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Mediating self-representations: tensions surrounding 'ordinary' participation in public sector projects

Thumim, Nancy (2007) Mediating self-representations: tensions surrounding 'ordinary' participation in public sector projects. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Within a contemporary context of self-revelation, which Jon Dovey has called the 'selfspeaking society' and Ken Plummer has described as the 'auto/biographical society', public funds are being directed towards inviting members of the public to represent themselves on public platforms. This thesis asks how processes of mediation shape these self-representations in public sector projects in the cultural sphere. The notion of mediation as a process delineates a specific form of enquiry which stresses both the multiple factors that shape meaning, and the open-ended nature of meaning-making. Within this broad concern, this study focuses on the processes of mediation implicated when public service institutions invite members of the public to represent themselves, assist them in constructing their self-representations and then frame and disseminate the finished texts. Three overlapping but distinct processes of mediation are examined: institutional, textual (including technological) and cultural. The empirical analysis explores the production processes in two cases: BBC Wales' Capture Wales and The Museum of London's London's Voices. The case studies are multi-method, including in-depth interviews and observations with participants and producers, and the textual analysis of selected self-representations. The empirical research suggests that processes of mediation in London's Voices and Capture Wales are constituted through a series of tensions that are both challenging and productive. The public museum and public service broadcaster constitute markedly different contexts and consequently the particular ways in which tensions emerge in each case study are distinctive. Nevertheless self-representations in both Capture Wales and London's Voices are mediated by tensions in four areas: Purposes, Quality, Ordinary people, and Community. Institutional personnel hold varied conceptions of purpose and participants take part for a range of reasons, from imagining audiences for what they produce, to training in specific skills. Some stakeholders emphasise quality of process while others emphasise quality of outcome. The category of the 'ordinary person' is both strategically avoided, and invoked and, in the texts produced, the 'ordinary person' is both brought into being and simultaneously undermined. 'Community' is something which these projects aim to engender and, at the same time, is seen as always already there. In analyzing the empirical data, I draw on Nikolas Rose's Foucauldian analysis of structures of governance to argue that the categories of 'ordinary people' and 'community', as revealed in the case studies, work to constrain how members of the public represent themselves. At the same time the empirical analyses reveal cracks in these structures of governance, which are potentially challenging to their very operation. However, I argue that it is also possible to imagine these cracks as valves, which allow the structures of governance to continue to function all the more effectively. Finally, the thesis considers the normative and critical arguments for the continuation of publicly funded projects of this kind. In particular, I suggest that projects of this kind present a challenge to the increasingly formatted representation of members of the public in media and cultural spaces that is evidenced, for example, in the expansion of reality television formats across the television channels.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Mass Communications
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Collections > ProQuest Etheses

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