Premediation in the Eurozone Crisis

The seemingly never-ending Eurozone crisis made it into the news again this week with various media commentators arguing that the “Grexit” was (maybe) finally here. After all, the current Greek government seems yet again struggling to meet its “obligations” towards its European lenders, mainly represented by the ECB. A crisis meeting has already been announced, but it remains to be seen whether it will produce a real breakthrough. The month of April, so it seems, will decide over Greece’s future  in- or outside the Eurozone. Déjà vu anyone?

The same had been said about January 2015, when the majority of Greeks resisted to the prevailing austerity drive by voting for radical left Syriza. In fact, similar claims about an end to Greece’s membership in the single currency union, if not even to the Euro’s continued existence as such, were made whenever the acting Greek government had to report to their international creditors over the past four years (see here, here, here, and here).

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.

Think of the different scenarios that exist for the outcome of austerity politics in the European context: while leading German politicians argue that fiscal discipline will lead to an economically stable, prosperous future, dissident voices claim that the same could actually increase the suffering caused by economic hardship across struggling Eurozone countries.

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.

References

Grusin, R. (2010): Premedation. Affect and Mediality after 9/11, London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

A Network Graph of the EU Web Sphere based on Hyperlinks (UPDATED)

The graph below visualises the hyperlink network of twenty-one political platforms in the EU context for the period between March 2011 and March 2013, which can be seen as one of the most tumultuous phases of the so-called EU crisis.

The  sample includes four major news media websites, three government websites (UK, Germany, Greece), four official EU websites, two think tank websites, four bloggers, and four NGO websites. I extracted all links from a sample of ca. 1320 postings that were published on these websites within the 24 months of intense crisis discourse covered in the analysis. Each node represents a website, while each line or “edge” stands for a unilateral hyperlink connection coming from a source (one of the 21 websites of the sample) to target; the size of a node implies how much content was produced by the respective platform within the focused time span, while  the thickness or “weight” of each line indicates how often a website was linked to from a source.

This graph is only a preliminary, incomplete draft and does not include all news media postings of the total sample yet; still, it gives a few insights in the structure of political online discourses in the EU context (click to enlarge):

EU Media Web
EU online media web sphere based on hyperlinks. The graph created with Gephi.

For starters, one can easily see that each of the sampled platforms had its very own sub-network of connections and references; they appear as centres of separate yet not completely isolated clusters. Could this be tendencies towards “silo formation” and fragmentation in the EU web discourse? At least the hyperlink pattern in the sample implies such a development, though the same must not necessarily apply to the actual content level and the network of non-hyperlink in-text references that might have emerged there. Still, looking at the structure of hyperlink networks provides access to the fabric of the transnational debate on the EU crisis and forms an adequate starting point for a more detailed discussion.

Apart from the smaller clusters around each node there seem to be ties between politically-ideologically similar websites; for example, in the upper half official EU web presence form a interconnected sub-network; on the right Eurosceptic websites appear to “amass”; the pro-European/federalist NGO Europa Union Deutschland mainly linked to a selection of like-minded sources, too. However, there are a few outliers that need closer examination, such as the “detached” sub-cluster around the extremely anti-European website Team Europe.

It is also interesting to observe that most websites link to themselves, as indicated by the coloured circles attached to the central nodes. Again, the bigger or “thicker” it is, the more often a particulate website tended to place a hyperlink to its own content within its postings.

These are just a few preliminary reflections and the initial observations need a more detailed discussion against the background of web-/public sphere theory and transnational communication. Nevertheless, this network graph highlights some interesting implications and provides further proof that at least a rudimentary transnational web sphere emerged in the EU crisis context.

Convergence in the News Media Discourse (Online) on the EU Crisis shown in Network Graphs

Here are a few graphs that I’ve created with Gephi, a very powerful tool for network graphs; the software is open source and you can download it for free. It might seem a bit intimidating to people who have absolutely no experience with network analysis software but there are tons of helpful tutorials out there, especially on YouTube. I will compile a list with my favourite ones in a follow-up post soon. It’s also good to have some knowledge about either Excel or SPSS (best both), as you will need data tables for calculating the network graphs (in CSV).

I use Gephi for the visualisation of  hyperlink patterns in online content but also for mapping relations between political actors, organisation, and, as in the present case, nation-states. For example, the  graphs below show what countries were mentioned and with which other nation-states they were most frequently contextualised/linked to in EU crisis content from three European news media websites (Guardian, EKathimerini, and Spiegel Online, click to enlarge). I extracted the data from over 13.000 online articles published between March 2011 and March 2013.

A node’s size indicates how often a specific country was named; the bigger it is, the more frequent it was mentioned or referred to in the sample. The lines (also called edges) show what countries were named together in the analysed content and their “thickness” indicates how often that occurred. For example, Germany and Greece have a very thick connection across all platforms, which tells us that they were particularly often linked to each other in the EU crisis discourse; considering Germany’s dominant role in the EU bailout negotiations for Greece, this is little surprising.

Guardian Online Nations Network EU Crisis 2011-2013
Guardian Online Nations Network EU Crisis 2011-2013
EKathimerini EU crisis graph
Ekathimerini Nations Network EU Crisis 2011-2013
SPON Nations EU Crisis
SPON Nations Network EU Crisis 2011-2013

Still, the similarities across the four different European news media sites indicate significant tendencies towards discursive convergence in the EU crisis debate. The same can be said of Le Monde for which I have created the same kind of graph. Each platform seems to put particular emphasis on its own national context (UK, Greece, Germany, France etc.) but in sum the networks between countries  that are somehow involved in the EU crisis discourse look very similar. This type of graph thus allows to analyse the set of entities that are involved in a particular political discourse and enables a more detailed evaluation of how their relations to each other are portrayed in media content.

Conference: Material Matters in Times of Crisis Capitalism

Later this year I’ll contribute to a panel that discusses the role of online media in the crisis discourse at a conference in Giessen, Germany. The event’s title is “Material Matters in Times of Crisis Capitalism. Transnational, Feminist, and Decolonial Approaches“. It will take place between the 13th and 15th of November. Among the esteemed cast of keynote speakers are academic heavyweights such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Rhoda Reddock.

In my paper I will focus on the lack of representation of various marginalised groups in online media debates based on political communication in what I describe as the transnational web sphere on the EU and Eurozone crisis – a digital public sphere that transcends the cultural, social, and political borders of individual nation states and that serves as the discursive context for communicative actions on the crisis. During the empirical analysis of crisis related web content I noticed that women are hardly partaking in the relevant online debates; they are almost invisible, at least as active communicators, i.e. participants in the respective online platforms (as commentators, observers, reporters etc.).

A significant gender gap still seems to persist when it comes to the social composition of the group of people who struggle for meaning in the crisis discourse. At least that’s the case for the European context. Moreover, it emerged that migrants often lack any agency in the crisis debate as well; they are mostly depicted as a somewhat “faceless” challenge or problem, not unlike a natural disaster. Migrant flows increased during the height of the crisis, especially when the Arab revolutions in Libya and Syria accelerated, and the arrival of refugees triggered heated political debates and conflicts across the EU and in its Southern areas in particular (e.g. Lampedusa); other examples are the partly very hostile and heavily medialised debates on the integration/disintegration of Roma and Sinti but also fears over work migration within the EU as a result of the Eurozone crisis.

A third group who had a hard time to make its voices heard in the crisis discourse and its local manifestations are various ad-hoc protest groups that formed as a response to austerity politics in the so-called crisis states (or PIIGS, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain). Especially public institutions such as governments and the EU hardly ever mentioned nor responded to the multitude of protest movements that emerged across Southern Europe and Greece in particular, which saw strikes on an almost daily basis.

News media platforms also provided only limited space for such groups to explain their viewpoints, motivations, and goals in their own words. These observations can be backed by hard empirical data (statistics/graphs) on the topic menus of political online platforms, the set of represented political actors in media content, and discursive networks that materialised during the height of the EU crisis between 2011 and 2013.

Image courtesy of https://unsplash.com

Mig@Net Transnational Digital Networks, Migration, and Gender

Last year I participated in a large EU funded research venture on the role of digital media in the formation of transnational migrant networks and their affect on gender issues, the Mig@Net Project. My supervisor Dr. Athina Karatzogianni was one of the project’s organisers and I worked with her on the sub-section on ‘Intercultural Conflict and Dialogue’.

Part of the project was the formulation of precise policy recommendations for political decision makers that should help to improve communication with migrant groups in the public through digital media. That’s the part I was responsible for. Read the whole report including my recommendations here.

Image courtesy of https://unsplash.com

Back to Blog and Publication at Kosmopolitica.org

After almost two years of idleness I am back to re-start this blog. I was just too busy with data surveys, analyses, chapters, conferences etc. Put teaching assignments and a part-time job in online marketing on top of that. The past 24 month flew by far too quickly. However, from now on this site will again provide a window to my work, with regular updates.

For starters, check out a publication that was published on Kosmopolitica.org, the website of an ethics think tank chaired by Dr. Martin Gak. I met the latter during a conference we organised in April 2013 on transnational migrant networks in Hull. The article explains why modern politics are almost always embedded within transnational discursive networks and what practitioners in modern politics need to consider when using online communication in a globalised age; it puts particular emphasis on the different dimensions and forms in which transnational discursivity can materialise thanks to communication technology.