Master Thesis Media & Journalism

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1.4 Research Composition

In the following literature review I will first define discourse, focussing on Foucault and reviewing some relevant researches into climate change controversy that focus on Foucault’s definition of discourse as well. After first following the limitations

of these researches and distinguishing two different domains in which the different discourses on climate change occur,

that is the media and the public, I will use Stuart Hall’s conception of communication to connect media discourse and public discourse, for they are influenced influences of one another.

After again defining discourse analysis, again distinguishing two different approaches, that is critical discourse analysis and critical discursive psychology, and again connecting them, I will try to create a fresh, fitting and therefore effective and efficient method to analyse media discourse and public discourse on climate change, which I will further explain in the next methodological chapter. In accordance with the literature review, the method first makes a twofold, in which the US and Dutch media discourse and the US and Dutch public discourse are selected and studied separately (although according

to the same fresh and fitting method), after which the different domains of discourse (that is media discourse and public discourse) and the different countries in which these different domains occur (that is the US and The Netherlands) are crosswise compared.

The next chapter reports on the results of this research, successively the US media discourse, the US public discourse,

their influenced influences, the Dutch media discourse, the Dutch public discourse, their influenced influences, and finally

the combined US media discourse and public discourse compared to the combined Dutch media discourse and public discourse. The conclusion consists of a recapitulation of this research, a recapitulation of the specific sub questions and

a recapitulation of the research question. At last, the discussion is dedicated to the social and scientific contributions of

this research, the strengths and limitations of this thesis and recommendations for further research into media discourse

and public discourse on climate change.

Literature Review


Literature Review





2.1 Discourse

2.2 Media Discourse & Public Discourse

2.3 Discourse Analysis

2.4 Media Discourse Analysis & Public Discourse Analysis
Before one can distinguish different discourses on climate change, or even analyse different discourses on climate change, one should first formulate a theoretical framework, by reviewing some relevant literature on some crucial theoretical concepts in relation to this topic. Therefore I will begin by giving a general definition of (2.1) discourse, a term which will turn out to be very versatile, which is why I will focus on one specific significant side of the story, that is Foucault’s definition of discourse

as constitutive and a constitution of context. After reviewing some relevant researches into climate change controversy that focus on Foucault as well, it turns out these researches unreasonably distinguish between two different domains in which the different discourses on climate change occur: the media and the public. After first following these limitations and studying (2.2) media discourse & public discourse separately as well, I will use Stuart Hall’s conception of communication to connect and combine media discourse and public discourse into a complete definition of discourse, in which media discourse and public discourse are continuously constitutive and a constitution of one another. After reviewing some relevant theories that go into some of the specific sides of this definition of discourse, and simultaneously some relevant researches that go into the same sides, specifically of climate change controversy, I will turn to how to actually (2.3) analyse discourse.

This is where method and methodology meet. After again beginning by giving a general definition of discourse analysis,

the term, just like the term discourse, will turn out to refer to multiple meanings, or at least lots of approaches. Hence, I will distinguish between two of those approaches, that is (2.4) critical discourse analysis & critical discursive psychology, which are generally used to analyze media discourse and, respectively, public discourse. Acting on the understanding

of these theoretical and practical concepts, I can connect and combine them and create an appropriate method for identifying different discourses on climate change, which I will further explain in the third, more methodological chapter of this thesis.
2.1 Discourse

According to the dictionary, there are multiple definitions of the term discourse:

1. Onward course; process or succession of time, events, actions, etc.; = COURSE. Obs.

1540-1 ELYOT Image Gov. (1549) 134 The naturall discourse of the sunne.

b. In the following the meaning is perhaps ‘course of arms or combat’ (cf. COURSE n. 5); though other explanations have been proposed.
2. ‘The act of the understanding, by which it passes from premises to consequences’ (J.); reasoning, thought, ratiocination; the faculty of reasoning, reason, rationality. Obs. or arch.

b. Phr. discourse of reason: process or faculty of reasoning. Obs. or arch.

3. Communication of thought by speech; ‘mutual intercourse of language’ (J.); talk, conversation. arch.

b. The faculty of conversing; conversational power. Obs.

c. (with a and pl.) A talk, a conversation. arch.

d. A common talk, report, rumour. Obs.

4. Narration; a narrative, tale, account. Obs.
5. A spoken or written treatment of a subject, in which it is handled or discussed at length; a dissertation, treatise, homily, sermon, or the like. (Now the prevailing sense.)

6. a. Familiar intercourse, familiarity. b. Familiarity with a subject; conversancy (in). Obs.

7. Comb. 1628 EARLE Microcosm., Scepticke in Relig. (Arb.) 67 He is strangely vnfix't, and a new man euery day, as his last discourse-books Meditations transport him.

8. Special Comb.: discourse analysis Linguistics, a method of analysing the structure of texts or utterances longer than one sentence, taking into account both their linguistic content and their sociolinguistic context; analysis performed using this method.

Add: Linguistics. A connected series of utterances by which meaning is communicated, esp. forming a unit for analysis; spoken or written communication regarded as consisting of such utterances. Also transf. in Semiotics.

Oxford English Dictionary (1989)
On the basis of these definitions, one could conclude discourse broadly refers to spoken or written communication. Broadly. Because even though many may have attempted to define discourse, there is no all-embracing, all-explaining definition of discourse. “The term discourse has become common currency in a variety of disciplines: critical theory, sociology, linguistics, philosophy, social psychology and many other fields, so much so that it is frequently left undefined, as if its usage was simply common knowledge.” (Mills, 2004: 1)
Discourse is one of the widest used terms when analysing literary and non-literary texts, and it probably has one of the widest ranges of possible significations. Yet it is often the term which is least defined within theoretical texts. It is therefore interesting to trace the ways we try to make sense of discourse. Consulting a dictionary would indeed be a fine first step, for we now know that in linguistics the term would refer to a connected series of utterances by which meaning is communicated. However, in cultural theory the term often combines the general meanings derived from its French origins and influences (histoire/discours as speech or conversation) and a more specific theoretical meaning, which sees discourse as the general domain of the production and circulation of rule-governed statements. In social psychology and critical discourse analysis the term is used in a variety of ways, but all of them mix the meanings derived from linguistics and cultural theory, integrating a concern with power relations and the resultant structures of authorized utterances. (Mills, 2004) The term discourse thus may refer to many different meanings used within many different disciplines. One could argue that within these traditions, the notion of discourse is itself subject to discourse, that is, debated on the basis of specialized knowledge.
In order to try to introduce some clarity into this theoretical framework, and ultimately, obviously, preferably provide a definition of discourse which we can actually work with, I will focus on Michel Foucault, a French philosopher, historian, critic and sociologist who’s work has been crucial for our current understanding of the term. Besides, since the research question of this thesis wonders how different discourses within different countries relate, and whether differences within the relations between different discourses can be explained according to the contexts of the countries in which they are constructed,

this research focuses on how climate change controversy comes about socially. It focuses on discourse as a social product, as well as a social construct, which, as a significant social scientist, is the fundament of Foucault’s definition of discourse.

2.1.1 Post-structuralism & Foucault

In order to be able to show what makes Foucault’s definition of discourse so special and why focussing on Foucault is especially relevant for this research, one should start at the beginning. For even if we take the simplest route through history, one can see a shifting from the highlighting of one aspect to another. (Mills, 2004) Modernist theorists, such as Immanuel Kant in philosophy, Charles Darwin in biology and Karl Marx in political science, fundamentally focused on the transition from tradition, on tracing the truth and on theorizing certainty and predictability. (Giddens, 1991) They therefore defined discourse as something relative to talking, as something merely functional and as a ‘natural’ product of common sense usage or progress. And so, as apposed to Foucault, modernist theory dissociated discourse from power and ideology. (Brown, 2005)

Following the perceived limitations of modernist theory, followed postmodernist theory. Whereas modernism aspired to rationality instead of religion, science instead of church, postmodernism rejected the thesis of one theoretical approach explaining all aspects of society, one absolute truth. (Jameson, 1992) Rather, postmodernist theorists focus on the variety of individual and collective experiences and emphasized differences over similarities. They shift away from truth seeking and instead seeks answers to how truths are produced and sustained. Postmodernists contend that truth and knowledge are plural, contextual and historically produced through discourses. (Brown, 2005) Although this altered definition of discourse commences coming closer to Foucault’s definition of discourse, structuralism is where Foucault’s real roots can be found.
Structuralist theorists, such as Ferdinand de Saussure, subsequently stated that every system has a structure and that structure determines the position of each element of a whole. (Assiter, 1984) Therefore “individual elements of a system, such as sentences within discourse, only have significance when considered in relation to the structure as a whole, and structures are to be understood as self-contained, self-regulated and self-transforming entities.” (Howarth, 2001: 17)

Within structuralist theory and in turn post-structuralist theory, within which Foucault is a fundamental philosopher,

the definition of discourse signaled a big break with previous views of language and representation. “Rather than seeing language as simply expressive, as transparent, as a vehicle of communication, as a from of representation, theorists now saw language as a system with its own rules and constraints, and with its own determining effect on the way that individuals think and express themselves.” (Mills, 2004: 7) This has made an important contribution to Foucault’s definition of discourse, for it highlights the decisive role of meaning and signification in structuring human life more generally. (Howarth, 2001)
Thus, when trying to define discourse “we may resort to referring to dictionaries, to the disciplinary context of the utterance or to terms which are used in contrast to discourse, even though none of these strategies produce a simple, clear meaning of the term, but rather only serve to show us the fluidity of its meaning”. (Mills, 2004: 5) Because, although the previous piece, which reproduces the relation of Foucault’s definition of discourse to modernist, postmodernist and structuralist theory, determines the development of the definition of discourse and Foucault’s start and part within that development, it also shows discourse has a complex history and is used in a range of different ways by different theorists. Therefore even Foucault cannot pin down discourse to one meaning: “Instead of gradually reducing the rather fluctuating meaning of the word ‘discourse’, I believe I have in fact added to its meanings: treating it sometimes as the general domain of all statements, sometimes as an individualized group of statements, and sometimes as regulated practice that accounts for a number of statements.” (Foucault, 2002: 90)

In the beginning bit of this sound bite all utterances which have meaning and effect would pass as discourse. This somewhat wide definition, which Foucault mainly made use of in his earlier, more structuralist theories, speaks of discourse in general, instead of a discourse. In the second part however, Foucault focuses on the particular structures within discourse and is concerned with identifying groups of utterances which seem to be regulated in such way, having a coherence and force to them in common. It is this definition within one would distinguish discourses on terrorism, discourses on femininity or, here it comes, discourses on climate change. Foucault’s final definition may sound most familiar, for here he is not interested in the actual utterances that are produced, as in the rules and structures that particularly produce them. Most theorists use these different definitions before, in between and behind one another. And so does Foucault.

2.1.2 The Constitution of Discourse

In fact, in The Archaeology of Knowledge, which was published in 1969 and written as an appendix to his previous piece

The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, Foucault made his main excursion into methodology, and so developed an entirely original definition of discourse: “Discourse is constituted by a group of sequences of signs, in so far as they are statements.” (Foucault, 2002: 121) As these and the aforementioned words elucidate, for the bigger part of the book Foucault focuses on the ‘statement’, which he believes is the absolute atom of discourse. “And the problem soon arises:

if the statement really is the elementary unit of discourse, what does it consist of? What are its distinctive features?

What boundaries must one accord to it?” (Foucault, 2002: 91) The ‘statement’ is the English translation from French énoncé, for Foucault meaning that which makes sentences, propositions or speech acts meaningful. However, in lines with postmodern theory, that is, the break with the past view of language, he argues that statements themselves are not the same as sentences, propositions or speech acts. Rather, statements create a network of rules establishing what is meaningful, and it is these rules that are the preconditions for sentences, propositions or speech acts to have meaning.
“When one wishes to individualize statements, one cannot accept unreservedly any of the models borrowed from grammar, logic or analysis. In all three cases, one realizes that the criteria proposed are too numerous and too heavy, that they limit the extent of the statement and that although the statement sometimes takes on the forms described and adjusts itself to them exactly, it does not always do so: one finds statements lacking in legitimate propositional structure, one finds statements where one cannot recognize a sentence, one finds more statements than one can isolate speech acts” (Foucault, 2002: 94) In short, depending on whether or not they obey the rules of meaning, a grammatically correct sentence may still lack meaning, and vice versa, an incorrect sentence may still be meaningful. Statements, or actually entire entities of statements (and this is where Foucault directs to the term ‘discursive formations’, that is, the regularities that produce certain discourses within certain bodies of knowledge, such as climatic science or media commenting on climate change), depend on the conditions in which they emerge and exist within a field of discourse. (Foucault, 2002)
Discourse. Foucault does indeed provide us with some general definitions of discourse. However, since his work couldn’t quite be considered a coherent construction of ideas, nor a general theory, neither is the term discourse really rooted within a larger system of fully worked-out ideas. It is simply one of the many elements in Foucault’s work. (Mills, 2004) This lack of system may be hard to grasp and surely it has contributed to the many different definitions of the term discourse that exist today. On the other hand, due to this lack of system one can be flexible when using Foucault’s work to fit to one’s own work. At one point Foucault mentions that he “does not, or no longer, treat discourses as groups of signs or stretches of text, but as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak”. (Foucault, 2002: 54)

In this case a discourse is something which produces something else, such as an utterance, concept or effect, rather than something which exists in and of itself and which can be analyzed on its own. “A discursive structure can be detected because of the systematicity of the ways of thinking and behaving which are formed within a particular context, and because of the effects of those ways of thinking and behaving.” (Mills, 2004: 15)

2.1.3 Discourse as Constitutive

In terms of thinking about discourse as having effects, it is absolutely key to consider the factors of truth, power and knowledge, since it is due to these elements that discourse has effect. As a matter of fact, focusing on Foucault’s treatment of the terms truth, power and knowledge would be a wise thing to do indeed, since the configuration of these elements is what essentially constitutes discourse. (Mills, 2004) And so Foucault finds himself tracing the role of discourses in wider social processes of power, emphasizing the construction of current truths, how they are maintained and what power relations they carry with them.

In his subsequent works Discipline and Punish, which was published in 1975, and Society Must Be Defended, which is a collection his lectures at the Collège de France from 1975 till 1976, Foucault first instills that power and knowledge are interrelated, for knowledge is both the creator and creation of power. Therefore every relationship is a struggle and negotiation of power. He then theorizes that discourse is related to power, for it operates by the rules of exclusion. Discourse is controlled by objects (or what can be spoken of), by rituals (or where and how one may speak) and by the privileged

(or who may speak). It really is a medium through which power relations produce speaking subjects. And last, but certainly not least, Foucault finds himself discoursing that power is always present, but that it can construct as well as obstruct the truth. (Brown, 2005) And so a discourse can be considered to be an institutionalized way of thinking that can be manifested through language. It is the social boundary defining what can be said about a specific topic (Foucault, 2002). It is the limit of acceptable speech, or possible truth. (Butler, 1990)

Foucault, who relates to modernist theory so far that he dislocates the definition of discourse as a natural, transparent, merely functional product of progress, to post-modernist theory so far he is not in search of the truth, but in search of how

the truth is produced through discourse, and to structuralist theory so far that he accedes every system, such as discourse, has a structure and that structure determines the position of each individual element within that system, such as a sentence within discourse, defines discourse not only as a system which is structured by its individual elements, but as a system which structures on itself as well. According to Foucault discourse is a constitution of statements, which exist in a particular context, but discourse is constitutive as well, for it affects the truth, power and knowledge. This definition of discourse is relevant for this research, because it focuses on how discourse works within context, which is the starting point of my research question, that is how climate change controversies within different countries can be explained according to the consequently different contexts in which they occur.

2.1.4 Foucault Applied to Climate Change Controversy

Foucault’s definition of discourse as the fundament for researching climate change controversy is not unusual at all.

Boykoff for example, who has done lots of research on what the different discourses on climate change look like and

how they are contained, states that the US is comparatively critical to the opinion of the majority of scientists, namely that anthropogenic release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is causing a rise in average global temperatures, and that the media are responsible for this. (Boykoff & Rajan, 2007)

“The US media constitute key influences among a set of complex dynamics shaping information dissemination in this politicized environment. Mass-media coverage of climate change is not simply a random amalgam of newspaper articles and television segments, rather, it is a social relationship between scientists, policy actors and the public that is mediated by such news packages.” (Boykoff & Boykoff, 2007: 1190) And so the differences in discourses on climate change are not random either. Rather, they are systemic and occur through “complex socio-political and economic reasons rooted in macro-power relations, as well as micro-processes that under gird professional journalism.” (Boykoff & Rajan, 2007: 207) Boykoff’s researches demonstrate that consistent adherence to interacting journalistic norms has contributed to impediments in the coverage of climate change, which confirms Foucault’s definition of discourse as a medium through which power relations produce speaking subjects, and which can construct as well as obstruct the truth. “Adherence to first-order journalistic norms, such as personalization, dramatization, and novelty, significantly influence the employment of second-order norms, such as authority-order and balance, and this has led to informationally deficient mass-media coverage of this crucial issue.” (Boykoff & Boykoff, 2007: 1190) Indeed, the discourse on climate change is the limit of its possible truth.
According to Foucault discourses are seen to affect our views on everything. Therefore it is not possible to escape discourse. According to Carpenter, in the case of climate change, two distinct different discourses can be distinguished. On the one hand climate change is described as a ‘disaster caused by mankind’, a discourse fed by various new findings in climate science, statements from land leaders, public officials and media figures, such as Al Gore, in “cautionary and limiting language, and frequently couched in terms of possible long-term effects” and “the astonishing rise in the frequency and severity of erratic weather events and catastrophic natural disasters occurring in recent years around the globe, many of which have been linked directly and indirectly by reporters, scientists and NGOs to climate change”. (Carpenter, 2001: 323)
According to Kahandekar “the global warming debate as presented by the media usually focuses on the increasing mean temperature of the earth, associated extreme weather events and future climate projections of increasing frequency of extreme weather events worldwide. In reality, the climate change issue is considerably more complex than an increase in the earth’s mean temperature and in extreme weather events the dissenting view offered by the sceptics or opponents of global warming appears substantially more credible than the supporting view put forth by the proponents of global warming.

Further, the projections of future climate change over the next fifty to one hundred years is based on insufficiently verified climate models and are therefore not considered reliable at this point in time.” (Khandekar, 2005: 1557) Khandekar appears to be both a critical analyst of the ‘disaster’ discourse on climate change, as well as the ultimate embodiment of the contrary, ‘sceptical’ discourse on climate change. For, according to Carpenter, the strongest evidence of the increasing interest in climate change comes from ‘sceptics’. “With recurring frequency, sceptics raise suspicions of a conspiracy perpetuated by a ‘gloom-mongering press’ and call for equally extensive coverage of studies critical of accepted or mainstream climate science.” (Carpenter, 2001: 323) In short, on the other, more sceptical side of the story, climate change may be described as a ‘natural phenomenon which nothing can be done about’. Or to be exact on the counter claims, analysis of prominent conservative think tanks revealed that “first, the movement criticized the evidentiary basis of global warming as weak, if not entirely wrong. Second, the movement argued that global warming will have substantial benefits if it occurs. Third, the movement warned that proposed action to ameliorate global warming would do more harm than good.” (McCright, 2000: 499)

In other words, the selected discourse delivers the vocabulary, expressions and perhaps also the style needed to communicate. (Butler, 1990) Besides, the preliminary researches into the different discourses on climate change confirm Foucault’s theory that these different discourses (the ‘disaster caused by mankind’ discourse versus the ‘natural phenomenon which nothing can be done about’ discourse) are constructed by their context (‘interacting journalistic norms which contribute to impediments in the coverage of a crucial issue’ versus ‘a gloom-mongering press which perpetuates conspiracy’) but construct their context as well (conviction versus scepticism).

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