Given that our group project’s interdisciplinary nature was driven by the overarching theme of development, clarifying the relation between this term and our research topic has been a priority.
Having decided to analyse the propagandist methods and rationales of three key political figures (Augustus, Elizabeth 1st and Donald Trump) over a significant period of time, adopting an understanding of ‘development’ as a comprehensive process of change seemed evident. This is illustrated in particular in terms of the different communicative tools used by each leader (sculpture, iconography, and speech), the type of audience they were/are addressing, which includes for example the extent to which people could/can access information, and the general context (in relation to the importance of religion and the fragility of power, among others).
More specifically, development is a concept that is applicable to each political figure’s personal relation to the medium of propaganda. In fact, we have found that they constantly adapt their ‘discourse’ in order to ‘shape and frame’ their immediate environment and ultimately secure their position of power. This falls in line with a definition of development suggested by Sumner and Tribe (2008): The ‘post-modern’ position is that ‘development’ is a ‘discourse’ – a set of ideas – that actually shapes and frames ‘reality’ and power relations.
Overall, evaluating the motives and techniques of political propaganda is also a significant process in the context of socio-political development. It allows, ultimately, to shed light onto the fact that propaganda’s potent threat to freedom appears to endure throughout time, despite important changes such as the democratisation of most societies.
Reference: Sumner, Andrew and Michael A. Tribe (2008) International Development Studies: Theories and Methods in Research and Practice, SAGE Publications Ltd.
During this week’s group meeting, the aim has been to scope out our research ideas and specify our project’s objectives by clarifying the question of media usage and influence onto the public’s perception and opinion of political leaders.
The definition of the term ‘media’ itself as well as the analysis of the intentionality and responses associated with conveyed political messages are inherently complex. Accordingly, our group has decided to maintain the focus of our research on the changing forms of this communication tool and on its propagandist intent. To maintain the project’s interdisciplinarity and inscribe it into the wider frame of development, forms and techniques of propaganda will be analysed over time and in relation to political leaders’ varying reasons for propagandist intentionality. This will be connected to the different understandings over time of aspects such as the fragility of power or the building of legitimacy.
The ways in which forms or structures of propagandist communication by political leaders have evolved across the three case studies we have chosen (Augustus, Elizabeth the 1st, and Donald Trump) thus entail several sub-questions, such as:
- To what extent and how do leaders seek to legitimise their power through these forms of communication?
- What are the specific tools/techniques/language used by leaders in this objective? Which aspects of the rhetoric of propagandist communication have changed over time in addition to its form?
- How have the state’s ties to communication and the media transformed? Have they become dissociated as access to information became democratised?
Our next task will thus consist in determining lines of comparison across our three case-studies more precisely, and listing the analytical categories through which we will be able to structure our research. This will also be valuable for our group to define the specific lens or methodology that will be applied to our investigation and which should integrate our different disciplinary perspectives (political, historical and classic).
In today’s discussion, we managed to narrow our scope of investigation into 3 separate case studies- all of which revolves around the conceptual role of the media in shaping public opinion and perception; specifically identifying the figures of leadership who hold power and perpetuate influence throughout public mediums. As a group, we have collectively chosen this topic as it not only largely identifies with the theme of development (especially in the context of current affairs and global politics) but from a constructivist point of view — allows us to take on an angle that not only allows for the analysis of various ways of leadership historically, but from a social context of anarchy as well. According to Alexander Wendt who has the most amount of literature attributed to political constructivist theory — “anarchy is what the state makes of it”; the theme of anarchy here is not the most relevant to our research investigation, but it does set the tone in allowing us to define the role of states and governments/ governmental institutions and the extent of their power in perpetuating a regime/ democracy. Moreover, it allows us to identify popular ideas since constructivist theory is entirely dependent on the audience (public opinion) – giving us insight into the social context at that time as well.
Therefore, the overview of our intended case study figures of political leaders are as follow:
. Donald Trump
. Margaret Thatcher
We plan to look at these 3 figures and the ways of which they have managed to shape public opinion about their policies and agendas by looking at their way of leadership and governance. Furthermore, we also aim to look at the issue of censorship in the media and to what extent media powerhouses/ governments with the capacity to control content exert their influence in order to propagate certain ideas, or garner support for a particular cause/ policy/ line of agenda. In the meantime, we seek to collate a variety of different literature on these 3 figures and sieve out primary sources (in the form of official government publications/ transcripts of public speeches/ pictures/ etc) that will allow us to anchor our discussion and compare/ contrast several points of similarities/ differences with their use of the media and shaping public opinion.
There are also several interesting articles to look at with regards to public perception and representation of President Trump in the media. A notable one would be the article featured in The Economist very recently that showcases all their cover works with regards to Trump and his presidency. President Trump’s first year, through The Economist’s covers undertook a sarcastic tone in describing the first year of presidency since Trump’s inauguration as President, with compiled illustrations ranging from “when the former host of ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ took George Washington’s old job” in the January 2017 issue, to him as an “unruly child” in January 2018. The significance of these illustrations not only effectively portray the political climate and entanglements of his administration, but the underlying tone of sarcasm in all illustrations does not paint him as a figure deserving of respect from the mainstream media.
1. Alexander Wendt: Anarchy is what States Make of it: The Social Construction
of Power Politics, International Organisation, Vol. 46, No. 2 (Spring, 1992), pp. 391-425.
Group meeting one:
During this meeting, we thought a good starting point to begin discussing research topics would be our essays, which all varied significantly: from Singapore foreign policy to Pompeii to Secularization within Victorian Britain. As well as this, we discussed the themes and different types of development that arose within our respective topics. We found power exercised by a particular institution or an overarching body- dictators- to some extent, were constantly present, even though the periods our individual essays varied over a 2000 year time period. We realised the presence of such powerful actors tied into our theme as these actors would have a fairly significant role shaping political, economic and societal development.
Secondly, we drew on research methods utilised within our respective disciplines: Politics, Classics and History. For instance, Amelia had brought a recent issue of the economist; from a brief analysis of several articles, we thought we could base our topic on the development of exercises of power in dictatorships throughout time, from Julias Cesear to Trump and questioned if there had been any development in democratic exercise at all.
In terms of methodology, we considered that analysis of current affairs would mainly be examined through the use of opinion pieces, art and social media as there may be an absence of academic sources in this field. We agreed that although the topic of our research may appear to be from a certain discipline, we could make our project interdisciplinary by combining our different disciplines through different types of sources. For instance, although classics and history mainly use secondary sources, Claudia mentioned it would be worth considering schools of archaeology which would provide primary analysis one would not find in literature.
In our next meeting, we’re bringing extracts of our essays and articles or anything further for our topic which we aim to have finalised in the next 2 weeks.