Televisison documentary and the technologies of genre. A historical discoursive perspective on the changing production context of the genre of social documentary on flemish public broadcasting television
One of the most frequently proclaimed aims of a documentary is that the genre plays a pivotal role in stimulating public debate and raising public awareness. Therefore, documentaries have always been a key genre in relation to public broadcasting. From the late 1980’s, the North Belgian public broadcaster VRT faced the prospect of loosing a substantial share of its audience to commercial networks. In this context the working environment of documentary makers has changed and documentary genres have been popularised. The focus of this study is on how documentary makers deal with these changes, in particular, with the discourses, practices, and processes wherein their work is situated. The first part of the research includes an analysis of how genre discourses within the production process of social documentaries have changed over time. A social constructionist perspective is used to define ‘genre discourses’ as arrays of norms and standardised practices that function as a professional ideology for media-workers. The discourse analysis focuses on different discursive formations, which include discourses on format, audience, net identity, medium, and so forth. A discourse analysis of different governmental texts, originating from production practices, examines the changes within these discursive formations. Both strategic-managerial texts (program briefings, debriefings, and tests) and practice-based texts (production manuals) are used to research how genre discourses function within the hierarchically organised production process. The second part of the research project examines how media-workers deal and interact with these different genre discourses. The project focuses on the dynamic processes of negotiation as media-workers actively take up positions within different and sometimes competing discourses. Foucault’s (1978/1991) governmentality approach – complemented by interactionist theories, such as discursive psychology – is utilised. The subjectivity or identity of a media-worker is understood as a product of (self-)disciplinary mechanisms and power-knowledge strategies. Crucial to this view is the idea that not only top-down managerial practices discipline the subject, but also that the individual disciplines himself and herself in ways that secure recognition and confirmation of significant others. On a production level I will scrutinise how media-workers internalise, reject or negotiate norms, values, and practices. On a commissioning process level, the analysis focuses on how program- and net-managers tactically interpret norms and definitions. An ethnography-orientated and triangulated methodological approach is used. This includes participant observation of daily interactions, document analysis, and interviews. This study aims at contributing to an understanding of the hegemonic rationality of operational discourses underlying contemporary television production.