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Mediating democracy: the generations of soft authoritarianism and democratic consolidation in Taiwan

Yu, Ssu-Han (2022) Mediating democracy: the generations of soft authoritarianism and democratic consolidation in Taiwan. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004451


Among all the ways in which Taiwan’s transition to democracy could be examined, this thesis focuses on the role of the media and their relation to generations. Complementing Karl Mannheim’s generation theory with narrative theory and mediation theory, it develops a ‘mediated generation’ approach to examining how people born in different times make sense of and engage with democracy. The thesis compares the generation of Democratic Consolidation, born in the 1980s and coming of age around the first party change in the ruling government in 2000, with their parents, dubbed the generation of Soft Authoritarianism, experiencing authoritarian rule first-hand as they lived through the Chiang Kai-shek or Chiang Ching-kuo regimes. By using qualitative methods including focus groups, paired interviews and individual interviews, I found that both generations commonly associate democracy with polarisation, corruption and populism. However, their responses to these problems of democracy differ as regards their media engagement and orientation to politics. Blaming legacy media for driving partisan polarisation, the Democratic Consolidation generation normally relies on search engines for fact-checking, whereas the Soft Authoritarianism generation is more likely to trust television but will compare news across multiple television channels. As a reaction to corruption and populism, both generations are attracted to authentic, unconventional politicians, but their preferences and reasoning are different. In ascribing blame for populism, the generation of Democratic Consolidation criticises irrational netizens and Internet anonymity, whereas the generation of Soft Authoritarianism criticises the youth for failing to think deeply and for their susceptibility to popular culture influences, considering that their use of the Internet and social media for political expression has made Taiwan democracy populist. In addition, this thesis argues that, on the one hand, the two generations develop their knowledge of democracy and strategies for dealing with political and media problems in separate mediated spaces. On the other, in everyday life they come together as family, and their family practices with the media, especially in Family Groups on LINE, dovetail with those in the real world; that is, media predominantly perform functions of reinforcing the principle of ‘jia chang’ (literally meaning ‘home ordinary’) and a harmonious but hierarchical parent-child relation which shapes practices of (dis)engagement in political talk within the family. This thesis demonstrates that generational experiences and identities can be empirically examined as narratives. Evidence of how the media contribute to certain generational narratives, identities and actions confirms the usefulness of adopting mediation theory to study generations. This mediated generation approach, used to explore intra-generational differences, successfully provides some new insights into 4 Mannheim’s concept of generation units. The thesis concludes by exploring the implications of these findings beyond the Taiwanese case for the relationship between media, generations and democracy in the 21st century and the importance of critical reflection on transitional societies.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2022 Ssu-Han Yu
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Livingstone, Sonia and Helsper, Ellen

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