentially more relevant factors than in the previous election. In this respect, the entailed battles over national identity, sovereignty, transnational realities but also austerity measures may cause (or already have caused) extremely polarising, toxic online debates.
It is hardly disputable that the modes in which political stakeholders organised and executed their communication campaigns was accompanied by an increasingly relevant digital element, which only grew in importance in the past five years; more than ever, our current digitalised communication environment illustrates on a daily basis how media-based public discourse roots in a complex network of communication flows that are not confined to some separated “online” or “offline” space; both are intrinsically linked to each other and mutually affective.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.com
Election campaigns tend to focus on ideals of justice/rightfulness, fairness, and morality. The current austerity debate and questions about immigration as well as nationalism are prime examples for this year’s general election. What is actually perceived as morality in politics is alway a question of framing.
George Lakoff’s work as a cognitive linguist is in this regard invaluable, since he shows the complex yet strong links between language, perception, values, morality and politics – all very important aspects that researchers in political communication need to consider:
For my PhD thesis I analysed web content published on different political online platforms from across the EU’s political landscape; the analysis covered the 24 months between March 2011 and March 2013, which includes some of the most decisive events and turns in the EU-/Eurozone crisis – most importantly the intensification of the Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, and Cypriot crises. The final sample covered 21 online platforms in total. Over 13.000 (N1) articles published by these sources were subject of a quantitative content analysis, while another 1350 publications (N2) from this sample were selected for an qualitative in-depth analysis. The overall aim was to look for points of convergence and difference in the perception, processing, and evaluation of the entailed social, cultural, economic, and political developments in various member-states by different political stakeholders as well as by the central EU institutions (i.e. the commission, the council, and the European Parliament).
To further narrow the research focus I decided to look for frames and networking behaviour to analyse the transnational web sphere comprehensively. Part of this multi-level analysis was the identification of central frame elements as proposed by Entman (1993), which were in my specific case the main conflict areas, causal interpretations, moral/ethical evaluations and concrete recommendations for action that emerged during the course of the crisis. To achieve this I applied a qualitative content analysis to the sampled articles to search and define relevant textual manifestations; each article was read in-depth and coded for elements that fall into one of the categories mentioned above. Its results provided the variable set for the subsequent quantitative analyse to cluster similar content, in order to identify whole frames (following the procedure proposed by Matthes & Kohring 2008).
One of the most important findings of the qualitative identification of conflict areas was that the overall crisis discourse appeared to consist of a whole network of mutually affective, closely interconnected yet somewhat distinct fields of contestation: the largest and most important one covers polarising issues related to crisis developments and policies; the clash of proponents and opponents of austerity measures or the Eurobonds debate are characteristic for this larger area of dispute; another example is the North-South divide that sees the more prosperous Northern part of the EU and the allegedly less productive South drift further apart. The first field of contestation also includes controversial discussions on very specific fiscal and economic problems, such as the Target II trap.
The second discernible field of contestation shifts focus from crisis- and economics related issued to more fundamental questions about the EU’s political framework. Concerns about the alleged lack of democracy, the level of integration but also calls for “reforms” (which became a heavily contested issue themselves) are central to this conflict area. The notion of a two-tier EU that is divided into Eurozone and non-Eurozone members is particularly relevant for this subsection of the overall crisis debate.
A third field of contestation emerged on issues related to migration, free movement, and racism. During the economic and political turmoil that dominated the EU another crisis unfolded (and continues to this day) with the increasing numbers of migrants who try to reach European shores by crossing the Mediterranean. The Lampedusa drama and the discussion about the re-introduction of border controls in several member-states, which directly contested one of the main achievements of the EU, are only two of the most important examples. Since many of the recent migrant waves arrived in countries that suffered most under the economic problems, especially Greece and Italy, there was in many cases an obvious link between these issues and the overall EU crisis discourse.
In short, the fiscal and economic problems across the Eurozone seemed to have triggered a highly dynamic, extremely controversial and thus potentially divisive transnational discourse that quickly transcended beyond the realm of economics into different political, social, and cultural dimensions – which should ultimately affect debates on the sense and future of the entire union. Somewhat ambiguously, the analysis showed that a transnational public sphere – understood as the condensation of related communication across different political-cultural areas in Europe (Hepp et al. 2012) – actually materialised for the crisis context but it was rather driven by conflict and not democratic-integrative tendencies as proposed in the Habermasian tradition. In other words, European political stakeholders identified and debated the same set of issues and acknowledged that they shared a common economic-political context but came to partly very different if not downright contrary evaluations of this situation.
Entman, R. M. (1993): ‘Framing. Toward Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm’, in Journal of Communication 43 (4), 51-58.
Hepp, A., Brüggemann, M., Kleinen-von Königslöw, K., Lingenberg, S. and Möller, J. (2012): Politische Diskurskulturen in Europa. Die Mehrfachsegmentierung europäischer Öffentlichkeit, Wiesbaden: Springer VS.
Matthes, J. and Kohring, M. (2008): ‘The Content Analysis of Media Frames. Toward Improving Reliability and Validity’, in Journal of Communication 58, 258-279.