This lesson discusses the preconditions for transforming discourse in a constructive way. It argues that to overcome the internal logic of conflict it is essential to change media approaches to conflict. For this reason, the differences between war and peace discourses are emphasized. To conclude, the section makes suggestions for how a constructive approach to journalism can transform war discourse into peace discourse.
The aim of this learning activity is to demonstrate that perceptual distortions arise in the social construction of reality and are therefore hard to transform. However, you will learn how peace journalism can open social discourse to cooperative solutions.
The perceptual distortions introduced in the previous lesson (see file below) affect both the conceptualization of conflict and the evaluation of the rights, aims and actions of conflict parties and the incentives for emotional involvement in conflicts. As products of the social construction of reality , they can likewise only be deconstructed in social discourse. This transformation of social discourse into peace discourse involves more than just a change in the perception of conflict and/or in reportage as a way the media introduce a certain perception of conflict into social discourse. What is involved is primarily the orientation suggested by conflict-related questions. While war discourse centers on the questions: "Who is the aggressor?" and "How can his aggression be stopped?", the key questions in peace discourse are "What are the objects of the conflict?" and "How can they be transformed to create a solution beneficial to all parties?"
The table below summarizes two distinctive sets of assumptions describing the tension between peace and war discourses in society. Acquaint yourself with the differences before you continue with the lesson.
|Key questions||Who is the aggressor?|
How can his aggression be stopped?
|What are the objects of the conflict?|
How can it be transformed?
|Identification offer||Polarized ||Universal |
|Truth orientation||Is unconditionally committed to standards of truth and also exposes inconsistencies |
|Motivational logic||Presents war as a bulwark against destruction and/or as a bridge to a better future||Focuses on the price of victory, the destruction of cultural, economic, and social values|
|Conflict reporting||Escalation oriented with respect to ||De-escalation oriented with respect to |
As the table illustrates, how issues are approached affects the identification offers presented in discourse, the truth orientation of the discourse partners and the motivational logic which unfolds in conflicts.
People are well aware of this aspect of war propaganda and therefore attempt to influence social discourse on all of these levels (cf. Luostarinen, 2002b). The aim of propaganda is to maintain a subtle balance between a sense of being threatened and confidence in victory, and thereby to strengthen the army's fighting spirit and the public's support for war. The enemy must appear so threatening that maximal force must be used to defeat him, yet, at the same time, so weak that confidence in our ultimate victory will not be shaken.
Because war discourse is marked by such polarized logic, it can only be deconstructed with great effort. Any number of conclusions can be drawn from contradictory premises, and there are good reasons for this. The conclusions that conflict parties draw from them are usually justifications of the war, the justice of their own aims, the enemy's malevolence, etc.
The internal logic of war thus becomes circular and can only be refuted at a critical distance from conflict. As dealing with social conflict on a cooperative basis is associated with internal conflict, however, there are also emotional and/or motivational factors which hinder this (Kempf, 2001b). To become involved in cooperation with conflict parties always means living with uncertainty — "Can I still trust the other, or am I giving him an advantage by doing this?" And this internal conflict will be intensified by the divergence of perspectives discussed above — "Can I divulge my aims to the other, or would this be too risky?"
On the other hand, this internal conflict is resolved when social conflict is interpreted as a competitive process. The widespread tendency to deal with conflict competitively can, in this respect, also be seen as avoidance of the internal conflict associated with a cooperative approach. Since this tendency is so pervasive, the internal conflict will be increased for the conflict parties. And the greater their inner conflict, the greater the temptation will be to avoid it by trying to win at the expense of the other.
The media could counteract the powerful dynamics that conflicts develop by focusing on the common interests of the conflict parties and by keeping in mind the common benefits the parties could gain from a cooperative relationship. However, for journalism this would mean continuing to be trapped in the internal conflict from which the conflict parties have already freed themselves. The desperate search for good and evil that the media engage in once they are aware of conflict can, in this respect, also be seen as a tension-reducing activity which likewise frees journalism from the burden of internal conflict. And foregoing this secondary gain is no easier for journalists than it is for other members of society.
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The previous lesson delineated the need for deconstructing social discourse, introduced an approach to transforming social discourse into peace discourse and highlighted the role of the media in this process. This test is intended to assess how well you understand the concept.
Perceptual distortions are products of the social construction of reality. Transforming social discourse into peace discourse is a precondition for overcoming perceptual distortions and thereby opening conflict to being resolved cooperatively to everyone's benefit.
Transforming social discourse can not only reduce perceptual distortions, but also affects identification offers, the truth orientation of the parties involved and the motives offered as reasons for continuing a conflict.
War discourse can only be deconstructed with great effort. This is a result of the logical contradictions of the discourse.
Cooperation implies confidence in the partner's attitudes regarding contentious issues. However, this entails uncertainty, which in turn fosters the interpretation of conflict as a matter of winning or losing.
The interpretation of conflict as a competitive process can avoid the effects of uncertainty. But this approach risks contributing to the escalation of conflict. To counteract this tendency, the media should focus on the common interests of the conflict parties. Cooperation is a positive-sum game. For this reason, it must be shown that benefits can only be gained from a cooperative relationship.
The next lesson will introduce a two-step model for deconstructing war discourse. Please click on the arrow button.
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