The contentious face of European politics: towards an analysis of discursive and visual strategies of transnational diffusion

Workshop organisert von Amelie Kutter and Nicole Doerr an der Freien Universität Berlin, 14.-16. Januar 2010, in Zusammenarbeit mit der Kollegforschergrupp ‚Transformative power of Europe‘.

Report: How do non-state actors and institutions spread their competing visions of Europe and the EU in the media, in transnational publics, and on the streets? Which stories do radical activists or policy maker tell, and how do they do so? Which images, texts and videos put on Youtube, Indymedia and other web sites do non-state actors and political parties use to debate delicate issues such as social justice and democracy, migration and precarity or the political identity of the EU and its citizens? These questions were asked by the first KFG workshop on Visual and Discursive analysis of Transnational Diffusion in contentious arenas of European politics organized in January 2010 by Nicole Doerr and Amelie Kutter.

The workshop brought together researchers that focus on the empirical investigation and theoretical exploration of processes of transnational diffusion as processes of translation between different (national, local, transnational) contexts of communication. This conceptual focus draws on previous empirical work by the organizers – on Nicole Doerr’s study of visual ‘imagineers’ mobilizing transnational solidarities at the margin of the European Social Forum, and on Amelie Kutter’s work on the mechanisms of translation of EU constitutional discourses to the context of national media, and on discursive strategies of persuasion. Workshop organizers gave a conceptual outline for a ‘multi-dimensional public sphere analysis’ to explore when, how and with what consequences visual images and texts spread contingently across transnational media arenas, involving multilingual discourse cultures and place-specific contexts.

Coming from a range of different disciplines and countries participants in the workshop shared an interest in linking theories and methods of Discourse Analysis with Visual Analysis taken from political sciences and cultural sociology, European integration, social movement studies, media studies, art history, gender and cultural studies. In his opening lecture, J.W.T Mitchell (University of Chicago) gave a critical historical account of images of migrants in arenas of law and politics that reminds us to the potential of online face-to-face publics to allow for transnational knowledge diffusion between artists, scholars, and institutions in different regional areas of contention. A number of workshop participants then presented empirical methods to provide evidence of the political relevance of ideas that re-interpret and politicize official discourse on Europe and the EU; ideas that are diffused not by policy makers but by critical social actors and institutions in Central Eastern and Western Europe. It is from this perspective that Danijela Majstorovic (University Banja Luka) presented her discursive analysis on the appropriation of official policy discourse on Europeanization in transition countries, focusing on Bosnia and Herzegovina. Looking at one of the largest social mobilizations against an EU policy initiative, Amandine Crespy (Université libre de Bruxelles) in her discursive institutionalist approach showed how the conflict over the EU’s Bolkestein Directive was created by social actors networking at the European and national levels aimed at “resisting neoliberal Europe.” Taking social movements and protest events on precarity as her example, Alice Mattoni (EUI, Florence) then showed what visual frame analysis adds to the study of alternative media, to study the re-interpretation of popular culture by precarious activists in Italy. Simon Teune (Social Science Research Center, Berlin) analyzed the struggle over images in the mobilization against the G8 summit in Heiligendamm to discuss the relevance of a “culturally shared iconic stock”, as well as the limits imposed by discursive constraints on the visual codes protest.

To evaluate these new approaches from a discourse theoretical perspective, Cathleen Kantner (Free University/ EUI, Florence) discussed the limits of ostensibly emancipatory visual practices for political scientists interested in Europe’s multilingual public sphere. The limits of discourse, conversely, is what Andreas Langenohl (University of Konstanz) looked at in his cultural sociology of “dialogical” media habits in the discussion of the Swiss referendum of a ban of minarets in the German and Swiss quality press.

We learn how to explore the quality press in a related perspective to arenas in the internet and on the street by those analysts interested in contentious images and discourses of gender, religion, and migration in a regional comparative perspective. Looking at popular representations of gender, for example, Alexandra Polyzou (University of Lancaster) in her pragmatic/cognitive comparison of media discourse explored presuppositions of gender stereotypes of partnership in contemporary Greek young women’s magazines. Anna Schober (University of Verona) became interested in the popularisation of EU gender discourses from a historical perspective to trace back the visual representations of the notion gender in contemporary art and the official visualization of gender mainstream in the “New Europe.” Helena Flam (University of Leipzig) then invited participants to explore the affective dimension in images and words spread by women activists in a comparative regional perspective. Flam compared how movements of mothers in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East intervened so at to politicize the “politics of grief”. Esra Özcan (Jacobs University Bremen), in her interdisciplinary analysis of German and Turkish newspapers, showed how images of migrants construct Muslim identities in arenas of daily life and consumerism and thereby spread very distinct political ideas on gender, migration and citizenship. Francesca Falk (Zurich University of the Arts) in her analysis discusses gives a philosophical account, and historically traces political discourses and the contingent effects of strategies employed by artists and activists to make “visible the invisibility of illegalized immigrants” in multiple arenas of public life, including the press, adverts, exhibitions, and street art protests.