Episodes of economic agencies in financial crisis news discourse

Thursday, November 6, 2014 at Miestentie 3, room 429, from 17:00-19:00.

By Yrjö Tuunanen

The recent emergencies of the financial markets have created major challenges for national economies as well as for individuals as economic citizens for practicing ones full economic, social and cultural rights. The journalistic media traditionally plays an important role by reporting news, providing information and insights on financial phenomena, ideally facilitating critical consciousness, mediating practices, and offering preconditions for economic citizenship.

Yet, in the pressure of continuous financial turmoil, with complex systemic risks and failures discussed in the media using constantly evolving crisis jargon, it is difficult for citizens to influence the conditions of their own lives, obtain clear perceptions of macro scale events, and thus, to have well-grounded opinions with a voice that counts in financial crises discourses.

As a response, scholars have highlighted the need for civic culture, which ideally is, according to Dahlgren (2000), collective meaning making, that, “entails a capacity to see beyond the immediate interests of one’s own group.” Despite the distinctive nature of social network sites as discursive spaces online currently, the journalistic media still serves as a main common-carrier in attempts of providing constructive policy input of both individual as well as collective forms of economic citizenship, such as Occupy, Indignados and Aganaktismenoi Movements, and thus, creating the conditions of possibility for moral and political awareness and agency (Chouliaraki, 2008).

Nevertheless, as global market forces are challenging the socio-economic policies and demanding structural reforms, and with international economic and political organizations imposing conditions on nation states as obligatory choices, based on ‘neutral financial pragmatics’, proposing a “de-politicized naturalization of the crisis” (Zizek, 2010) the mainstream news media has a tendency of repeating and confirming these prevailing stories of the crises and their indispensable solutions.

The ‘other stories’ have often been represented in the news media merely as antagonistic points of view against the inevitable, such as the citizen protest movements opposing the austerity measures in the Eurozone “as yet another attempt by international financial capital to dismantle the last remainders of the welfare state” (Zizek, 2010). These kinds of simplified dichotomies between us and them, right and wrong, oppositions deriving their logic from the dualistic Manichaean worldview, are echoing the doctrines of the political neoconservatism (Taylor, 2004) and attached with the normative constructivist project of neoliberal rationality (Couldry, 2010; Brown, 2005).

In the landscapes of such master narratives of the economy represented in news stories, this doctoral dissertation studies audiovisual financial news texts in the web-based media and the ways in which such multimodal news stories reflect upon insights on the dynamics of local (micro) actions and global (macro) events in finance and the economy.

The research focuses on representations of agents and agencies in finance, participating and being referred to within financial crises discourses, the ways their versions of the stories of financial turmoil have been told, focusing especially on representations of members of the public in midst of the crises and participating in financial crises discourses realized in forms of multimodal news texts, such as crisis guides, economy trackers, timelines and chronicles; including selections of facts, analyses of events and processes, official statements, interviews as well as depictions of everyday crisis reality.

The research aims to discover and improve methods for identifying the ways in which various agents and agencies are present, and their interrelated positions are represented in visual news stories in web-based financial crises discourses. The research seeks to find applicable conceptual tools for advancing perceptions of individual and institutional actors, and expanding ways for identifying features of their interrelated socio-economic, cultural and political connections, objectives and practices in finance and in multimodal representations online.

The ways for comprehending who is who, and who does what, how and why in finance is challenging not only because of the language barrier between ordinary citizens, financial professionals, decision makers and the news media, but also because of several, often invisible institutional actors, such as systemically important financial institutions, credit rating agencies, regulators, investors or market forces, involved in financial mechanisms and phenomena, and referred to frequently in the news media.

For media audience, identifying and positioning oneself, as member of the public participating in financial systems and discourses, in multifaceted local and global financial networks is an essential cornerstone for more comprehesive perception on other agents and agencies in the complex chain of events in the economy. Furthermore, the research builds on a hypothesis that a sense for being a part of the financial systems and locating oneself there, even as a minor player, accelerates motivation for learning the basic ontology of financial mechanisms and the language it tends to be discussed and defined.

Therefore, the research has a special focus on ways the members of the public are represented, positioned and framed as citizens in the audiovisual narratives in the web-based news media. Moreover, the research aims to identify the ways members of the public have been facilitated, or neglected to have an opportunity to participate in discussions on finance in the news media; as referents as well as mediators (e.g. as citizen journalists) in the web-based news discourses.

As a practical outcome, the study aims to discover valid and viable tools for financial news literacy, for both identifying agents and agencies participating in financial phenomena, as well as familiarizing with the ways they are represented in audiovisual, multimodal news texts in web-based media, and how these representations tend to guide interpretations of different agents and agencies. In respect for the study and practice of financial literacy, recently regarded as one of the essential elements of economic and financial stability and development, both in developed and emerging countries (INFE/OECD, 2009), the research seeks to contribute by offering insights and developing a basis for a toolset for analytical and critical reading of audiovisual news stories in the web-based media.

Web-based news media, financial crisis discourse, economic agents and agencies, audiovisual news stories, economic citizenship, financial news literacy

Brown, Wendy 2005. Critical Essays on Knowledge and Politics, Princeton University Press.

Chouliaraki, Lilie 2008. The media as moral education: Mediation and action. Media, Culture & Society, 30(6), 831-852.

Couldry, Nick 2010. Why Voice Matters, Culture and Politics After Neoliberalism. SAGE.

Dahlgren, Peter 2000. The Internet and the Democratization of Civic Culture. Political Communication, 17:4, 335-340.
INFE/OECD. Financial education and the crisis. Policy Paper and Guidance. OECD, 2009.

Taylor, Mark C. 2004. Confidence Games: Money and Markets in a World without Redemption. University Of Chicago Press.

Žižek, Zlavoj 2010. A Permanent Economic Emergency. New Left Review 64.