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DFG-funded Project: Journalism Challenged: Understanding Performative Publics through Media Practice

Project Duration: Three Years (starting in May 2020)

Based on a practice theory approach, the project investigates the emergence of performative publics around acts of sexualised violence against women during New Year’s Eve in 2016 in Cologne and the developments of politicisation in the wake of the #metoo debate in Germany. The project is funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) for three years.

Journalism has partly lost its exclusive function in society to set the agenda and accord relevance to issues of common concern. New kinds of actors, whether they are activists or private individuals, have emerged who are using quotidian digital media platforms to promote controversial issues and stir public debate in certain directions. These actors voice their views and concerns independently of journalism and actively promote the formation of new networks of like-minded actors.

The events during New Year’s Eve in Cologne and the repercussions of the #metoo debate in Germany are exemplary and important cases in this respect. Both cases clearly show changing constellations of gendered structures of public articulation that mirror larger shifts in the complexity of publics and their conflictual, antagonistic and controversial character. The core interest of the project lies in investigating challenges to journalistic legitimacy and authority originating in and being structured by networked and digital communication between different actor groups, especially professional journalists, civic activists and individuals. These actors are regarded as equally involved in the specific emergence of what we call ‘performative publics’ (see Lünenborg & Raetzsch, 2018).

We conceive of the challenges to professional journalism as an outcome of habitual ways of ‘acting with media’ in quotidian contexts, or what we call media practice. In order to retrace these practices, representatives of the three actor groups will be observed ethnographically and interviewed. Digital methods and data analysis shall be employed to retrace the development of certain practices and changing actor positions with the public contestations over both issues. Instead of a dichotomous distinction between private and public, the project aims to address gradual distinctions of personal vs. public poles of articulation (‘layers of publicness’). Such a gradual distinction is especially needed to focus on the alternation of speaker and audience positions in contested public discourses around gender and migration, but also between individual and institutionalised actors. Taken together, the theoretical concept of media practice shall be empirically developed and validated and establish a new methodology for similar research in German Media and Communication Studies on the margins and at the intersections of journalism with society. Starting in May 2020, the project is led by Margreth Lünenborg (Freie Universität Berlin) and Christoph Raetzsch (Aarhus University, Denmark) and includes a cooperation with Axel Bruns (Queensland University Brisbane, Australia).


Recent Publications

Margreth Lünenborg, Christoph Raetzsch (2018). “From Public Sphere to Performative Publics: Developing Media Practice as an Analytic Model”. In Media Practices, Social Movements, and Performativity: Transdisciplinary Approaches, Susanne Foellmer, Margreth Lünenborg, Christoph Raetzsch (eds.), 13-35. Abingdon: Routledge.

Margreth Lünenborg (2019). “Affective Publics”. In Affective Societies. Key Concepts. Jan Slaby, Christian von Scheve (eds.), 319-329. Abingdon: Routledge.

Christoph Raetzsch (2017). “Journalism Studies Beyond Journalism: A Critical and Appreciative Dialogue with Michael Schudson.” Journalism Studies 18(10): 1277-1292. DOI: 10.1080/1461670X.2017.1338151.

Christoph Raetzsch, Henrik Bødker (2016). “Journalism and the Circulation of Communicative Objects“. Special Issue on ‘Digital Circulation.’ Balbi, G., Delfanti, A., Magaudda, P. (eds.). Tecnoscienza. Italian Journal of Science & Technology Studies 7(1): 129-148.

If you are interested in the project or in collaborating, please contact Margreth Lünenborg (margreth.luenenborg@fu-berlin.de).