Table of contents
2. Power relations
3. Identity construction
4. Case study
7. Case study references
8. Photo appendix
This essay combines theory of power relations and identity construction in mediated participations with a case study. The two theoretical aspects are essential to consider when talking about participation in media because there are different definitions, grades, and perspectives on participation. What might seem like full participation might be restricted and controlled more than is visible to the first glance. On the other hand there might be signs and hints of resistance and usage of the participation platform for one’s own benefit, e.g. by constructing a favourable identity.
Both old and ‘new’(mass) media play an important role in society and with the rise of the so called ‘new media’ interaction, interactivity, and participation of consumers, ‘ordinary’ people, and citizens have become approaches both in business strategies as well as in democratization enhancement visions. In this essay the term ‘participation’ carries a political connotation following Mouffe’s description which defines the “political as a domain of the social, which can emerge in a wide range of social relations […] Moving into the world of trans-politics, this wide range of social relations would arguably include both mediated social relations and social relations within the media system itself.” (quoted in Carpentier 2009b, pp. 4) There exists participation in and through media. The important characteristics of participation through media are the allowance for participation in public debates and self-representation in the public sphere. (Carpentier 2009b, pp. 4) Participation in media addresses the production of media output by non-professionals. There are fewer examples of mainstream media allowing for this kind of participation than alternative media. In the small number of examples an in-depth examination and evaluation of the power relations and existing imbalances needs to be done by the media professionals. (Carpentier 2009b, pp. 4)
The ‘new’ media also eclipsed the already existing participatory potential of the traditional media which leads to three capital errors. As already mentioned, the significance of the traditional media is not taken into account. But they still have a permanent place in the lives of many- be it because of tradition, lacking access to ‘new’ media or because those media types are still central players to create relevance. Also, the focus for institutional structures of the media landscape is weakened and therefore essential dynamics like the mainly capitalist logics are not detected. Finally, the assumption that ‘new’ media are more participatory just because of their technological characteristics is widely spread. But it is not the technology that is defining but the way the technology is used. (Carpentier 2007, pp. 111, 112) For these reasons the case study consists of the column ‘ Ein Tag im Leben von… ’ (A day in the life of…) of a Swiss weekly published print-magazine, ‘ Das Magazin ’ (‘ The Magazin’).
2. Power relations
A central aspect of power is transparency. Are the power relations visible and to whom? In an interview situation, like the one in the case study, the interviewee might be aware of the fact that the interviewer as a media professional probably has the power to direct the structure of the interview. This also reflects the roles they are given in that situation. But there are more complex power structures and relations which are hidden and those usually are the essential ones. Phelan argues that “the binary between the power of visibility and the impotency of invisibility is falsifying. There is real power in remaining unmarked.” (quoted in Carpentier 2009b, pp. 3) In the interview situation this could mean that the interviewee is not aware of the power represented by the media professional. This person stands for a whole industry on the macro-level. On the mid-range level, the interviewer represents a media company and a specific product of this organization, like a newspaper. The power relations are not dependant on the technology of the medium and it’s potential for participation but more on the organisational element and as stated above the imbalances between media professionals and non-professionals. The role and attitude of the professionals is crucial for the power relations and the level and kind of participation that is allowed for. (Carpentier 2007, pp. 112) A facilitating, respectful and, most important of all, open attitude creates an atmosphere, where the imbalances are cushioned to some extent. If media professionals try to play off the power imbalances by managing the content created by the non-professional the potential of participation is erased. (Carpentier 2003, pp. 426; Carpentier 2007, pp. 113) The power relations between interviewer and interviewee are also a central aspect in the editing. (Carpentier 2003, pp. 438) How far is the journalist changing and framing the story and how much is the interviewee allowed to edit the text in the cross-reading? Finally, no matter how much power a participant receives, the selection and production process still remains in the hands of the media professionals. Additionally, the concept was created by them and the final publishing decision is in their hands. Therefore, they clearly are the power holders. (Carpentier 2003, pp. 439) Power always implies counter-power and strategies of resistance. They are spread through the whole society and linked to the roles one can take. An interviewee e.g. can refuse to answer a question
3. Identity construction
One aspect of media participation is identity construction. Apart from individual identities also collective identities exist. (Schöpflin 2001, pp. 1) Identities can be seen as autonomous, stable constructs that contain a ‘true’ core. Another approach focuses on aspects like fluidity and contingency where reciprocal influences are more important. (Carpentier 2009a, pp. 600) Generally identities are constructed around a collection of moral propositions which build the basis for values and behaviour. This leads to the evaluation of desired or undesired manners, aspects, and circumstances of ones identity. (Schöpflin 2001, pp. 1) The identity construction takes place in various discourses with encoded markers. The way of expressing oneself in those discourses differentiates from community to community and therefore functions as a tool for recognition and ‘cultural reproduction’. (Schöpflin 2001, pp. 2) In the content-related participation by non-professionals there are several identities to be considered. On one side there is the identity of the platform where the content is published, e.g. a newspaper. Each newspaper has a corporate identity and philosophy which the organization wants to underline with their content, layout, and positioning in society. Also the media professionals have several identities, like all human beings. There exist private identities which differ from professional ones. But the private identity can have an influence on the professional one and vice versa.
Additionally a person has many roles. The Oxford Dictionary defines a role as “a person’s or thing’s function in a particular situation.” The sociologist Klaus Feldman describes roles as “expectations from reference groups that are directed towards positions.” (Feldmann 2001, pp. 66, authors translation) Different roles inhabit different kinds and amounts of power and therefore a person occupying a role can influence the actions of others. Roles do not stand alone but they are embedded in role systems. (Feldmann 2001, pp. 64)
When including Mouffe’s definition of the political in connection with identity, the conclusion must be that citizenship is also a form of identity. (Carpentier 2003, pp. 434) Since citizenship is usually linked to a nation state, national identity is also worth looking at. Cillia et al. define a nation as ‘imagined political communities’. (Cillia, Reisigl, & Wodak 1999, pp. 153) National identities then
“are discursively by means of language and other semiotic systems, produced, reproduced, transformed and destructed. The idea of a specific national community becomes reality in the realm of convictions and beliefs through reifying, figurative discourses continually launched by politicians, intellectuals and media people.” (Cillia, Reisigl, & Wodak 1999, pp. 153)
They argue that a national identity is some kind of ’habitus’, following Bourdieu’s definition. This includes aspects like a set of common ideas and concepts that are connected to emotional attitudes, which are the same in a certain group, and ‘similar behavioural dispositions’. All those elements are becoming a part of the group members’ identity through socialization. It must be mentioned that this is a generalisation. There never exists just one form of national identity. An element of identity construction always is the aspect of difference. One defines oneself by not being like the others. (Cillia, Reisigl, & Wodak 1999, pp. 153, 154) Difference and exclusion are crucial elements of both constructing ones own identity as well as the perception of the identity of the ‘others’. But the borders drawn between are never complete- some exchange and reciprocal influencing will even take place when power imbalances are existing. (Dickerson 1996, pp. 58)
4. Case study
Since the ‘everyday’ life of ‘ordinary people’ of Switzerland is what is supposed to be presented by the columns, the two concepts shall be included.
The ‘everyday’ banishes the ‘special’, the ‘extraordinary’ while elites are not part of the ‘ordinary people’. Generally the non-professionals are defined as the ’ordinary people’ since they do not belong to any societal elite like e.g. politicians. (Carpentier 2003, pp. 434) Those poles stand in an antagonistic relationship. (Carpentier 2003, pp. 433) Both concepts are allowing for a wide angle perspective and therefore in the concept of ‘ordinary’ people both popular, sub-, and anti-culture are included. (Carpentier 2003, pp. 434) The word ‘ordinary’ carries meanings like habitual, regular, usual, and normal. Excluded is what ranges beyond the customary. (Sandywell 2004, pp. 162) Central characteristics of being ‘ordinary’ are spontaneity and authencity. The definition of ‘ordinary’ people can be class-based but this is a narrow description that leaves out the fluidity of the term. The distinction is widened by opposing the ’ordinary people’ to an ‘elite’ often referred to as the ‘power bloc’. This brings the power relations into the picture again. (Carpentier 2009a, pp. 601, 606) The positioning of oneself in these fields, different cultures and in relation to them constructs one’s identity. The question then is also which elements of society are excluded. Are undesirable aspects like racism, crime, and xenophobia left out or is a critical picture presented? (Carpentier 2003, pp. 437)
There are several ways to define the ’everyday’. Since it is difficult to capture all the elements, a definition should allow for openness and take the fluidity into consideration. Main aspects might be the repetitive, the un-purposeful, the unnoticed and the routine based. (Carpentier 2009a, pp. 600) It describes the normal flow of things. (Sandywell 2004, pp. 163) The negative definition excludes the exceptional and the sublime. (Carpentier 2009a, pp. 600)
Since an aspect of being ordinary is being ‘authentic’ and the claim of Das Magazin is to represent an ‘authentic’ picture of Switzerland and its citizens a short elaboration of this concept is adequate. If the source or the authorship is evaluated as ‘genuine’ something can be defined as ‘authentic’. The concept also includes the aspect of something being true in its core. (Leuween 2001, pp. 392, 393)
The column “Ein Tag im Leben von…” (A day in the life of…) is published in the Swiss weekly print magazine Das Magazin (The Magazine). Das Magazin, then still called Tagesanzeiger-Magazin after the newspaper it was a supplement to, was founded 1970. Today it is published by the Tamedia AG, one of the major players in the Swiss media landscape. Since 2005 Das Magazin is enclosed every Saturday in two more regional newspapers, the Basler Zeitung (Basel newspaper) and the Berner Zeitung (Bern newspaper). (Das Magazin 2009) This accounts for a total circulation of 480’000 and a readership of 671’000. Since the language of the magazine is German, it is only read in the Swiss German part of Switzerland which results in a coverage of 16,5%.(Mediadaten Das Magazin 2009)
The column, which serves as the basis for the case study, was first published in the magazine 1981 and was inspired by the Sunday Times Magazine’s column “A Life in the Day of”. The column in Das Magazin, with its existence of now 28 years, is the oldest and one of the most read columns in Swiss media. It is always situated on the last 2 pages of the magazine and has a length of one A4 page, accompanied by a full-page-colour-photograph. The readers often start reading Das Magazin from the last page because reading “Ein Tag im Leben von…” has become a Saturday morning ritual and the column is one of the most popular parts of the magazine.
 All further translations have been done by the author.