Last meeting

This last meeting before the presentation date, we had met up with Sophie to discuss the final progression of our project. We mainly discussed how we can link our primary case study on the Danish Cartoon Crisis to the wider themes that we touch upon such as Globalisation, International Relations, Social Constructivism and Epystomology. It was noted that we should include definitions of important key terms such as development, globalisation and other words related to the theories that we touch upon.

One issue that we discussed was our worry that our presentation is not as ‘fun’ as we wish it could be. Having just a powerpoint is not enough and we discussed on wether we should insert some video clips or come up with an interactive game, but which has to be relevant to to the presentation.

Rosie also reminded us to explain our methodology for this project and consider answering how and why we chose a specific data and how we have analysed it. moreover, we have to reflect how difficult it was to implement an interdisciplinary approach to the presentation and demonstrate the teamwork that went behind it.

15th March meeting

Today Aidana, Su Anne and I met to discuss our presentation in further depth. Last time we met, we started to put together our power point in order to really section our presentation and try to distinguish the main points that we want to stand out from the more describing or detailing points that we will incorporate in our presentation rather than develop. This time, we decided to review a bit our slides and the structure of our presentation.

First of all, we wanted to refine our main question. We changed a few key words in order to narrow down our reflexion and better define the boundaries of our project. So here is our newly, redefined question: The development of European communities’ perception on the Islamic culture in the 21st century.

We decided to replace the word ‘Western’ for ‘European’ in order to avoid any confusion and be more precise. We also replaced the word ‘society’ by ‘culture’ as we realised it explained better our thought and it served our reflexion better.

Then, we elaborated more on the structure of the presentation itself: the elements on which we should focus on primarily for example. We decided on the following structure:

First of all we will have an introduction in which we will have the definitions of our key words, the perspectives that we will be using, the presentation of our case study (the Danish cartoon crisis of 2005), a brief context on political cartoons and editorials and finally we will start to explain the view that Europeans have of Islam nowadays.

After this introduction, we will focus a bit on the methodology: through which lenses we will look: political, philosophical, geographical.

Then, we will focus on the development of international relations and the impact of globalisation on the ideas that people can have regarding certain cultures. After this, we will look at globalisation again but through the emergence of the media and its impact on people’s minds and opinions.

Then, we will have a part focusing more on ethics and the philosophical aspect of our subject (which is Su Anne’s major).

And after all of these explanations, we will go on with our case study: the danish cartoon crisis 2005. Firstly we will explain what it consists of and then we will analyse a few cartoons directly.

Finally about the structure, we delegated tasks to each other in order to get more research done till the next meeting and so that we can know what to focus on individually.

This is all about the structure for now and then we did some research about our case study but also about the rise of the media as a very powerful impactor on people’s opinions.

After all this we started to think about a way to make a presentation a bit more fun! We thought about a few possibilities such as: imagining a game around cartoons, having questions to interact a bit more with the audience but we are still thinking about different ways of making it work within the timeframe of the presentation. We will try to meet with Sophie next week in order to have some advice about our structure and also about this ‘fun factor’ we want to add to the project.

March 8th Meeting

This was a very productive meeting! We decided on the title of our project which will be: The Development of the Western Communities’ Perception on Islamic Society in the 21st Century in Political Cartoons. We felt a huge sense of relief after we nailed down the question we are going to be focusing on.

During this meeting, we also created a group presentation and formulated a general structure of the way our project/presentation would go. We also identified which aspects of the project we were each interested in pursuing on our own.

I will briefly go over the structure. Please keep in mind that this is not finalised and I am sure there will be some reorganisation as we delve deeper into the research. In our Introduction we will first present the whole phenomenon of the 2005 Danish Cartoon Crisis. Then we will discuss the perspectives and opinions we have so the audience knows where we are coming from from the get-go. We will also briefly touch on differing perspectives and which perspectives, in our opinions, prevailed. We will also define key terminology (such as, the Freedom of Speech and what that could entail in different contexts) so the audience is familiarised with the terminology and will have a more comprehensive understanding of the presentation. We will also provide context on political cartoons and editorials and our conception of the Western view of Islam. We understand that this last bit will be difficult to make claims about, so we will make sure to thoroughly explain the rationale behind our conclusion.

As a continuation of the Introduction, we will go through the disciplinary methodologies we will be employing in the presentation, which at the core will be Politics, Philosophy and Geography. As a music minor, Gladys will bring in that knowledge (if appropriate) to enrichen the breadth of our project. Having done some Theology in my degree, I will also apply that knowledge to inform the other disciplinary approaches we use.

Next, we will discuss themes that colour the perspectives on the Islamic community. The first theme will be Globalisation and how International Relations are affected by the rise of globalisation. This will cover immigration and also the effect media has in assisting globalisation, such as through the proliferation of cartoons to wider audiences, compared to when audiences were more confined and homogenous. This taps into the question of echo-chambers and whether globalisation has really lessened the existence of them due to the diversification of conversations, or rather has created bigger, multi-national echo-chambers.

This segues well into our next theme, which is the power of media as the emergence of a new political power. In the context of political cartoons, as aforementioned, it has led to satirical cartoons reaching larger audiences, and therefore creating a larger impact. In this theme, our interdisciplinary mind-sets will shine through as we discuss the rise of social media through Political, Philosophical and Geographical lenses. As a Philosophy major, I will be focusing on morality and ethics in the use of social media. Specifically, what using social media ‘ethically’ could look like and if there should be an objective standard for the way social media is used. This will touch upon the notion that morality is subjective and that different cultures adopt different moral standards, and how to navigate different moral standards in an age of globalisation and diversification of conversations through social media.

Gladys and Aidana will be focusing on the Political perspectives which encompass social media as a galvanising tool in the political sphere. They will also discuss Habermas’ public sphere and the way that social media might have done away of the notion of regimented spheres of political influence, because politics has become more of a conversation, rather than just a monologue. They will also discuss how globalisation has also made politics a global conversation, and the upsides and downsides of this. We will also discuss social constructivism and how that is mapped out through the rise of social media.

Next, we will move onto our case study: the 2005 Danish Cartoon Crisis. We will contextualise the crisis in terms of what was happening on a global stage and the history of the crisis. Such as, the rise of terrorism, the reaction the Western world had to it and what was going on in the Western world at that time. We will also discuss Islamic norms and the Quran and its interpretations and the implications of these interpretations. We will then discuss the interaction between Western stereotypical perceptions of Islam and how some events might confirm or disprove these perceptions. We will also speak on Freedom of Expression and what that means in different contexts, and the line between expression and blasphemy, and the level of offensiveness in the cartoons.

Lastly, we will show the cartoons and analyse them ourselves and point out what aspects of Islam are being poked fun at in the cartoon. We will also discuss methods of mockery that are used in the cartoon, such as satire, sarcasm, exaggeration, etc.

Changes to the topic

This week, we have created a rough outline of our presentation that we will commence on making in the following next days.

It is important to note that we had few difficulties that we encountered in the previous weeks. We have abandoned the focus and the research question that we initially decided to work on because of the ethical issues that could arise in progress. Hence, Sophie had advised us to redesign our research question and perhaps choose another topic to work on. After some thought, we had decided that analyzing the development of the satire cartoons concerning religion was a better option to choose.

The Danish Cartoon Crisis in 2005 and the attacks on Charlie Hebdo staff in 2015 have got us thinking about the implications that the Western media has on the public’s perception of the Muslim community. The case study on satire cartoons about religion has always raised different ethical and political question in societies. Because of this, the norms and definitions of freedom of speech and expression were always scrutinized.

We have decided to focus on the development of cartoons that were created in the 21st century, especially after the 9/11 attacks. We will look at this case study through the lenses of politics, philosophy, and geography, as the events of the Danish Cartoon Crisis and Charlie Hebdo have generated complex geopolitical and ethical implications in the media and the society.

The presentation will start with the general context of the topic. We will briefly discuss the rise of terrorism, the issues of immigration and give some information n the Islamic norms and traditions that relate to the problems that occurred after the creation of the cartoons. We will also cover the general Western perception of Islam and the notion of freedom of speech and expression and what it means in the Western world. We agreed that it is crucial to highlight important definitions to make the topic of the presentation as much comprehensible as possible. These will include outlining the definitions on the freedom of speech and freedom of expression, as well as terms such as ‘prohibition,’ ‘blasphemy’ and ‘discrimination’ as three positions of offense (Jytte Klausen, 2009). We will also look at the notions of the public sphere and the media and what freedom of speech is like in today’s media world.

From the philosophical point of view, we will apply the paradigms of morality and ethics on discussing the power of the media and its implications on the general Islamic community. We will discuss the line between what is acceptable and what is not regarding freedom of speech and racism in the media. The theory of social constructivism will be used in the lense of Politics. We will question how the cartoons construct the image of Muslims among the Western community, as well as discuss the notions of democracy and whether people of one group can fight against the freedom of speech exercised by the cartoonists. Through the lens of geography, we will look at how the processes of globalization and the media contribute to the construction of the Muslim image and how they fuel the political and social implications that the controversial cartoons have across the globe at the age of advanced communication and media technologies.

30/01/2018 Independent Group Meeting

At the start of this week’s meeting, we were feeling quite overwhelmed by the influx of our many ideas. As Liberal Arts students, the topics we covered in our discussion last week were diverse and it seemed like there were limitless tangents to our tangents. We were faced with an interdisciplinary dilemma: how to tame and focus the multi-faceted approach we have honed during our Liberal Arts degrees. Thankfully, last week we had already decided to use Putin as our case study, so that was something we already had in the bag.

We began our meeting by setting an agenda: by the end of our meeting we wanted to have come up with the title of our research project and also to have found (at least) three research sources. One of the first decisions we made was to keep the title of our research project focused but also slightly open-ended so that we could develop and answer sub-questions relevant to our individual disciplines. One way of doing this was to not make our title a direct question, but rather a one-sentence introduction to the topic we are going to explore in our research project. We also decided very early on that we were going to use a Survey Monkey to gauge public opinion on Putin and also to gain an insight into how much free will people think they possess.

We picked up where we left off at the previous week, in which we decided our research project would entail the investigation of the development of the image of a charismatic leader through the use of media in a post-truth era. We decided this was too long-winded. I wonder why. In addition, from looking at other students’ posts on the Translation Across Disciplines blog, we realised that politicians’ use of media to create an image in a post-truth era was a very hot topic.

Thus, we decided to take a slightly different approach with our research project, namely, a more sociological one. Our research title is a sociological investigation of group interactions, specifically, on how the figure of the charismatic leader comes to rise in a group, and we will use Putin as a case study to explore this process. Some of the sub-questions we intend to answer are the following:

  • To what extent do we have agency and free will in forming our own opinions and shaping our own decisions?
  • To what extent is the image of a charismatic leader created by society or by the leader?

This is not an exhaustive list of what we are aiming to explore in our research project and we still have some fine-tuning to do. However, something clicked upon making the decision to take a sociological approach (thank you Gladys for the idea!). Sociology was a discipline we had not explored much in our academic journeys and the prospect of applying our interdisciplinary skillsets to another new discipline was very exciting (and daunting!). We thought this was particularly fitting because it would be undergoing the ultimate test: Translating the knowledge and skills gleaned from our disciplines Across to a new Discipline.

Gladys has had the most experience dabbling in Sociology and introduced Erving Goffman’s idea of the performance of our everyday selves on a stage. Goffman’s idea is that an individual is performing an ‘idealised image’ of themselves in their social interactions. This notion of the ‘idealised image’ is particularly reminiscent of the carefully curated image that a charismatic leader constructs to feed to the public. The physical and virtual performativity of this image is what we want to develop in our research essay.

Goffman’s principle that we are all actors on a ‘social stage’ creating impressions of ourselves for the benefit of an audience (and consequently, a benefit to ourselves) brought us back to Michel Foucault’s Panopticon which we covered last year in Space, Power, Agency. The notion that we are constantly being watched through surveillance and this permanent visibility is a trap that undermines our agency echoes Goffman’s belief that we are performing ourselves for the benefit of others. This performance of self ceases to exist when there are not others around to perform for, so who are we when we are by ourselves? Does the very basis and existence of our individual identities rest upon an audience? If this is true, how much are we perpetuating or even creating the falsified images that charismatic leaders are feeding us? Does this mean we possess free will, but only of a certain kind? Is that still free will? Who really are these charismatic leaders once they are stripped of these idealised images? These were very chilling questions indeed that we seek to explore in our research.

Our discussion on Goffman and Foucault’s Panopticon brought us to more questions regarding free will and the public sphere. Aidana introduced us to Jürgen Habermas’ idea of the bourgeois ‘public sphere’, which is the place where the decisions about a society are made. However, not everyone has membership in this public sphere. This raises questions of to what extent are we members of the public sphere or just spectators watching events unfold before us. Habermas also argues that social media is a tool that enables manipulation and generates a public sphere where there is none. This furthers the idea that this ghostly and elusive algorithmic monster manufactures contrived images that are shoved down our throats. Again, this begs the question of how much are we are perpetuating the infringement on our own agency. It also brings into question in what ways does Putin control the public sphere and its membership and who are the chosen gatekeepers?

These questions regarding whether we have free will in our own lives is a huge debate in Philosophy, and the social media craze adds another dimension to this issue. Do social media outlets such as Facebook use unethical methods in order to invade our privacy to sell our personal information? However, despite the fact that most of us are aware of this digital surveillance, we still happily live our lives online. Is it really unethical if we are aware of these shady activities?

On the flipside, the studies of charismatic leaders in New Religious Movements (also more commonly referred to as ‘cults’) fervently work to dismantle the assumption that we lack agency in the face of charismatic leaders. Roy Wallis explains the social construction of charisma and how often it is a mutually beneficial relationship wherein the image of the charismatic leader is in a very precarious position that is completely dependent on people’s belief in the idealised image of the leader. This seemingly puts the ball back into our (the public’s) court because a charismatic leader’s charisma only exists if there are people who believe in its existence.

These are just some of the many musings we had during the brain dump that was our meeting. The sources we have picked are the following:

  • Erving Goffman’s ‘The Representation of Self in Everyday’
  • Jürgen Habermas’ ‘The Public Sphere: An Encyclopaedia Article’
  • Michel Foucault’s ‘Discipline and Punishment’
  • Roy Wallis’ ‘The Social Construction of Charisma’

Aidana has also created a Google Doc for us to brainstorm and also compile more sources.

In next week’s meeting, we aim to write up the questions for our Survey Money, further develop our ideas and also find other materials (such as sources) for our research. We will also be reflecting on the different methodologies that will be employed in our research.

Our meeting of the 07/02/2018

This week, we have met with Sophie and we explained to her what we had been discussing during last week’s team meeting and how we decided to change our subject a bit because, after going through other groups’ TAD subjects, we realised that another group had a very similar subject, with the same literature we had chosen and focusing on one of our main subject : social constructivism.

So we started to brainstorm on our new stream of subject for our TAD project. We talked about the fact that we wanted to give a more sociological approach to our subject as well as a post-truth dimension to it. Combining these two subjects could lead us to interesting case studies such as Trump’s controversial figure versus his popularity, or other very controversial and simultaneously famous figures such as Putin and his leadership (how Putin can be seen as a brutal leader, manly and confident or as a national hero and a great, firm leader).

We even thought of comparing Trump’s charismatic figure to Putin’s.

We talked about the fact that we really wanted to do a survey on people’s opinion when it comes to such controversial figure like Trump or Putin, basing our study on the works of Habermas (on legitimacy), or Goffman (with his theory of how people act in a group and how some people act as if they were ‘on stage’). We thought this would be a very interesting study as, many people act differently when in public than they would otherwise (Goffman’s theory or even the panopticon theory) and this is directly true when taking the example of Trump’s access to power: a lot of people didn’t tell the truth when asked ‘are you going to vote for Trump?’ because they were scared of people’s reaction/judgement.

After all this brainstorm on our subject, we decided to put together a survey narrowed down to an audience of students (Russian speakers on one side and international on the other), from the universities of London, with a similar age, etc. And we put together many different survey questions in order to give an added value to our presentation by actually taking people’s opinions on Putin (as our case study) and on the tension between people’s attitude on public sphere versus private sphere. We thought about many questions such as:

Ones’ age, nationality, mother-tongue, where one grew up, when did this person move to the UK, does this person follow regularly the political life in the news, what types of media does this person use, what source of media do they use, what do they study, etc.

And after these neutral questions, we wanted to ask these people many questions about Putin and his leadership: what do they think about Putin? Is he a good or a bad leader? Would you use these words (powerful, legitimate leader, etc.) to describe him? Do you think differently of Putin in public than in private? Etc.

After having found all of these interesting questions, Sophie made us rethink on the minimal ethical risk form and how asking questions on such controversial and powerful figures could bring a risk to our audience and this is certainly not what we want. At first, we didn’t see any harm with our questions which seemed quite innocent but we didn’t want to risk anything or to expose anyone to a risk. This risk could have been present with people’s answers to our questions etc and we decided not to risk that. So at the end of the hour, we decided to change the direction of our TAD project in order to avoid these kind of potential risks. We started brainstorming again about the different subjects that still are very appealing to us (the question of a charismatic leader, public vs private sphere, the media, twitter and its role in the political life nowadays etc.).

We are going to meet again later in the week in order to finalise our TAD’s premises: our main question, subquestions and the main streams we will follow in order to answer our question.

Post-truth, cults..Putin? Exploring possible research questions

Tuesday was a sunny day complemented with quite a productive meeting that we had with Sophie. The meeting involved a lot of brainstorming on the possible research questions, case studies, and theories that we can utilize and contribute to as a group. This was not an easy task, which goes to show how challenging interdisciplinarity can be. However, this should not diminish the strength of the multifaceted approach to the project. Ultimately, we came to a very interesting and relevant topic on the construction of a ‘charismatic leader’.

The brainstorming started off with discussing the common line that Su Anne, Gladys and I share in our essay, which relates to ‘post-truth’ politics. To be more specific, we focused on how truth can be constructed and its implications in the real world. With her background in Philosophy and Theology, Su Anne emphasized on the ethical side of ‘post-truth’ and cults theory, as an example, where truth can be shaped by one central authority.

Brainstorming ideas

Gladys raised a pressing question on the comparison of cults and new religious movements. Indeed, the line between distinguishing cults and religious groups is often blurred. This can be especially seen in the case of ISIS, as an extremist branch of a mainstream religious group. This led to a discussion on the role of a leader or an authority that can completely distort what people believe in. Hence, we touched upon the notion of individual and collective free will and agency in the contemporary society. Do we as individuals and groups actually have control over our perceptions? How do we know if something we believe in is the actual truth?…These kinds of questions were put on the table.

Because I and Glady’s have focused on the role of media like photography and the Internet in politics, we eventually tipped our brainstorming session towards the portrayal of power. We talked about the diminishment of the role of mainstream media as a source of information, as more informal sources are emerging online. This is why, assessing truth has become more complex and challenging, as people can generate various facts and pose different perceptions on the same matter. Going back to the discussion of charismatic leaders, we concluded that it would be interesting to investigate how the image of a charismatic leader can be constructed, especially in the media. Indeed, charismatic leaders, utilize the means of communication and media to shape their public image and influence. However, people have the agency to shape their image as well, mainly, through the Internet.

We agreed that topics on post-truth politics and media’s influence on the public image today are mainly associated with Donald Trump. Because this has been already done by other groups of students, we eventually decided to explore Putin’s image as a case study for the presentation. What we have to do now is to research on the literature on cults theory, social constructivism and morality, which can help us to dig out interesting things about his image.


Introduction – First steps to our reflection

Last week, Aidana, Su Anne and I met to discuss the premises of our project a bit more. First of all, we read each other’s essays and realised that we had included the subject of ‘the Media’ in our essays, linking it to politics, philosophy etc. This made us think about potential subjects on which to focus on for our project as we were all very keen on exploring and analysing the media in today’s era.

After this first step, we started to discuss the ways of intelligently linking the subject that we would choose with our rich varieties of Majors and Minors (Aidana is doing a major in Politics and a minor in Geography, Su Anne is majoring in Philosophy and I am doing a major in Politics and a minor in Music). We really started to discuss all the possibilities that we could find in order to include all of these added-values we have.

This first meeting was about getting to know each other, our majors and minors, and discover each others’ essays reflexions. We thought it was quite important to discover each other’s way of thinking, through our essays, yes, but also and mainly just by discussing and exchanging about various themes and potential subjects for our project.