Monday, January 03, 2005

Deconstructing The Economist

From the December 16th edition of the Economist:

The defining feature of the critical-studies course is that it takes almost nothing at face value. The goal is to deconstruct, to uncover the hidden, multi-faceted meanings and thereby to reveal the codes of power. This ambition owes much to two French thinkers. One, Jacques Derrida, who died in October, is credited with inventing “deconstruction”—the attempt to interpret texts, while keeping in mind the notion that meaning itself was elusive. The other, Michel Foucault (1926-84), saw language as a product of power. For him, truth was not fixed and immutable. It was relative and flexible, defined by whoever is in charge.

Our old friend Jacques rears his head once again.

At least three authors have recently probed even deeper into the meaning and techniques of The Economist. In “Reading The Economist on Globalisation: Knowledge, Identity and Power”, Martha Starr, a professor at American University, looks at The Economist's take on globalisation. It is a puzzle, she writes, that The Economist covers globalisation so favourably. Our readers are, she believes, already likely to share “the dominant code” supporting globalisation that is common among business elites. They are unlikely to need persuasion. So why does The Economist try to provide it?

To solve this riddle, she conducts a textual analysis, “excavat[ing] from the text some tactics used to define, codify, and limit discourse to certain realms of economic knowledge, while excluding, belittling or ignoring knowledge from other domains.” The Economist, apparently, insists on seeing the world through a neo-liberal “metanarrative”.

When you read the word "metanarrative" you know it's time to get the waders on 'cause it's starting to get deep.

Ms Starr concedes that The Economist's defence of globalisation may be hedged with all sorts of nuance, details and opposing points of view. But don't be fooled. The main, received tenets of the benefits of globalisation are at the core of the newspaper's mission, she claims. We advance an “active programme to constitute knowledge of globalisation” as well as “a programme of knowledge construction” in a bid to struggle for power—exactly what Foucault was talking about.

The bastards. They want you to think the same way about globalization that they do. How dare they.

In a newly fashionable effort to quantify claims about how power is transmitted through words and images, Yana van der Meulen Rodgers and JingYing Zhang, of the College of William & Mary in Virginia, have analysed The Economist's photographs. Their paper, “A Content Analysis of Sex Bias in International News Magazines”, asks, first, how often are women portrayed compared with men? Second, how often are men and women depicted in a sexual way? For answers, they looked at all the issues of five news magazines, including The Economist, in 2000, and the photographs in The Economist in even-numbered years from 1982 to 2000.

All the magazines studied contained an over-representation of women depicted in sexual ways. But The Economist, apparently, had more frontal nudity in its photographs than all the other magazines combined. When it came to “partial breast exposure”, it was at the top of the league. Particularly curious to the authors was our use of sexual content to illustrate stories on topics such as finance and technology. A photograph of three bikini-clad beauty contestants, used to illustrate a story on financial regulation, with the caption “Pick your regulator”, was both emblematic and problematic.

But honey, I only get The Economist for the articles.


Blogger Sisyphus said...

Wow, these people will have a field day if they ever discover Power Line.

8:52 PM  

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