Universität Erfurt

20 Jahre Kommunikationswissenschaft in Erfurt

Between consensus, opinion and taboo. Media controversies surrounding Thilo Sarrazin, Oriana Fallaci and James Watson

Can one say publicly that Black people are unintelligent or that Muslims tend to be violent (above all, but not only) towards women? Are positions like these taboo or are they just another opinion among others? What are the limits for a public discussion involving differences between groups, biological differences (with regard to Black people) or cultural differences (in relation to Muslims)? Does the German media react in a more “sensitive” manner towards these issues than the media in other countries?
These questions will be analysed based on the controversies in the national and international press about the statements of Thilo Sarrazin, Oriana Fallaci and James Watson. This study involves national newspapers of European and South and North American countries. The communication cultures in these countries are marked by different experiences with regard to racism: Portugal/Spain and colonialism, Germany and Nazism, the United States and racial segregation and Brazil and its “racial democracy”.
These polemic subjects are exemplary because they involve statements to which a character of self-evidence is attributed (“Everyone knows that…”). Based on the social representations theory (Moscovici) and with the aid of analysis of discourse and content, an analysis will be made of: a) which social representations of Black and Muslim people are the subject of discussion, and which of them are excluded as the controversy advances, i.e., which of them are treated as being illegitimate, and b) what strategies does the media and its sources use to carry the discussion of these representations, i.e., so as to present them as a legitimate opinion.
It is presumed that consensus no longer exists in the media discourse in relation to classic racism. The question is whether or not the idea that social differences are due to phenotypes is treated as a legitimate opinion. In relation to neo-racism, it is presumed that its expression as Islamophobia is treated as a legitimate opinion and even takes on a “character of self-evidence”. This will be analysed in the media controversies surrounding Fallaci and Sarrazin. The study will be conducted between 2011 and 2014.
Picture: Paolo Massa

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