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Finding the agent: questions of blame in newspaper representations of French urban violence in 2005.

Costelloe, Laura (2012) Finding the agent: questions of blame in newspaper representations of French urban violence in 2005. In: Corpus-Assisted Discourse Studies Conference (CADS), 13-14 September 2012., University of Bologna, Italy.. (Submitted)

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November 2005 saw a significant flashpoint in the long-running history of tensions between minority groups and those in power in France: two teenagers, allegedly while hiding from the police, were electrocuted in a Parisian electrical sub-station, which was the catalyst for the spread of violent riots across banlieues or urban districts in French cities lasting for a number of weeks. Mindful of the printed news media as important sites of ideology production (Fairclough, 1995), this study contributes to a growing body of work on newspaper representation of the banlieues (c.f. Moirand, 2010; Sedel, 2009), with a focus on the particularly traumatic events of November 2005.
This paper considers the attribution of agency in the discourse surrounding the 2005 riots and proposes that a discourse of blamelessness is one which pervades French newspaper representations of these events; arguably it represents one of the predominant macro-discourses through which the urban violence is constructed and represented. A qualitative critical discourse analytical methodology is combined with quantitative corpus linguistics techniques in the analysis of a corpus of approximately 1,500 texts, with the aim of identifying where – if anywhere – the French media places the blame for the outbreak of violence. A small but representative sample of the corpus is first examined from a CDA perspective (following Fairclough 1995; 1989) to point towards typical discursive patterns employed in the construction of a discourse of blamelessness. These findings then guide the analysis of collocation and concordance patterns in the corpus in an attempt to generalize CDA findings across a collection of texts incorporating a variety of perspectives from the
French printed news media (right/left, regional/national). Particular emphasis is placed on the construction of agency, and the analysis highlights how a variety of lexico-grammatical and linguistic devices are used to present the causes for the riots predominantly without an associated agent.
The paper questions the ideological implications of avoiding agency for the 2005 riots, and argues that the obfuscation of blame allows French journalists to avoid any meaningful discussion on France’s complex political, social and cultural difficulties. It shows how the outbreak of violence is presented as somewhat inevitable, if not unexpected, thus permitting journalists to avoid blaming either their readership – mainstream French society – or the already prejudiced minority groups for the widespread violence.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DC France
N Fine Arts > NE Print media
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races > Immigrant Communities
Divisions: School of Business > Staff Research and Publications
Depositing User: Timothy Lawless
Date Deposited: 02 Jul 2014 10:47
Last Modified: 15 Oct 2014 15:35

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