Welfare reform and computer-mediated practices of dissent

On Wednesday 1st May I’ll be presenting a the LIP research group at Lancaster University. Here is my abstract (with the Prezi to be added later):

Welfare reform and computer-mediated practices of dissent

Against the background of the global financial crisis, the current Coalition government has introduced and extended various reforms to welfare in the United Kingdom. While certain institutions within the fields of politics and the media attempt to justify such reform by stressing the need for reduced spending, others would suggest that such reforms are built upon the stigmatisation of particular groups of people (Tyler 2013) and reconfigure a structural crisis of neo-capitalism as a moral crisis (Bennett 2013). Aside from academic responses, however, many people have utilised the affordances of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in order to contest welfare reform and the discourses that such reforms draw upon.

Researchers working with a critical discourse analysis (CDA) approach have started to turn their attention to issues surrounding social media (Unger 2013; KhosraviNik 2013). However, this has predominantly focussed upon the methodological challenges brought about by computer-mediated data. A further challenge is that CDA researchers have given relatively little attention to practices of protest, resistance and dissent, arguably emphasising structure over agency (see Pennycook 2001).

This paper presents an analysis of a series of events involving contestation over (discourses of) welfare reform: the publication of a newsletter from a Manchester-based Housing Association detailing information about reforms to housing benefit (also known as the Bedroom Tax), the practices of dissent employed by protesters through social networking platforms, the association’s subsequent apology and the recontextualisation of this series of events in a number of mainstream newspaper reports. My argument is twofold. Firstly, I show that the news media’s recontextualisation of events stresses the emotionality of people’s practices, ultimately constructing social networking sites as a media for the expression of feelings rather than critique. Secondly, I argue that a practice-based approach (see, e.g. Couldry 2004) to dissent complements CDA’s relative (over?) emphasis upon structure.

Bennett, J. (2013) Moralising class: A discourse analysis of the mainstream political response to Occupy and the August 2011 British riots. Discourse & Society 24(1): 27-45.

Couldry, N. (2004) Theorising media as practice. Social Semiotics 14(2): 115-132.

KhosraviNik, M. (2013) Critical discourse analysis and new media (digital) discourses: Issues and debates. Paper presented at Language, Ideology and Power (LIP) Research Group, 27 February 2013, Lancaster University.

Pennycook, A. (2001) Critical applied linguistics: A critical introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Tyler, I. (2013) Revolting subjects: Social abjection and resistance in neoliberal Britain. London: Zed Books.

Unger, J. (2012) Confronting critical discourse analysis with social media. Paper presented at Language and Social Media: New Challenges for Research and Teaching Linguistics, 26-27 April 2012, University of Leicester.

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