DPR7: Cultures in Resistance

The 7th Conference of the Discourse, Power, Resistance Series

18– 20 March 2008
Manchester Metropolitan University , UK


Britta Baumgarten
Centre for Social Policy Research, University of Bremen

“It’s not just about unemployment, it’s about social justice!” - Communicative strategies of the marginalised

The discourse on unemployment is closely connected to political decision making which brought about many cuts in rights and benefits. While the discourse is dominated by a multitude of actors, the unemployed have severe difficulties receiving attention.

My research focuses on unemployment organisations, which speak on behalf of the unemployed but also encourage them to speak for themselves. It raises the question: “Which kind of communication strategies do weak actors use in order to influence the public debate?”

I have combined a qualitative analysis of statements of unemployed organisations with a broader analysis of the discourse on unemployment and neighbouring discourses which the organisations refer to. The study shows how to link resistant dialogues to dominant discourses in order to have a voice. Especially weak actors need to shape their claims carefully. They take the positions of possible alliances and joint adversaries into consideration. Established frames from debates on social rights, poverty, and exclusion are strategically included and prominent core values are referred to. The discourse provides actors with different opportunities, but also constrains them in defining the problem, narrows the framing of their claims and limits possibility in terms of highlighting aspects of the problem they consider important.