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Discursive intersections of newspapers and policy elites: a case study of genetically modified food in Britain, 1996-2000

Howarth, Anita (2012) Discursive intersections of newspapers and policy elites: a case study of genetically modified food in Britain, 1996-2000. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis explores the under-researched terrain of policy elite-newspaper engagements and in so doing makes a substantive contribution in formulating an original conceptual framework for understanding how the interactional dynamics of the political-media complex work. This framework is then applied to the GM food row in Britain by asking how contestation emerged, was sustained then subsided in the political-media complex. This reconstructs the processes by which the pro-GM government consensus was challenged by newspapers, conflict escalated to fever pitch, threatening policy elite agenda and was finally negotiated through key compromises. Drawing on a theoretical framework that combines participatory politics, the political-media complex and new risks, the thesis conceptualises interactional dynamics as ‘discursive intersections’. These are shifts in claims and counter-claims that emerge during engagement at the interface of different sets of knowledge, cultures and agenda in the political-media complex. However there is an element of unpredictability in discursive intersections that arises from the paradoxical interdependence-independence of the relationship in the political-media complex; the elective and episodic nature of engagement on particular issues; and the variable form this may take with potential for conflict, negotiation or consensus. Historical and wider argumentative contexts are crucial to how and what form engagement takes place but do not define it. Thus, the trajectory of discursive intersections needs to be explored empirically rather than predetermined theoretically. This is done using a hybrid methodology that draws attention to the dialogical, persuasive nature of discursive intersections. The substantive contribution of the research is the formulating of this alternative framework for the analysis of interactional dynamics and its application to the GM food row in Britain. It does this by exploring how – that is the process in which - engagement emerged, escalated into contestation, was negotiated and then subsided. What emerged were the following findings. (1) Parallel, sustained and conflictual systems of argumentation about risk were developed between media and political elites despite elite consensus, abstract debates and short news cycles. (2) Newspaper contestation was constructed around a deeply ambivalent suspended certainty based on claims that there was no evidence of risk or benefit, harm or safety and demands for elite responsiveness to acute public anxiety over this.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 Anita Howarth
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications

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