The myth of a people. The construction of ordinary people as political subjects through the reception of audience participation in contemporary mainstream audio-visual mass media.
This PhD project departs from a poststructuralist and constructivist viewpoint, stressing the contingent and constructed character of meaning and social structures, in case the identity of ordinary people as political subjects. The meaning attributed to identities is considered to be variable and arbitrary, constructed through a complex process of interaction between subjects, subject positions and discourse. The key question of this project focuses on the audience reception of the representation and participation of ordinary people as political subjects in mainstream audio-visual mass media. The theoretical framework will be based on democratic theory (e.g. Held, 2006) and on Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory (1985). The methodology consists of the use of sensitising concepts (Blumer, 1969) and a range of qualitative and quantitative methods. The notions of antagonistic subject positions (Laclau and Mouffe, 1985) and the AIP-model of access, interaction and participation (Carpentier, 2002) will function as sensitising concepts to guide and direct the research project. The media offer specific constructions of the political role of ordinary people through particular forms of access, modes of interaction and types of participation, addressing, defining and constructing ordinary people as political subjects in an antagonistic relation with other subject positions. The research is based on the use of different methods, focusing on the production sphere by conducting interviews with media professionals; on the produced media content, through qualitative and quantitative content analyses of audiovisual programmes and broadcasters’ websites; and on the reception sphere, by conducting web surveys and focus groups with members of the audience(s). The analyses will then be placed in the larger sociopolitical context. Eight case studies are selected; all in the area of audience participation and in relation to political themes. This concerns radio and television programmes as well as web sites. Whereas academic researchers have paid much attention to the production and texts of these participatory media formats, especially during the last ten to fifteen years (Priest, 1995; Livingstone and Lunt, 1996; Carpentier, 2001; Thornborrow, 2001; Giles, 2002; McNair et al., 2003; Ytreberg, 2004), analyses aimed at their reception remain extremely rare. In short: this project has the ambition to contribute to debates about the democratic potential of participatory media formats by way of analysing how audiences deal with them.