Posted on Friday, 30 October 2015 at 5pm
by Catherine Bates. See more of my posts here.
As our first year BA Professional Studies students have been finding, a broad, interdisciplinary perspective is needed when analysing the contemporary worlds of work, politics and media representation. The programme requires students to develop an understanding of their own personal and professional identities by thinking through real-world problems and solutions, drawing on social theory, business and economic perspectives as well as literature, film and newspaper analysis. I recently organised for Dr Matt Davies from the University of Chester to come and give a talk about his research into the way newspapers represent trade unions and strikers.
Matt’s talk was very well-attended by about 30 first and second year Professional Studies students, as well as staff from the Lifelong Learning Centre. The lively discussion which followed, about language, evidence and research methods, demonstrated how much people had got out of the talk. Matt showed how newspapers make particular language choices when representing trade unions and strikers, for example setting up oppositions between ‘hard working commuters’ and ‘violent strikers’ (as if the strikers are not hard-working ordinary folk but are somehow a different category of person). He talked about how often strikers and unions are associated with ideas of militancy and violence in press stories about strikes, despite the fact that the most recent poll from Ipsos MORI (19th July 2013) indicated that “most Britons believe trade unions are essential to protect workers’ interests”.
Matt’s talk led to a really interesting discussion about why the press don’t focus more on social class when reporting stories about strikes and trade unions, and why particular newspapers tend to refer back to the Winter of Discontent of 1978-1979 as if every strike is a step back toward this particular period. Students reflected upon the need to question the way a newspaper story is reported, and to think about how to consider language in context and the way words start to gather different associations over time. These discussions continued that afternoon in seminars taught as part of the LLC module Exploring Diversity – students who attended said how much they enjoyed the event and noted how empowering it can be to analyse the language used by journalists, and to question the version of the world we are often presented with by the mainstream press.