Security and Anxiety in News Consumption

9781783084067 3It was a humid Monday evening in early June 2009 when I visited my informant Amparo at her home in Park 7. It was my first time visiting her house, as our previous chats were held in the more easily accessible basketball court, which functions as a makeshift town plaza where neighbours meet and gossip. I was a few minutes late for our scheduled TV Patrol viewing; I had lost a half hour going back and forth narrow, serpentine alleys looking for Malunggay Street, stopping every so often for directions. When I arrived, Amparo, a lively, confident woman approaching her forties, was quick to say, ‘Oh! Come in, come in! You might miss the latest!’ As Amparo helped me up the wooden ladder to her home, I had to blink my eyes a few times to help adjust from the dim outdoors to what was unmistakably the bright white glow from the television in the centre of her home. We sat on the floor and started watching the news.

Amparo’s melodramatic approach to her life is in a way mirrored by her affective consumption of the news.

That evening in June, there was a news report about the first week of classes and conflicts between government and local state schools. The story discussed how elementary school principals were rejecting pupils because their classrooms were already packed with ninety students each. Interviews with officials were interspersed with images of small classrooms, children elbow-to-elbow sharing textbooks and tearful mothers making appeals for help. A few seconds of the report were devoted to a five-year-old boy standing and sobbing in a corner; the journalist explained that the boy was frustrated that he had nowhere to sit in the overcrowded classroom. Footage of the teacher determinedly lecturing inside a cramped, chaotic room closed the story.

After this, Amparo turned to me, her eyes blinking, as if holding back tears, ‘I just feel sad for that boy. I just remembered my childhood [...] I remember how I told myself that I would not allow that to happen to my daughter.’ As other news clips played, Amparo continued talking about this report and her personal disappointment with not making it past fifth grade. I tried to console her, ‘It’s okay, it’s okay.’ She said, ‘Yes. I know it will be okay. In fact, when I watch the news, I gain inner strength (lumalakas ang loob). I will not let that happen to my family, I say. And I remember I am so blessed by God that our family is complete, that we have food to eat.’ She cited the previous week’s news about a capsized passenger boat where several children had perished. When she watched that, and other stories of that kind, she said that she realized how ‘lucky’ she actually was, how their family was ‘still blessed by God’.

The logo of TV Patrol in the Philippines

The logo of TV Patrol in the Philippines

Amparo’s melodramatic approach to her life is in a way mirrored by her affective consumption of the news. Just as we saw viewers of Wowowee gain a sense of hope and security by comparing their personal situations with the more pitiful plights of others, Amparo and other lower-class respondents draw resources for coping from the news. They reflect on how the conditions of people featured in individual news clips might compare to their own. As mentioned earlier, local conventions of ‘personalizing’ public issues through the perspective of the poor encourage viewer identification. Local news conventions of portraying ‘private’ scenes of mourning (i.e., especially of family members of the victims covered by news stories) and depicting graphic images of accidents and disaster, whilst heavily criticized by cultural elites such as Carlos Celdran (in Santiago 2009), provoke emotional responses of compassion and indignation from lower-class audiences. [1]

Just as lower-class respondents engaged with contestants in Wowowee and found resonances with sufferers’ life stories, the news likewise becomes a similar occasion for damay (sympathy/mourning), whereby feelings of sorrow, (self-)pity, blessedness and enduring hope are expressed. News is retold not only as discrete events or isolated stories, but also in referential and personal ways, where individual victims of tragedy stand in for many other poor people like themselves. Though previous studies have also uncovered how populist news helps people ‘cope with their lives’, here it is less about the news being an ‘endless source of laughs’ than news engendering among viewers thoughtful reflections and comparisons between grave and graver realities of suffering. [2]

Contrary to studies of compassion fatigue that argue that the news fosters feelings of helplessness among audiences, I observe that viewers can actually derive a sense of personal agency for themselves from being made aware of others’ experiences of suffering.

From my lower-class interviews, I found little evidence of textbook ‘compassion fatigue’, if we are to understand it as avoidance of televised suffering or desensitization to repeated images of suffering. [3] Whilst there is indeed repetition – what with the natural disasters and deaths depicted on a daily basis – this repetition is experienced by the lower class as a continuation of a larger story of suffering that unites them with an imagined moral community with other poor sufferers. Whilst there is a sense that the ‘story is the same’ (that life is still hard) and ‘only faces change’ (that new characters are substituted for timeless roles of villains or victims), their story of ‘patient endurance’ (pagdaos; pagtitiis) in the face of suffering continues. Contrary to studies of compassion fatigue that argue that the news fosters feelings of helplessness among audiences, I observe that viewers can actually derive a sense of personal agency for themselves from being made aware of others’ experiences of suffering. [4]

Additionally, lower-class audiences provide the occasional judgment that sufferers in the news are undeserving of either news visibility or significant attention from audiences. This judgment is given when they assess that the news subject’s condition is less grave than their own, more ‘authentic’ condition of suffering. An important idea here is that, similar to their expectations of Wowowee producers, they expect news editors and journalists to prioritize ‘authentic’ sufferers who are truly deserving of news visibility, particularly the suffering Filipino poor. I remember here the forty-two year-old laundrywoman Elsa, who criticized a news report about a fire that ravaged a middle-class subdivision; ‘surely,’ she said, ‘there could have been graver events’ covered by the news.

11d5d76b-d7d9-499f-a92f-25b6f7f950a3Jonathan Corpus Ong’s new book The Poverty of Television: The Meditation of Suffering in Class-Divided Philippines is out today. Ong is a lecturer in the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Leicester, and he is currently Co-Investigator to the ESRC-funded Humanitarian Technologies Project, an 18-month ethnography on the uses of communication technologies in disaster recovery in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

[1] ‘The Good, the Sad, the Ugly’, Radikal Chick [website]. Available at http://www.radikalchick.com/the-good-the-sad-the-ugly/ (accessed 10 December 2010).

[2] Bird, For Enquiring Minds: A Culture Study of Supermarket Tabloids, pp. 204-5

[3] Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering, pp. 190-1

[4] Höijer, ‘The Discourse of Global Compassion: The Audience and Media Reporting of Human Suffering’, Media Culture & Society 26 (2004), p. 523.

BBC’s India’s Daughter and the Shock to Collective Consciousness

India's Daughter

On International Women’s Day last Sunday, BBC4 broadcasted India’s Daughter, a documentary focused on the December 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student in Delhi. India’s Daughter, by British director Leslee Udwin, explores the murder of Jyoti Singh, a medical student who was assaulted by six men on a privately-run bus and died thirteen days later of her injuries. Singh had hoped to open a hospital in her village and on the day of her attack, she had completed final exams. India has banned showings of the documentary, and according to Guardian, India’s parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu deemed the film “an international conspiracy to defame India”. In 2013 when she delivered her sentence against the four adults tried in the case, Judge Yogesh Khanna stated that the case “shocked the collective conscience” of India and sentenced the men to death by hanging. To learn more about this concept collective consciousness in the criminal justice system, read the study Émile Durkheim and the Collective Consciousness of Society, written by Ken Smith and recently published by Anthem Press

December Book of the Month: “Central Banking at a Crossroads”

CentralBanking

“This rigorous and novel investigation is a ‘must-read’ for all who either approve or disapprove of the unconventional instruments and practices used by central banks that have extended the mandate and blurred the traditional line between monetary and fiscal policy.” —Brigitte Young, University of Münster, Germany

“The book’s thought-provoking and sometimes controversial views are very welcome to the discussion even if one would not necessarily agree with all of them.” —Erkki Liikanen, Governor of the Bank of Finland

‘Central Banking at a Crossroads – Europe and Beyond’ is our Book of the Month for December. The book analyses the dramatic changes central banking has undergone post-Lehman Brothers and addresses the tougher questions: Have these changes allowed central banks to reach their inflation targets and ensure financial stability? One of the book’s authors, Jakob Vestergaard, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, agreed to answer a few of our questions.

Q: An alternative title to your book would have been, ‘Re-thinking Central Banking: Post-Crisis Successes and Remaining Challenges’. Could you explain to what extent we have to “rethink” the system of central banking?

Jakob Vestergaard: Three things are clear. First, unconventional monetary policy was necessary to handle the financial crisis of 2008 when widespread financial disruptions had rendered the key policy tool in conventional central banking, the short term policy rate, largely ineffective. Second, five years down the road it is difficult to discern whether any real healing has taken place: is the banking system more robust and resilient today, and has the global economy bounced back from the shock of the 2008 crisis? In many countries, banks are still not lending at a scale required to contribute to a pick-up in economic activity, and there is little to suggest that bank resilience to adverse macroeconomic shocks has significantly increased. This leads to the third point: with quantitative easing close to what many see as its limits in terms of positive effects on the economy, it does not seem obvious what central banks in core countries can do to escape the trap of disinflation and stagnation (such as is the current trend in the Euro zone and in Japan), nor how central banks in the periphery are to tackle a potential sudden reversal in capital flows. In my view, the practice of central banking needs a substantial rethink, to the extent of tearing down the walls – previously zealously guarded and policed – between fiscal, monetary and other macroeconomic policies. These policies must be developed and formulated in a much more integrated and coherent way, as opposed to well-intended, ex-post ‘coordination’. The era of ‘compartmentalized’ macroeconomic policymaking is over, or it will be soon.

Q: Can you highlight the key innovations that central banks have introduced since the financial crisis of 2008?

JV: Central banks replaced conventional tools with new instruments and practices beyond their mandates, thus blurring the traditional separation from private financial markets and from governments. For the past five years, central banks have intervened in both public and private debt markets, taking on functions of market makers or dealers of last resort. Some – as Bank of England – plan to formalize these interventions into their day-to-day toolkit. Our book offers meticulous examination of a number of the key innovations in central banking over these past few years, but it is also a book that takes a step back, to ask the tougher, more general questions: Have central banking innovations enabled them to reach their ‘traditional’ objectives in terms of inflation targets? From the Euro zone over Japan and to Brazil, that seems not to be the case. Have central banks, through their new unconventional tools, ensured financial stability? The concurrence of substantial asset price inflation with consumer goods disinflation and low, job-less growth in most Western countries, does not suggest to me central banking has been reinvented so as to be able to operate effectively in our post-crisis global economy. Banks that were too big to fail five years ago are even too bigger to fail today. Banks that were undercapitalized five years ago are still undercapitalized. To see progress in these important respects requires very strong looking glasses and a very generous eye too. Central banks have thrown trillions of dollars at dysfunctional financial markets, in ways that may or may not have been to some extent ‘innovative’, but the banking system is neither more robust or resilient, nor is it lending to the real economy at a significant scale. Shadow banking is growing in potentially destabilizing ways and there are few signs that central banks really know what to do about it; certainly, the notion that so-called macro prudential policies will come to our rescue in managing new unsustainable credit booms seems optimistic at best. In the meantime, most economies are either in recession, stagnating or experiencing a considerable slow-down of economic activity.There is still a long way to go, I think, before we have new modes of thinking that tackle the key problems, as opposed to just pushing them ahead of us, in a process that may well only makes them larger (even if, for a while, less visible).

9886155584_f8e7ba3eef_z

The Bank of England, London

Q: Why does there exist an observed reluctance to seriously recapitalize Europe’s banks by imposing a de facto ceiling on capital requirements?

JV: Europe’s most recent Capital Requirement Directive, the CDR4, stipulates that if countries wish to impose higher capital requirements than those laid out in CRD4, they must ask permission from European authorities. For me, this constitutes a de facto ceiling on capital requirements. National authorities will be extremely reluctant to take such as step, for a range of reasons, including the negative signalling effect to financial markets. It’s would be akin to officially declaring, ‘Our banks are in the deepest possible mess, much worse than anywhere else in the EU.’ So, it’s not going to happen. The political rhetoric that drives this part of the CRD4 is the ideal of an internal market in financial services and a level playing field for European banks. But this is just one of many expressions of the European reluctance to seriously recapitalize its banks. In negotiating Basel 3, it was the Germans and the French that most fiercely resisted adoption of a minimum requirement for equity funding to total liabilities (a leverage ratio). The result was that a very low leverage ratio was adopted, based on a too broad category of capital, to be binding on banks only by 2019. The largest German and French banks still fund themselves with only approximately three per cent equity and 97 per cent debt, and they are quite happy with this ‘business model’, and all the government subsidies that it comes with, whether directly or indirectly.

Q: If, as you say in Chapter 5, the recapitalization orchestrated by the European Banking Authority (EBA) ‘is considered shallow and fails to bolster Europe’s ailing banks’, what alternative method do you recommend to strengthen their resilience?

JV: I am not suggesting that Europe should do something else. I am suggesting that our European institutions should do what they say they do: recapitalize Europe’s banks. Only seven out of the 24 banks that allegedly were ‘recapitalized’ in the 2012 recapitalization exercise, actually increased their ratio of equity funding to total assets. This is the magic that capital ratios measured relative to so-called risk-weighted assets offer to banks and regulators: banks that have raised basically zero new capital can come out of a recapitalization exercise appearing to have been significantly recapitalized. Europe should recapitalize its banks such that its equity funding to total liabilities increase to at least seven per cent over the next three years, starting by reaching five per cent by the end of 2015. Impossible? Of course not. If banks fail to raise capital on their own, public funding can be provided to fill the gap. This would be a much better use of public money than the repeated provisions of cheap liquidity that we’ve seen in recent years.

Q: In Chapter 5, you state that the core problem of continued undercapitalization of European Banking lies in the core of the Euro zone: French and German banks. Could you elaborate what you mean by that?

8463683689_baa33ca431_mJV: Few banks in Europe are as poorly capitalized as the largest German and French banks. This remains the case following the latest stress testing and asset quality reviews of the European Central Bank and the European Banking Authority. The results were released in late October. Of course, these banks are also so much larger than any Greek, Portuguese and Irish banks, that to look anywhere else for the core of the problem makes little sense. If you take EBAs adverse scenario at face value (which you should not, because it is far too mild), the four largest French and four largest German banks would be more than 220 billion Euros short of a five per cent threshold for equity funding (according to calculations in an ongoing study). This corresponds to almost 40 per cent of the aggregate capital shortfall for all 123 banks included in EBAs stress tests. This is what I mean. Seen against this background – and bearing in mind the continued close interlocking of the European bank and sovereign debt crisis – the moralizing discourse in core countries of the Euro zone about the ‘problem countries’ in its periphery, is problematic.

Q: What will the European ‘recapitalization reluctance’ mean for the financial prospects of the European Union?

JV: ‘The main function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable,’ Stanford economist Ezra Solomon famously said. I invoke Solomon here because I’m reluctant to make predictions about the financial prospects of the EU. Others are much better placed than me to do this. But a few points can be made. Several studies show a positive correlation between equity funding on one side, and resilience and lending on the other side. The longer European countries drag their feet on recapitalizing its banks, the slower will be the economic recovery in Europe (when eventually it comes) and the weaker its banks will stand in global competition for market shares. Thinly capitalized banks may be good for return-on-equity (ROE) performance, but they are good for little else.

JV: I stress that the views expressed are mine, not those of my co-editors or other contributors to the book. I take full responsibility for any errors and misjudgments committed.

For more information, check out the book’s webpage here.

Photos provided by James Pett and EpSos.de.

November Book of the Month: “The Spirit of Luc Boltanski”

LucBoltanski

 

“This is a book that is needed to understand the ideas and research dynamics of one of the greatest contemporary sociologists. This impressive collection of essays provides not only an introduction to his work, but also insightful analyses of its reception, critical discussions on its wider significance, and reflexive comments by Luc Boltanski himself, all of which will make this volume a classic.” 

Ève Chiapello, Research Director, School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS), Paris

This November, we are proud to announce that The Spirit of Luc Boltanski: Essays on the ‘Pragmatic Sociology of Critique’ is our Book of the Month! Professor Bryan Turner and Dr. Simon Susen have contributed a collection of essays that explore the theories of French sociologist Luc Boltanski, a leading figure in the new “pragmatic” school of French sociology. In the following interview, Dr. Simon Susen gives us more insight into Luc Boltanski’s work by explaining why he is not a “social theorist” and how he relates to other theories in the field of sociology:

Q: What made you choose Luc Boltanski and his theory in particular as a topic for a book?

Dr. Simon Susen: In our view, Luc Boltanski has emerged as the most prominent, and also most innovative, French sociologist since the death of Pierre Bourdieu in 2002.

Q: Do your previous publications such as The Legacy of Pierre Bourdieu relate to the content of this book?

SS: Without a doubt. Along with Loïc Wacquant, Boltanski is Bourdieu’s most influential disciple. It is impossible to make sense of Boltanski’s work without grasping the considerable influence that his “patron” (Bourdieu) had on his personal and intellectual development.

Q: Can you explain to us why Luc Boltanski’s theory is so popular in German and French Circles of Sociology but not in American and English Circles?

SS: To begin with, Boltanski refuses to call himself a “theorist” or a “social theorist”. In fact, similar to Bourdieu, he is suspicious of “theory” or “social theory” if it is (mis)understood as a merely conceptual – that is, theoreticist – endeavour. His approach (rather than his “theory”) is starting to have a considerable impact on the social sciences, not only in continental Europe, but also in the US and in the UK, as well as in many other countries. This influence is reflected in the increasing number of scholarly writings grappling with the importance of Boltanski’s work.

Q: You speak of a “profound gap (…) between the French-speaking and the English-speaking debates on Boltanski’s sociology”. Can you explain what you mean by a “gap”?

SS: In a nutshell, the former tend to be “Franco-centric”, whereas the latter – even when dealing with French sociologists – tend to be “Anglo-centric” (in terms of citations, cultural reference points, etc.). Our volume seeks to bridge the gap between the two “camps”.

Q: What would you say has been Boltanski’s most important influence and achievement in the field of sociology?

SS: The development of “The Pragmatic Sociology of Critique”.

Q: How can Luc Boltanski’s theory of the “pragmatic turn” be applied to contemporary sociology?

SS: By taking ordinary actors seriously!

Q: Can you explain to us the difference or the parallels between Bourdieu’s theory and Boltanski’s theory of sociology with regards to human inequality?

SS: In essence, Boltanski maintains that ordinary actors are capable of understanding, problematizing, and criticizing structures of inequality; for Bourdieu, it is the job of social scientists to study these structures and the social forces – as well as the power mechanisms – sustaining them, because – in his view – ordinary actors are, to a large extent, seduced and misled by “doxic misrepresentations”.

Q: Is there a chapter or a specific area of focus in your book that you consider to be particularly significant? And if so, why?

SS: We think that each chapter makes an important contribution. Hence, it would be mistaken to suggest that one particular chapter stands out. It’s a huge volume…full of original contributions!

You can find out more about the book here or read an in-depth interview with Luc Boltanski himself!

 

 

AUTHOR EVENT: Professor Mariana Mazzucato | The New Statesman SPERI Prize Lecture

 

image21

The Anthem Press book stand was heaving with copies of The Entrepreneurial StateMariana Mazzucato’s latest book, at last night’s New Statesman SPERI prize lecture. No guest could possibly miss the bright yellow matte-copies emblazoned with an image of a lion as they entered the chapel-like foyer of the Emmanuel Centre.

It was an exciting opportunity for us to hear a lecture by one of our authors who had scooped up the inaugural New Statesman SPERI prize in political economy. Mariana was selected from a glittering shortlist including the celebrated French economist Thomas Piketty.

 

 

image10

Also shortlisted were Ha-Joon Chang (University of Cambridge); Wolfgang Streeck (Max Planck Institute, Cologne); Anne Wren (Trinity College, Dublin); and Simon Wren-Lewis (University of Oxford).

The prize was launched this year by the New Statesman magazine and the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) at the University of Sheffield.

The Prize Jury was Helen Lewis, Deputy Editor of the New Statesman; George Eaton, Political Editor of the New Statesman; Professor Tony Payne, Director of SPERI; Professor Andrew Gamble, Professor of Politics at the University of Cambridge and Chair of the International Advisory Board of SPERI; Sarah O’Connor, Economics Correspondent at the Financial Times; and Gavin Kelly, Chief Executive of The Resolution Foundation.

 

image9

“Smart growth: an innovative way to tackle inequality”

Mariana’s lecture focused on opportunities for innovative state investment. The professor claimed the idea of a dynamic private sector versus a sluggish public sector is a myth. Instead, Mariana emphasised therole the state has played in successfully taking on high-risk entrepreneurial investments. For instance, she referred to the US government’s injection of capital into Apple products and praised Germany and Denmark for their portfolio of green technologies. 

 

In the Q&A session at the end chaired by Faisel Islam, the Political Editor of Sky News, Mariana highlighted how the UK government launched its own award-winning website rather than outsourcing the job as originally planned in a move which also showcased Britain’s design talent.

For more photos check our Facebook page.  

 

 

Book Publishing: 5 Key Topics of the Month

October, 2014: Every month, we highlight 5 key topics or new developments in the book publishing industry, with a special emphasis on academic publishing. Whether data, news or commentary, we aim to keep you informed.

 

We Need the Humanities As Much As Science to Solve the World’s Problems, said Paul Smith, Director of the British Council (USA) writing for the Huffington Post. The British Council is partnering with a range of organizations in the US and the UK, and eventually more internationally, in a new project called Mobilizing the Humanities. The humanities, the sciences and the social sciences need to work together to achieve “a total take on any issue”, Smith said, citing the environmental issue in Kano, Nigeria, as an example where “the engineer needs to work with the historian and the local theologian”.

Is Translation Stronger in France, Germany or the UK?
At the Frankfurt Book Fair, a panel of publishers got together to discuss international literature and translations, reported Publishing Perspectives. Pierre Astier, a Paris-based former publisher and now literary agent, said he was motivated to publish international literature after discovering authors from Africa and the Carribbean. Florian Höllerer, Director of the Literaturhaus Stuttgart, said a long-standing tradition of translation in Germany means the industry takes translators for granted. Christopher MacLehose founder of the British MacLehose Press described Hall 8 at the trade fair (the now-former traditional home of the English-language publishers) as “a sort of abattoir of culture.”

International Schools: Opportunities for UK Publishers 
UK publishers are right to invest heavily in the international school market, reported Book Brunch, which has grown exponentially from 2,500 schools in 2000 to 7,000 this year, according to the latest figures published by The International School Consultancy Group (ISC). UK publishers can build on their reputation for high-quality materials and a high standard education system to meet demand for the 42% of international schools that follow UK-based curricula.

Publishing Battle Should Be Covered, Not Joined, said Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor for the New York Times. After highlighting the dispute between Amazon and Hachette over the price of e-books, Sullivan addressed readers’ complaints that The Times is “demonizing” Amazon by admitting that the newspaper had “given a lot of ink to one side” and portrayed Amazon as “a literature-killing bully instead of a hard-nosed business.”

UK Publishes More Books Per Capita than Any Other Country
UK publishers released more than 20 new titles every hour over the course of 2014, meaning that the country published more books per inhabitant than anywhere else in the world, said The Guardian, citing a report from the  International Publishers Association (IPA). According to the report, UK publishers released 184,000 new and revised titles in 2013. This equates to 2,875 titles per million inhabitants.