Interactional multilevel approach

Studying futures in action usually poses a set of methodological challenges. As Mische (2009,2014) has aptly put it in her pioneering studies of the future in politics, we face an intriguing question: How can one study something that has not happened yet? Mische finds the solution in the analysis of the “externalization” of the future in spoken or written texts, attitudes, and material forms. Serendipitously, we stumbled on such externalizations right at the outset of our study when looking for the mechanisms of production and reproduction of ignorance in the press representations of the crisis. We have noticed that in the media the statements acknowledging ignorance are few and far between, or they are camouflaged. The conditionality, inevitability and prediction of how the future of the crisis will evolve were much more exposed than the struggles with uncertainty. So while Mische was looking for externalizations of the future and found them in narratives, grammar, and materialized forms, we were trying to understand the mechanisms whereby ignorance is produced and reproduced in the media, and stumbled on the active manifestation of these futures. What we found in our research material was a rather wide range of projections of the future. We have also gotten the impression that the coverage and debates about the refugee crisis do not as much try to predict the future, as they simply reify it. Finding the forms of projection and ignorance in the media coverage of the European refugee crisis motivated us to develop what we call an interactional multilevel approach. In this analytical procedure, the interaction between ignorance and projection in the media is tackled in a progressive manner.

The theoretical model we developed sensitized us to the importance of temporality, future and anticipation in particular. The perspective of critical discourse studies (e.g. Wodak and Chilton, 2005; van Dijk, 2011; Fairclough, 2013), which we adopted for the first-hand analysis of the media, confronted us with the material externalizations (cf. Mische, 2014) of the future that were fixed in grammar and semantics of language. It also allowed us to notice the references to the future in the hidden presuppositions and legitimation strategies (van Leeuwen, 2008) and narrative structures (De Fina and Georgakopoulou, 2012) of the media texts. We have relied on critical discourse studies as an overarching methodological framework (Wodak and

Meyer, 2001; Wodak and Krzyzanowski, 2008), since it best allows for the combination of the analysis of the basic linguistic form of media coverage as well as its semiotic and argumentative structure with the interpretation of the texts’ relatedness to the wider dynamics of societal context (Widdowson, 2004; Bielecka-Prus, 2012).

Language can be imagined as a layered structure rising up from primary phonetic, morphological and semantic units, going through grammar and syntax rules and assembled in whole texts which can be analyzed in relation to others. While analytically distinguishable, each layer is intrinsically linked to the others. In discourse analytical methodology one proceeds by switching between these layers and searching for the interconnections and dependencies between them (e.g. see Fairclough, 2001 for exemplary “steps for analysis”; Wodak, 2001). This research path has been applied for the study of the refugee crisis media coverage by, for example, Krzyzanowski (2018b), who combines study at the entry level (representations in grammar and semantics, framing) and the in-depth level (legitimation strategies). The adjective multilevel that we use for describing our analytical approach thus signals our selective, gradual, and purposeful movement between the layers of discourse in order to trace the ignorance-related effects of projection in media coverage.

The other adjective that characterizes our approach is interactional. In this respect, we took the cues from an incipient discussion of discourse interactivity offered by Triandafyllidou (2018) who conducted a meta-analysis of the relations between “real” events and media interpretations during the refugee crisis. In essence, the “interactive link between factual events and related representations and speech events” (Triandafyllidou, 2018, p. 199) is shorthand for one of the basic purposes of critical discourse studies: the uncovering of how text and context are mutually constitutive and how the relations of power are unfolding through their interactions. The term interactive emphasises that the discursive-social practice is dynamic, and its potential outcomes are multiple and involve different actors. Ignorance participates in these dynamics and can be grasped by employing the methods of discourse analysis.

In this chapter, we integrate Triandafyllidou’s perspective with a minor modification: we use the notion interactional instead of interactive in order to strengthen the facets of meaning pointing at social practice, action, and change. The approach allows us to capture the dynamics of interaction between the processes of projection and various forms of ignorance that are triggered by the refugee crisis.

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