An age of massive protests

January 31, 2015 § Leave a comment

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“We decide”, a claim in Barcelona streets.

We live in an age of massive protests. The Arab springs (2010), the concentrations of the ‘indignados’ in Spain (2011), occupy movements (2011), Catalan rallies (2010-2014), Euromaidan protests in Ukraine (2013), or the demonstration against terrorism in Paris (2015). All of them are of very different nature, but gathering crowds of people in the streets claiming for a social or political change. Some of these protests scaled to violent episodes, meanwhile others were just a political or social claim peacefully expressed by the citizenship. Social and political science scholars, and also communication analysts, are working to better understand how public discourse and media are ordering the meanings of these massive protests: how are they framed in the newspapers, which images are having an impact in the public opinion, why some aspects of the protests are highlighted meanwhile others are just banalized or taken for grant, which meaning is attached to thousands of people in the street fostering a social or political change? Language use is never innocuous or meaningless, and metaphor analysis can offer a good tool to understand how media and journalists attach specific meanings to the demonstrations. Jointly with my colleague Arantxa Capdevila, we have worked on how 2012 protests in Catalonia were covered by major newspapers in the country. The research is bridging the previous project on political conflict with a new one we have started to analyze metaphor use in conflicting issues, not just in politics but also in science and sports. Among our conclusions we found that a major metaphor is explaining the demonstration in the realms of nature: “The people is a current of water”. This metaphor use is displaying in different scenarios where the people acquires a very different level of agency as actant in a story of political change. But meanwhile some stories treat the people as a potentially dangerous power, other narratives explain the event considering the participants as a potential useful power to social and political change. As we state in the conclusions, Madrid and Barcelona-based newspapers offer a very different account of the demonstration:

The Spanish papers minimized the agency of the people and cited them as problems for national interests; the Catalan papers showed the demonstrators as expressing the desires of the entire nation. The micronarratives in these texts represented the people as a danger to the establishment (the state) or as a powerful force to change the establishment and establish a new one.

Read more on this at Castelló, E & Capdevila, A (2015) Of War and Water: Metaphors and Citizenship Agency in the Newspapers Reporting the 9/11 Catalan Protest in 2012, International Journal of Communication, 9: 612-629.

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