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An Al-Jazeera Effect in the USA? A Review of the Evidence

Tal Samuel-Azran | PDF-Fulltext

Abstract: Some scholars argue that following 9/11, Al-Jazeera has promoted an Arab perspective of events in the US by exporting its news materials to the US news market. The study examines the validity of this argument through a review of the literature on the issue during three successive periods of US-Al-Jazeera interactions: (a) Al-Jazeera Arabic’s representation in US mainstream media following 9/11, specifically during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; (b) Al-Jazeera English television channel’s attempts to enter the US market since 2006; and (c) the reception of Al-Jazeera America in the US, where the paper also adds an original analysis of Al-Jazeera America’s Twitter followers’ profiles. Together, these analyses provide strong counterevidence to the argument that Al-Jazeera was able to promote an Arab perspective of events in the US.

Rezension: Fotoreporter im Konflikt. Der internationale Fotojournalismus in Israel/Palästina

Leider ist der Eintrag nur auf Amerikanisches Englisch verfügbar.

In Defense of the Iraqi Media: Between Fueling Conflict and Healthy Pluralism

Anja Wollenberg, Sarah El-Richani & Maral Jekta | PDF-Fulltext

Abstract: Despite the occupation and ensuing war, Iraq has experienced the emergence of a truly pluralistic media landscape after the fall of the Baath regime in 2003. Today, media coverage of domestic affairs is characterized not only by pluralism but also by bias and partiality reflecting strong ties between political actors and media outlets. Accordingly, the Iraqi media are often accused of fueling conflict and deepening the ethno-sectarian divide in society. Based on a qualitative frame analysis of Iraqi news bulletins, this study reveals that Iraqi media outlets provide indeed contesting frames on even the most divisive issues. Only the coverage of the armed war against IS is characterized by a non-pluralistic conformity among Iraqi channels that unequivocally focus on military successes against IS and jointly refrain from any criticism against the varied forces fighting IS in Iraq.

Who Justifies Questionable Reporting Practices? Answers from a Representative Survey of Journalists in Germany

Philip Baugut & Sebastian Scherr | PDF-Fulltext

Abstract: Based on a secondary analysis of representative survey data of journalists in Germany (n= 1536), this paper draws attention to two variables that are important when it comes to explain whether journalists accept questionable reporting practices, such as paying people to obtain information or using confidential government documents without permission. First, perceived role achievement is important, as journalists who do not feel able to achieve an active role tend to accept questionable reporting practices more often. Second, however, this relationship is only true for journalists having a moderate tendency to the political left. Findings are explained by means of the theory of cognitive dissonance.

Imagine There Is War and It Is Tweeted Live – An Analysis of Digital Diplomacy in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Lisa-Maria Kretschmer | PDF-Fulltext

Abstract: The interplay between use of force in conflicts and involved parties’ rhetorical efforts to determine related international discourse has long been subject of research and debate. However, how and why states adopt digital media in conflict, as well as how the emerging opportunity for “Digital Diplomacy” influences their actual communication warrants further consideration. This question raised in public, media and academia during Israel’s eight-day operation “Pillar of Defense” in Gaza in November 2012, when the military confrontation between Israel and Hamas was mirrored in a clash on social media as additional battlefield. The presented analysis of Israel’s online performance bases on Ben Mor’s self-presentation framework (2007, 2012), which explains constraints for structure and substance of communication by which states seek to build, maintain or defend their image in home and foreign audiences. Relevant Israeli Twitter feeds are analyzed and results flanked by semi-structured interviews with Israeli communication officials.

Accordingly, Israel more than other political actors engages in proactive Digital Diplomacy, expecting benefits of directly reaching crucial publics and providing an alternative story, while accepting a certain loss of control. The constant communication aims at explaining and thus “humanizing” Israel’s militarized image in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, with a focus on hard-power messages (threat scenarios, delegitimization, in-group/ out-group thinking, military instead of political successes) and the absence of political solutions, it is unlikely to convey a peace-oriented image or even – taking a longer view – to prepare the ground for a political solution.

Rezension: Politische Talkshows über Flucht

Goebel, Simon (2017): Politische Talkshows über Flucht. Wirklichkeitskonstruktionen und Diskurse. Eine kritische Analyse. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag. 436 pages. ISBN 978-3-8376-3716-8

Christine Horz, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Talkshows über FluchtDer vorliegende Band fußt auf einer Dissertation, die nicht im Fach Kommunikationswissenschaft geschrieben wurde. Dennoch lohnt der Ausflug in die Cultural Studies, weil Simon Goebel ein zentrales und hochaktuelles Thema der transkulturellen Kommunikationswissenschaft aufgreift. Mit kritischer Perspektive und einer ethnografisch-hermeneutischen Methodik liefert der Autor eine „dichte Beschreibung“ von 15 ausgewählten politischen Talkshows zum Thema Flucht im deutschen öffentlich-rechtlichen Fernsehen.

Wie die meisten Qualifikationsarbeiten ist auch dieses Buch in eine Einleitung, einen Theorie- und einen Empirie-Teil gegliedert. Den Auftakt der Arbeit macht die transkribierte Szene einer Polit-Talksendung der ARD (Beckmann), in der eine Geflüchtete über ihr Leben in Deutschland berichtet. Allerdings macht Goebel am Ende dieser „Szene als Einstieg“ (15) deutlich, dass sie eine Ausnahme bildet – weil die Protagonistin selbst zu Wort kommt und weil diese darüber hinaus auch den prekären Aufenthaltsstatus der Duldung hat und sich dennoch in der Öffentlichkeit artikuliert und somit einer Gruppe Gehör verschafft, über die Medien normalerweise berichten.

 

Im „Problemaufriss und Fragestellung“ (21), dem ersten Kapitel, wird auf der Grundlage der Postcolonial und Cultural Studies entsprechend eine knappe Einordung von Geflüchteten in Deutschland als Subalterne vorgenommen, über die zwar gesprochen wird, die jedoch selten in den Medien selbst zu Wort kommen. Demgegenüber steht die wachsende Zahl an Polittalksendungen, die Flucht thematisieren – im Jahr 2015 zählte der Autor knapp 60 Talksendungen zum Thema. Kapitel 2 bereitet einleitend auf den gesellschaftskritischen Ansatz der Cultural Studies vor. Daraus leitet Goebel sein Verständnis (kultur-)wissenschaftlicher Analyse ab, das dezidiert politisch ist und historische und kulturelle Kontexte sowie alltagskulturelle Phänomene einbezieht. Goebel verweist vor allem auf den Inszenierungscharakter der Populärkultur, den die Cultural Studies vor anderen kulturwissenschaftlichen Konzepten in den Blick nimmt und dem der Autor seinen Analysegegenstand (politische Talkshows) zuordnet. Der Cultural Studies-Ansatz begreift sich dabei als Ideologiekritik und interventionistische Wissenschaft (60) und damit – was aus Sicht der Kommunikationswissenschaft mitunter befremdlich wirkt – als integrierte Theorie/Methode. Auch wenn die Programmatik sowie die Begrifflichkeiten andere sind, so sind die Schnittmengen mit der transkulturellen Kommunikationswissenschaft nicht zu übersehen. Wie diese gehen die Cultural Studies davon aus, dass rassistische Mediendiskurse aufgrund ihrer schieren Menge, sowie ihrer Subtilität und Komplexität „einen deutlichen Effekt auf Rezipient_innen haben“ (64). Auch der Ansatz, auf bestehende Missstände und ein Versagen der journalistischen Selbstkontrolle hinzuweisen, ist eine wichtige normative Aufgabe der transkulturellen Kommunikationswissenschaft, ohne diese jedoch per se im Programm zu führen.

In Kapitel 5 geht der Autor auf die Migrations- und Flüchtlingsforschung ein und konstatiert eine eklatante Leerstelle letzterer innerhalb der deutschen Forschungslandschaft. Tatsächlich ist die Forschungsdecke dünn und erst im Juni 2013 wurde das Netzwerk Flüchtlingsforschung von J. Olaf Kleist zusammen mit Nora Markard und Jochen Oltmer gegründet (http://fluechtlingsforschung.net/uber-netzwerk-fluchtlingsforschung/). Zu Recht fragt Goebel, warum sich Migrationsforschung – ähnlich wie die Kommunikationswissenschaft – häufig an nationalen Paradigmen orientiert, die Migrant_innen als Abweichung von der Norm konzeptualisieren. Die Politik gibt dabei Kategorien vor, die, so Goebel, häufig problemzentriert sind und von der Wissenschaft übernommen würden. So impliziert „Menschen mit Migrationshintergrund“ häufig Problemkonstellationen (70), die auf bestimmte Ethnien bezogen sind. Goebel gibt noch eine knappe Übersicht über die „drei Phasen der Einwanderung in die BRD“ (74), wobei hier der Vollständigkeit halber auch ein Einblick in die Einwanderungsgeschichte in der DDR sinnvoll gewesen wäre.

 

Kapitel 6 widmet sich dann der Theoretisierung des Polit-Talks als populärkulturellem Phänomen zwischen Information und Unterhaltung. Nach einer einleitenden historischen Einordnung werden funktionale Bestandteile wie Typisierung, Gäste, Redaktion und Moderation, Studiopublikum, Technik und Einspieler näher betrachtet. Gerade die Auswahl der Gäste erscheint im Kontext der Untersuchung besonders interessant, da die Wechselwirkung des Wunsches der eingeladenen Politiker, unterhaltend zu informieren und dem Ziel der Medien, politisch zu unterhalten, entscheidend von den Gästen abhängt (91). Goebel kritisiert in diesem Zusammenhang quantitative kommunikationswissenschaftliche Studien, weil manche zu unkritisch an das Thema herangingen und Machtfragen relativierten.

 

In Kapitel 7 entwickelt der Autor sein Analyseinstrumentarium, das auf qualitativen interpretativen Verfahren beruht: „Cultural Studies betreiben demnach eine Art Inhaltsanalyse“ (100). Gerade diese offene (vage), hermeneutische Herangehensweise wird in der Kommunikationswissenschaft häufig skeptisch betrachtet, weil eine Systematik fehlt, ja, gar nicht in erster Linie angestrebt wird, sondern vielmehr die „Offenlegung ‚manifester und latenter Sinnstrukturen‘“ (100). Goebel entscheidet sich für eine Verknüpfung dieser Methode mit der Kritischen Diskursanalyse. Nach Foucault handelt es sich bei Diskursen um Aussagensysteme, die die Wirklichkeiten in spezifischer Weise transformieren (103). Schließlich verknüpft Goebel beide Methoden noch mit der „Medienanalyse“ (womit er die hermeneutische Film- und Fernsehanalyse nach Hickethier meint) (110). Goebel transkribiert dabei Sequenzen nach dem Schema Zeit, Sprecher und Bild.

Die folgenden Kapitel 8 bis 13 machen den empirischen Teil der Arbeit aus, der „Polittalk-Analysen“ enthält. Die jeweiligen Überschriften können dabei als übergeordnete Diskursstränge verstanden werden, die induktive Kategorien bilden. Dazu gehören „Asylrecht und quantitative Zuschreibungen“ (Kap. 8), „Europa, Grenzschutz und Todesfolgen (Kap. 9), „Aufnahme, Ablehnung und Umgang mit Geflüchteten“ (Kap. 10), „‚Die Deutschen‘ ‚‘die Geflüchteten‘ und viele Emotionen“ (Kap. 11), „Identität, Kultur und Rassismus“ (Kap. 12) sowie „Belastung, Bereicherung und Ökonomismus“ (Kap. 13).

Exemplarisch sollen hier nur Kapitel 12 und 13 besprochen werden, um zu verdeutlichen, inwiefern Goebels Befunde an die der transkulturellen Kommunikationswissenschaft anschlussfähig sind oder nicht. Beim Diskursfeld Rassismus in Polittalksendungen zeigt der Autor auf wie, mit welchen Strategien es den Talkshowgästen gelingt, rassistische Diskurse zu bedienen und diese mitzugestalten. Goebel bezieht sich u.a. auf eine „Anne Will“-Sendung (Das Erste, 17.04.2011), in der Björn Höcke (AfD) durch eine kulturrassistische Aussage ein deutliches „Othering“ vornimmt – und damit auch den Integrationsdiskurs der Mitte der Gesellschaft bedient, welchem die Vorstellung von kulturell Eigenem und kulturell Fremden inhärent ist (315). Die transkulturelle Kommunikationswissenschaft hat mehrfach auf die Zuspitzung und Negativität der Themen mit Blick auf Migration und Islam sowie die diesbezügliche Themenarmut in bspw. Magazinsendungen der öffentlich-rechtlichen Fernsehsender hingewiesen (s. u.a. Hafez, Kai/Richter, Carola, 2007, ApuZ 26-27). Die interpretative Beschreibung Goebels ist zwar detailreich, doch lässt sie zuweilen eine gewisse Distanz zum Gegenstand vermissen, so dass sich häufig subjektive Einschätzungen mit durchaus objektivierbaren Interpretationen vermischen. Eine deutlichere Trennung von beidem hätte seine Argumentation gestärkt.

Der Autor orientiert sich an den Talkgästen, Journalisten und Politikern aus dem rechten Spektrum, die als „Krawallmacher“ für Quote sorgen und kommt dann zum Schluss, dass mit Ausnahme einiger Beckmann-Sendungen, eine Objektivierung des Anderen und Subjektivierung des Eigenen stattfindet (345). Diese doch sehr lineare Herleitung der Analyse der Aussagen rechter Talkgäste hin zum Befund eines allgegenwärtigen Rassismus in den Polittalkformaten erweckt den Anschein, als bestätige Goebel lediglich seine vorab gefassten Erwartungen.. Dadurch bleibt die spannende Frage leider unbeantwortet, ob eine heterogenere Auswahl der Talkgäste zu einem differenzierteren Bild geführt hätte oder nicht – zumal die präsentierten Daten in Kap. 14 dies durchaus nahelegen.

Kapitel 13 ist an kommunikationswissenschaftliche Framinganalysen zum Thema Flucht anschlussfähig, die beispielsweise im Global Media Journal-DE, Jg. 6, Nr. 1, 2016 in einer Spezialausgabe behandelt wurden. So stellten Vivien Benert und Anne Beier in ihrer internationalen Zeitungsanalyse fest, dass der „Belastungs-Frame“, Geflüchtete als Opfer sowie die ökonomische Debatte ein große Rolle bei der Berichterstattung über Flucht spielt. Auch Goebels Befunde zielen auf die Belastung, Bereicherung und Ökonomismus ab (349), wobei es ein Manko der Arbeit insgesamt ist, dass der Autor diesbezügliche Befunde der Kommunikationswissenschaft weitgehend ausblendet.

Der Autor geht in Kapitel 13 anders vor als in Kapitel 12, weil er hier zunächst negative und positive Diskurse unterscheidet, die die Talkgäste mit konstruieren, um dann Interdiskurse und Subdiskurse wie „Von ‚Sozialschmarotzern‘ und ‚Wirtschaftsflüchtlingen‘“ (352) oder „Qualifikationen Geflüchteter nützen dem deutschen Arbeitsmarkt“ (372) als Kategorien zu analysieren. Zusammenfassend macht Goebel die „Dominanz von Nützlichkeitserwartungen“ (381) aus. Die Auswahl der Analysegegenstände wirkt teils etwas willkürlich, wobei der Detailreichtum dies aufwiegen kann.

Im Schlusskapitel (389) visualisiert Goebel u.a. die quantitative Verteilung der Politiker nach Parteizugehörigkeit in den 15 untersuchten Sendungen in einem Diagramm (391). Diese entspricht nicht den Wahlergebnissen – Linke- und SPD-Politiker sind stark, CDU-Politiker hingegen nur leicht unterrepräsentiert, während AfD-Politker leicht und Grüne- und CSU- Politiker stark überrepräsentiert sind. Auch das Tortendiagramm der unterschiedlichen Funktionen der Talkgäste ist aufschlussreich, zeigt es doch, dass Personen mit Fluchterfahrung nur in wenigen Polittalksendungen als Gäste eingeladen sind. Auch hier gibt es Schnittmengen mit kommunikationswissenschaftlichen Befunden, die auf Partizipationsdefizite von Einwanderern hinweisen (u.a. Horz 2016).

Fazit: Goebel geht mit seiner hermeneutischen Cultural Studies-Analyse einen eigenen Weg, der spannende Details und kritische Analysen enthält, die ergänzend zu kommunikationswissenschaftlichen Befunden durchaus einen Mehrwert darstellen. Im Ergebnis bewertet er die Sendungen insgesamt als konfliktverschärfend und trotz der teils subjektiven Einschätzungen lohnt es sich, die zahlreichen Details zu entdecken und mit Befunden der transkulturellen Kommunikationswissenschaft zu vergleichen.

 

 

Rezension: Twitter and Tear Gas

Tufekci, Zeynep (2017): Twitter and Tear Gas – The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 360 pages. ISBN  978-0300215120

Anna Antonakis, Freie Universität Berlin

Twitter and Tear GasIn her new book, Zeynep Tufekci, “Techno-sociologist”, intends to revisit social movement theory: in an era where dimensions of time and space are shifting against the background of globalization and digitization, she calls for the need to formulate new benchmarks and new indicators in the study of networked social movement trajectories. Indeed, the emancipatory uprisings in North Africa, Yemen, Syria or Bahrain in 2010/2011, the “Occupy” protests in the US, the Gezi protests in Turkey in 2013 or protests in Hong Kong in 2016 have posed new questions to scholarship. Tufekci provides unagitated, in-depth analysis to answer these questions. As the title “Twitter and Tear Gas” in its juxtaposition suggests, she overcomes the analytical boundaries of a distinct on- and offline investigation, inspecting instead protest dynamics in the “networked public sphere”, which Tufekci defines as the “reconfigured public sphere that now incorporates digital technologies as well” (p.xxviii). While on the one hand for example, information is more easily accessible for a broader range of people, the (mis)information “glut” brings about the need to manage these new resources. This is when core categories of analysis shift or develop: What is information worth without attention that is brought to it?

The core question of the book is thus how the dynamics in the networked public sphere have impacted the allocation and redistribution of resources. The multi-layered investigation revolves around the thesis that attention is a key resource for social movements. Zeynep Tufekci convincingly argues that attention is no longer monopolized by elitist gatekeepers in traditional mass media that open and close spaces for the representation of social movements in a hegemonic public sphere. Here, the author mainly distinguishes two new forms of gatekeeping: the networked gatekeeping function and the algorithmic gatekeeping. Both lack transparency (which is not to say that the former elite’s decisions are publically accountable). Censorship, on the other hand is defined as “denial of attention” implemented by governments or, and this is the very important contribution to scholarship, by private companies. While she develops this argument mainly with regards to citizen journalists and new intermediaries, in the epilogue these questions are explored more systematically with regards to the US elections of 2016.

The book comprises an introduction, three parts and an epilogue: In the introduction, the author spans the horizon of her inquiry and introduces key terminologies such as the networked public sphere, attention, capacities and signals. The author calls for complexity, not false dichotomies: Throughout the book, she indeed manages to circumvent the binaries of the “internet optimism versus pessimism” debate, but rather acknowledges the reproduction of different (I would add: intersecting) power structures in a “reconfigured logic” of possibilities of interaction, scales and visibilities in the networked public sphere (p.11).

In the first part, entitled “Making a Movement”, Zeynep Tufekci traces different publics and social movements, navigating between and finding common patterns in the early Zapatista and Gezi movements, while also referencing the civil rights movement in the US as a sort of historical blueprint. Drawing from rich and surprising observations and material, this part is empirically strong and invites the readers to the very moments where “globalization from below” can be felt giving insights into development of “square spirits”. For example, coalition-building, decision-making and tactics are explored during the protests in Istanbul in 2013 in the Taksim Square, drawing from participatory observation. Far from a romanticizing account, the author also addresses persisting sexist and racist power structures within the square pointing to exclusion mechanisms and pitfalls of adapted methods. For example, the author introduces the concept of “tactical freeze”, when a movement that was brought together to protest is unable to respond to new developments because it had not had the time to develop necessary tactics and important capacities.

The second part, “A Protester’s Tool”, focuses on the technology itself. She moves away from social movement theory and empirical observations to reflect on the global dynamics between internet and society more generally. This part is crucial for the study of “New censorship regimes” (p.31). Expanding her analysis to global media economies, she argues that the ecology of the new media has brought about a new business model that employs relatively little staff. The editing function is transferred to the many users of a platform, which Tufekci refers to as “networked gatekeeping”, and to technological algorithms. She explicitly bases her argument mainly on Facebook and Twitter. The power of the editing function of Facebook, where “the News feed is a world with its own laws” (p.157) is illustrated with many examples: the censoring of any content related to Kurdish culture and politics or the Black Lives Matter movement that had almost “tripped down by Facebook algorithms”, because it competed for attention with the Ice Bucket Challenge at the time.

Resuming the dangers in the networked public sphere represented in the monopolization of communication infrastructure by big companies the author finds that: “The privatization of communication spaces is like moving political gatherings to shopping malls” (p.137). Tufekci develops her argument drawing on insightful background information and technological know-how and provides analysis proper to a scholarly field that she has helped to construct in earlier publications. Her conclusion how “the political has become personal” (p.272), exemplified by the Facebook feeds blurring the boundaries between political information and mobilizing action and the private life, such as family, friends and health brings to mind the idea of the colonization of the “Lebenswelt” in modern societies, developed by Jürgen Habermas. The technological algorithms as a colonizing force represent the system world that infiltrates and restructures the institutional dimension of the public sphere.

In the third part “After the Movement” the author delves into the conceptual work of the signal and capacities approach with which she attempts to grasp the dynamics of movements in their interplays with political power. She distinguishes three forms of capacity that she looks at in more detail: First, the narrative capacity, which is the ability of a movement to “articulate a voice, gets its voice heard and have it responded to as legitimate” (p.195). Second, the electoral and institutional capacity, which signals to those in power that important votes or other important resources within the institutional context can be mobilized (p.196). Thirdly, the disruptive capacity, entails the capacity to “interrupt business as usual” (p.196f.) in the political process. The framework allows her to open the inquiry to what has been discussed in scholarship as “authoritarian learning”.

In light of the analytical framework, Tufekci looks at authoritarian responses and explores censorship as “a denial of attention through various forms” (p.270). The methods in this digital era of authoritarianism are exemplified by the Chinese case, what Ron Deibert has set as the “first generation of internet censorship”. However, Tufekci exposes new methods beyond the simple blocking drawing on examples from China (p.235), where bots and government accounts flood social media with different stories using a classical tactic of “derailing” attention from potentially mobilizing information. Within the signal and attention approach, the flooding of “fake news” that delegitimize, confuse and derail attention can be conceptualized as a form of censorship as well. She hereby broadens the classical understanding of media censorship, which I regard as valuable contribution for political science and media studies in the future. In that context, the most disconcerting innovation in the networked public sphere, is the monetization of fake news and rumors outpacing the wealth of accurate information. Where spreading propaganda can be “lucrative” (p.265), whole armies of fake news producers can be recruited worldwide for money at the service of corporations or government institutions. It is only now, especially with the US elections of 2016, that scholars, journalists and the broader publics begin to grasp the powerful potential of these new developments.

While Tufekci explicitly investigates left emancipatory movements, it would be interesting to apply the capacity model to right wing and extremist movements. Also, a classification on the scale of analysis by defining the public sphere(s) (for instance, by distinguishing for example hegemonic or counterpublics? Local, national or transnational publics?) in which social movements gather attention in more detail could strengthen her argument even more and give more practical guidelines for empirical investigations in the future.

This book is a compulsory reading for anyone researching social movements and the social, political and economic impacts of technology. Written in an accessible language it can also reach counterpublics beyond academia, activists and security specialists alike and inspire analysis on digitalization and globalization.

Rezension: Reading Marx in the Information Age

Fuchs, Christian (2016): Reading Marx in the Information Age. A Media and Communication Studies Perspective on Capital Volume 1. New York: Routledge. 416 pages. ISBN 9781138948563

Almut Woller, Freie Universität Berlin

Throughout my studies it usually went without Reading Marxcontestation when professors in their seminars and lectures on media and communication asserted that “Critical Theory was discussed in 1970s but they’ve run around this garden long enough by the end of the 70s” – how can students do more but shrug their shoulders if they never hear the opposite from their teachers? It is of great value that with Christian Fuchs Communication and Media Studies have a young, committed and strongly engaged scholar and teacher who pushes Critical Theory including Karl Marx, the Frankfurt School and Herbert Marcuse (back) into the discipline. It is to be hoped that his commitment will encourage other critical scholars and Marxian thinkers in the field to come out of the wood confidently.

As German native and fluent English speaker Fuchs has the valuable ability to comfortably swim in the waters of both the Anglo-American Marxian debates and in the by far more vast and differentiated sea of German Marxian and Marxist traditions. With this great asset, however comes a liability to also bridge gaps by raising awareness within the English-only Marxian debates for relevant currents that are hitherto very little received. It is thus a great misfortune that the author completely ignores the strand of Value-Criticism, the third big “school” of Marxian thought besides the orthodox current (most prominently represented by W.F. Haug) and the Neue Marx Lektüre (nowadays most prominently represented by Michael Heinrich). We do not know if this strand is neglected by choice or by his own non-awareness of Value-Criticism’s dynamic theoretical contributions also in the field of digitization and media. Fuchs himself draws from Heinrich as well as from Haug and seems to be rather – albeit not clearly – situated within the orthodox current; some might call this ‘undogmatic’.

The book’s intended structure is clear and made explicit: the aim is to summarize the main points of Capital Vol. 1 chapter by chapter, by paraphrasing and quoting, and to add a media perspective to Marx’ analysis for each chapter. The exercises at the end of each chapter are refreshing and push students (or readers) to school themselves in utopian thinking about what emancipatory media could be like once stripped off their commodity-form in a post-capitalist society; it also sharpens their awareness for working conditions in the global division of labour.

Fuchs’ choice to closely tie the book’s structure to Marx Capital Vol. 1 results in two weaknesses: First and foremost, redundancy: To name just a few examples, advertising, technology, alienation, commodity fetishism come up numerous times throughout the book, as well as general remarks on possible non-capitalist, utopian sketches of a communist or post-capitalist society. Readers might have difficulties to stay on top of things by the fourth chapter. Second, lack of information on the “information age”, i.e. “questions about the role of media, information, communication, the computer, and the internet in capitalism” (p.2) that Fuchs had originally set out to pose and answer in his book. Each chapter paraphrases and sometimes extensively quotes Capital Vol. 1, whereas in some chapters nothing is said on how this relates to media.

This is a real pity. Right at the beginning, in the first chapter discussing commodity and value, the chance is missed to complicate these two basic, but fundamental categories of Marxian analysis in the light of the developments of software and digitization. Since 2007 scholars such as Stefan Meretz, Ernst Lohoff and Robert Kurz have been debating heatedly whether software commodities actually still have any value at all and how the absence or existence of value in software products relates to the value production and value realization (profits) in the wider crisis-struck economy. This discussion would also lead to the more general question of what the actual role of the media sector is within the greater economic framework: How relevant is it for the global market in the light of crises in the automobile, real estate and other big sectors, especially against the backdrop of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and shrinking value-mass?

Whenever Fuchs does go deeper into media-specific fields and thinks them through with Marx’ terms, it becomes interesting: one is the question of whether the audience actually performs labour by using Facebook, since the audience is sold as a kind of commodity to the advertising industry that places ads in Social Media (p. 241ff.) – a thought that has been elaborated by Fuchs in his earlier monograph “Digital Labour and Karl Marx”. Fuchs’ competence and vast knowledge of the development of the media industry manifests itself in many well-presented and thoroughly discussed statistical figures.

The book is meant to be a companion to reading Capital for people interested in media and communication, especially students. Whereas it is already quite a challenge to fully grasp Capital for newcomers, I wonder if the many and sometimes elaborate references to Hegel and his dialectic method are helpful or confusing. Fuchs applies the Hegelian triplicity to a whole range of distinct and concrete questions which sometimes has an arbitrary taste. Against the background of his choice to devote much space in the book to Hegel and dialectics, it is confounding that dialectical and dialectics is oftentimes used in a colloquial, non-Hegelian sense of antagonistic, reciprocal (“dialectic of online and offline communication”, p. 223), contradictory (consequence of technology for employment, p. 212), complex (“the dialectic of activism”, p. 223). There is nothing wrong with using ‘dialectical’ in its various colloquial meanings, but is irritating when this happens parallel to the treatment of Hegelian dialectics.

The repetition of the assertion that Marx in Capital Vol. 1 chose terms such as alienation (Entfremdung) and especially exploitation (Ausbeutung) primarily as normative and even moral terms and only secondarily as analytical terms is very debatable. Precisely Marx’ Capital stands in contrast to Marx’ explicitly political writings (such as the Communist Manifesto); the manner and mode of critique that Marx devoted himself to by orienting himself along Hegel’s dialectics as method, is Kritik durch Darstellung (criticizing by depicting), not critique by moral accusation. This misinterpretation becomes acute where Fuchs, who shows several times that he is interested in linguistic accuracy (e.g. debate over work vs. labour as translations for the German ‘Arbeit’), fatally misinterprets Marx’ metaphors of the werewolf and the vampire for the depiction of Capital. Very certainly, these metaphors are chosen, not (!) “in order to point out that capitalism as system of exploitation is morally detestable, a scandal that confronts the working class” (p. 123), but because vampire and werewolf are, first, undead creatures and, second, are fictions of the human mind that eventually gain power over their inventors very practically where men really believed in their existence (werewolf trials, witch hunts etc.): Capital is undead, it’s the “automatic subject”, “accumulated labour”, “dead labour”; it is created by humans and encompasses not only workers, but capitalists themselves: “Hence the rule of the capitalist over the worker is the rule of things over man, of dead labour over the living, of the product over the producer” (Marx, “Results”, p.466). In this context, it would have been worth making a point against reductionist critique of capitalism (verkürzte Kapitalismuskritik) e.g. by drawing on Marx’ famous metaphor of the “character masks” (Capital Vol. 1) in order to encourage thinking and arguing against simplistic, structurally anti-semitic, personalized critique of capitalists, such as ‘media magnates’ or ‘greedy bosses and managers’. Capitalism is essentially a social relation between all people and not simply “between workers and capitalists” (sic! Fuchs, p. 15); it is not reducible to questions of ownership (‘who owns the factory’), and social relations are not equitable with class relations (‘workers versus capitalists’). Fuchs himself strongly and repetitiously stresses the phenomena of the fetishism and alienation, two concepts that clearly discount this reduction to class struggle. More clarity is desirable in this respect throughout the book. Somewhat linked to this is the ambiguous treatment of the ‘critique of political economy’ as a mere critique of (morally) bad ownership structures – a treatment of the media sector as a political economy is not the same as a critique of political economy of media. The latter puts into question the very categories of a political economy, such as ‘labour’, ‘value’ and ‘exchange’ and exposes them as mere capitalism-immanent categories and real-abstractions (Realabstraktionen) instead of transhistorical, anthropological necessities. Where Fuchs raises attention to the difference between ‘labour’ (the capitalist-immanent ‘Arbeit’) versus ‘work’ (the potentially non-capitalist ‘Tätigsein’) he does encourage this categorical critique of seemingly natural concepts (p. 30).

Whereas Fuchs has a great ambition to inspire scholars to read and think about the commodity fetishism, alienation and ideology – and indeed pleads for a critical understanding of ideology (p. 43) – his actual handling of the three concepts is disappointing. He blurs the concept of the commodity fetishism by sometimes using ‘fetishist/fetishism’ in the Marxian way and sometimes in the colloquial way, i.e. as a glorification or as overestimation of, for example, technology (p. 206, 221, 233) or as manipulation and deception by advertisement (p. 47). Similarly ideology appears in the book as manipulation, “misrepresentation”, as “legitimisation strategy” (both p. 43) and as “distorted content” in media products (p. 101) which fundamentally misses its more complex character as the very right consciousness in a wrong society, i.e. as the reflexive form (Denkform) of an a priori fetishist matrix of society. With all due respect: It is plainly wrong to say that ideology is about “a normative distinction between true and false beliefs and practices” (p. 43). This is not the critical concept (that Fuchs himself pleads for), but quite the opposite, the ‘neutral’, understanding of different ideologies (plural), put forward by Lenin as voluntarist choice of a bourgeois versus socialist ideology.

Fuchs lets himself get carried away to make en passant general remarks that are more of a personal opinion than an academic discussion; two examples that more or less well-read Marxian thinkers will stumble over are the allegations on the state (states are not problematic per se, p. 224) – and on Althusser (“did not understand and had not read Marx”, p. 101).

My impression of Fuchs’ book mirrors the observations made by another reviewer on his earlier “Digital Labour and Karls Marx” (2015): redundancy, supposed “hurried writing”, “abrupt and unclear transitions” and superficiality. The image of “too many ingredients in the pot. Much is left uncooked” hits the mark also with regards to “Reading Marx in the Information Age”. “These types of mistakes will limit the appeal of the work and provide an easy out for unsympathetic readers.” (all quotes from McQuade 2015, p. 229). Scholars and students seeking an introduction to Marx’ Capital should be referred to David Harvey, Michael Heinrich, Moishe Postone, the Krisis-Group or Robert Kurz, those interested in a communications and media perspective on Capital have yet to make up their own minds with the help of the existing literature, certainly including Christian Fuchs’ own publications on the field.

McQuade, Brendan (2015). Review of „Digital Labour and Karl Marx,“ by Christian Fuchs. Journal of World-Systems Research, 21(1). 227. doi:10.5195/jwsr.2015.541

Marx, Karl. Results of the Immediate process of production. In Capital Vol. 1, 941-1084, (Appendix, Chapter 2). London: Penguin.

Marx, Karl. Capital: A critique of political economy, Volume 1. Penguin.

 

Entangled history medial gedacht: Internationale und transkulturelle Kommunikationsgeschichte

Indira Dupuis, Maria Löblich & Thomas Birkner | PDF-Fulltext

Abstract: Dieser Text führt in das Themenheft „Entangled history medial gedacht“ ein, das sich einer Kommunikationsgeschichte widmet, die den Nationalstaat als Bezugsrahmen historischer Kommunikationsprozesse erweitert und dafür internationale und transkulturelle Bezüge sowie Wechselwirkungen zwischen nationaler und globaler Ebene untersucht. Die Beiträge des Themenheftes werden hier systematisiert und vorgestellt. Sie wenden verschiedene Perspektiven, für die hier der Klammerbegriff „entangled history“ benutzt wird, auf die Geschichte der Kommunikationswissenschaft und der Kommunikationsgeschichtsschreibung, auf Erinnerungskulturen, Fernsehserien sowie auf historische Zeitzeugenschaft und das soziale Gedächtnis im Internet an.

A Case of Asynchronous Media Change in the 1950s: How US-American TV Series Came to Early West German Television

Andre Dechert | PDF-Fulltext

Abstract: The influence of radio and cinema on the first television program designs in West Germany, and other nations, can be explained by a theory which has recently been put forward by communication scholar Gabriele Balbi. According to Balbi, in a first step new media imitate old media in manifold ways before they develop characteristics of their own and become a truly new medium. However, the ‚producers‘ of early West German national television were not only looking to radio or cinema for clues on how to design the program of Deutsches Fernsehen (DFS), West Germany’s first and only national television channel from 1954 to 1961/63. DFS‘ executives and executive employees were also looking to other nations, particularly to those – like the United States – that were years ahead in television’s evolution. Especially the implementation of the entertainment series in West German television is strongly rooted in visits to the United States and newly gathered information and impressions. To exemplify this argument, I delve into examples which demonstrate that West German television executives and executive employees were either creating television series on the basis of US-American television series or were broadcasting the latter after synchronization. In this context, major findings of diffusion research constitute a useful addition to current theories on media change.

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