‘Political correctness’ and ‘saying it like it is’. An analysis of discourses on multicultural society in North Belgium.
In the past 15 years ‘political correctness’ has been an issue in cultural, political and economic debates. ‘Political correctness’ is often related to discussions on the limits of what can be said or done and on the representation of different societal groups. Central to this PhD project is the idea that debates on ‘political correctness’ are a form of meta- communication – discussing what can be said/done and how this can be said/done – that can play an important part in the setting of discursive boundaries.
‘Political correctness’ can be considered a ‘Plastikwort’ (Huhnke, 1997) or ‘fluid term’ (Feldstein, 1997) that takes up different meanings in different contexts. Nevertheless, ‘political correctness’ continues to be mainly a way to criticize progressive and emancipatory politics (Blom maert & Verschueren, 1998: 2; Fairclough, 2003: 21).
The debate on multicultural society in North Belgium promises to provide fruitful material for looking at the self-reflexive nature of politi cal communication. A quantitative mapping of ‘political correctness’ in the press shows that in North Belgium, discourses on ‘political correct ness’ have come to be predominantly situated within debates on multicultural society and Islam. The PhD will study discourses on multi- cultural society in North Belgium and focus on how debates on ‘political correctness’ and other forms of meta-communication play a role in setting and contesting the boundaries of the debate.
The PhD departs from a social constructionist perspective on knowl edge and language stressing the constructed nature and the historical and cultural specificity of any view on reality (Burr, 2003: 1–5). A social constructionist stance allows for the study of ‘political correctness’ as a construct and, more generally, allows for an analysis of ‘new realist’ (Prins, 2000, 2004) discourses on multicultural society – that pretend to ‘say things like they are’ – as constructing a specific version of reality, rather than just talking about reality in a certain fashion.
The analysis will be informed by a discourse-theoretical perspective. Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory – including their concept of antagonism (1985: 135–136) – provides the theoretical tools to study the setting of discursive boundaries through communicating about these boundaries. It is also suited to study the identity construction that is tak ing place through reflexive political discourse within the debate on multicultural society. This includes the construction of both ethnic minorities’ and Flemish (and Belgian, European, ...) identities, as well as the construction of politician’s / political parties’ identities that takes places simultaneously.