Tracing Taiwanisation/Sinicisation processes in the English-language press narratives during the December 2009 'three-in-one' local elections8

This part describes the empirical study’s methodological approach and presents results of the content analysis examining formal features, such as prominence, origin, and sources of the narratives. This is followed by an outline of the findings about thematic hierarchies. The discourse analysis investigates argumentation lines and other discursive strategies. A discussion about the state of Taiwanisation/ Sinicisation processes in the narratives concludes this section.

Operationalisation: Units of analysis and methodology

The present study zooms in on the prominence and descriptive nature of the identity issue in the media narratives, as well as on other discursive features, such as source selection and argumentation lines. These could reveal the media outlets' oppositional perspectives in view of their historical links to KMT-affiliated actors (for the China Post) and DPP-leaning organisations (for the Taipei Times as a sister newspaper of the pro-DPP Liberty Times). Many articles are authored by Taiwanese journalists as well as foreign experts or pundits on Taiwanese affairs, while some others are taken from CNA, the local press agency, or from the foreign news agencies Reuters. AP, or AFP. Often, articles are translated from the vernacular press as well.

The corpus consists of 221 articles and seven cartoons spanning an eight-day period from 4 to 10 December,9 and includes all op-ed articles and news narratives about the elections for city mayors, township chiefs, and county commissioners. Research units are the three Taiwanese English-language newspapers (the China

Post (CP), the Taipei Times (TT), and the Taiwan News (TN)). For an in-depth analysis of the news articles only the Taiwan-related accounts were selected, but Taiwan- as well as China-related articles were retained for the op-ed articles because their lower numbers allow a manual analysis. Selection of the period of analysis (2009 local elections) was based on the relevance of electoral periods in a study of salience of cultural and political identity matters in the public Taiwanese sphere. More particulars about the English-language corpus selection are detailed in the introduction.

Structural elements, such as prominence and position of Taiwan- and China-related articles in the newspaper,10 page layout, genres, and source selection render descriptive quantitative data concerning editorial interest in certain matters and draw the first pencil strokes for the qualitative approach. The discourse analysis was carried out both on a macro- and micro-level. From a macro-perspective, the analytical focus was on an examination of global textual meaning constructs, such as topic selection,11 argumentation patterns, intertextuality, semiotics of illustrations and headlines. On the micro-level, the analysis of smaller textual units looked at implied meanings, lexical choice-making, or judgemental descriptions of social groups, thus categorising between the Self and the Other. According to social identity theory (Tajfel 1981), groups tend to draw boundaries of exclusion and inclusion. A polarising discursive activity highlights the negative aspects of the Other and the positive attributes of the Self, while marginalising the positive features of the Other and the negative actions or characteristics of the Self. Applied to this case study, any narrative categorisation of groups in terms of a ‘Taiwancentric’ or ‘China-centric’ descriptive attitude can contribute to analytical insights into the state of polarisation when Taiwanisation/Sinicisation processes emerge in the accounts of that period.

The study also investigates whether previous findings about the formal positioning of Taiwan-related articles in the newspapers as well as their ideological alignments (Lams 2006) are sustained, since these ideological aspects are, in the Taiwanese case, closely related to matters of identity. As indicated earlier, three major dimensions used to be the subjects of discussion and division in Taiwan’s public sphere: Ethnicity, political partisanship, and culture. Therefore, the discourse analysis kept these dimensions in mind while tracing the survival or disappearance of elements pointing at binary oppositions in these fields.

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