28 Jan 2009 5:00pm - 7:00pm CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane


Felicitas Macgilchrist
(European University Viadrina)
Lara Ryazanova-Clarke (University of Edinburgh)

Felicitas Macgilchrist
Language and Politics: Russia, Georgia and the West

In August 2008, Russia and Georgia went to war over the breakaway republic of South Ossetia. Drawing on discourse theory and linguistically-sensitive discourse analysis, this paper investigates western news coverage of this high-profile crisis in newspapers, newswires, online news, blogs and podcasts. It presents key texts highlighting important shifts in the language and images used over the course of the conflict. Findings suggest that, as with the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Gazprom-Ukraine disputes, the most salient mainstream media message was that primary responsibility for the crisis lay with the Kremlin. News stories reported Russia’s ‘barbaric’ ‘slaughter’ of civilians, or asked which goals Russia was pursuing through the war. Nevertheless, I argue that coverage of this crisis was significantly different from that of other recent crises involving Russia. For the first time, a large number of media voices dissented from the view that the Russian leadership was to blame. Commentators who generally have no specific interest in Russian affairs called attention to what they called ‘media bias’, arguing that it was Georgia which had long planned its invasion with specific goals in mind. These fissures in an otherwise hegemonic discourse make this conflict a prime example of ‘dislocation’ in western representations of Russia, i.e., a moment in which conventional political understandings break down and are no longer sufficient to explain events. Dislocation has been shown to enable other (non-mainstream) stories to take centre stage. The paper ends, therefore, by asking what this conflict heralds for the future of western news coverage of Russia.

Lara Ryazanova-Clarke (University of Edinburgh)
Putin, the Media and the Nation: Discursive Construction of National Identity in 'Direct Line with the President' 

On the 18th October 2007, Russians were treated to an annual ritual that became a familiar feature of Putin’s presidency — a ‘discursive marathon’ of three or so hours of simultaneous radio and television broadcast of President Putin’s questions and answers session with the general public, known under the title Direct Line with the President. The last in the series of similar presidential spectacles, it was called ????????? both, in the programme’s language and outside it.

This contact between the President and the nation that had a conclusive note to it and was labelled by the media on the one hand, romantically, ???????? ? ????? and on the other, cynically, ??????-????????, and ?????? ??????????, in any case was an intensive exercise in the identity narrative to which both the information seekers and the information givers made their contribution.

The objective of this paper is therefore to examine this discursive event consisting of 21,695 words of the broadcast transcript and, by analyzing the verbal activity of the three parties: the President, the presenters and the public, to pinpoint the main trends in and linguistic strategies of, the co-construction of meanings pertaining to the national identity as it is seen in the late Putin’s era.

The paper will examine the construction or reconstruction of the following fields relating to national identity: magnitude, national space, time, “the other” and the leader.

The paper will reveal that the Direct Line with the President bears all the hallmarks of vigorous identity co-construction. A visible strand of the Direct Line is a represented discourse as it demonstrates connections with and borrowings from other discourses. One of more vivid discursive connection established is rehabilitation of the Soviet language. Altogether, the discourse of Direct Line emerges as a well choreographed linguistic construct that serves as a tool of production and reproduction of a set of strong ideological messages about what Russians should know and feel about themselves today.

Suggested reading:
Benwell, Bethan and Elizabeth Stokoe Discourse and Identity. Edinburgh University Press, 2006.
Blommaert, Jan Discourse. Cambridge University Press, 2004
Bourdieu Pierre Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge: Polity, 1991 


This event is part of the Contemporary Russian Culture Studies Group Seminar series.

Meetings are held on alternate Wednesdays during term-time, 5pm to 7.00pm at CRASSH.

All welcome.  No registration required.

Click on the link on the right hand side of the page to see the full programme for Lent Term.

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