Panel Proposal: Media and the Limits of Liberal Democracy

TitlePanel Proposal: Media and the Limits of Liberal Democracy
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Calabrese, A.
Affiliation (1st Author)University of Colorado Boulder
Section or WGPolitical Economy Section
DateThurs 27 June
Slot CodePET1a
Slot Code (Keyword)PET1a
Time of Session9:00-10:30
Session TitleMedia and the Limits of Liberal Democracy
Submission ID6815

Panelists (4 papers): Andrew Calabrese; Natalie Fenton & Gavan Titley; Janice Peck; Milly Williamson & Gholam Khiabany
Panel Chair: Andrew Calabrese
Discussant: Janet Wasko
For more than three decades, work in the political economy of communication has given close attention to neo- (or economic) liberalism as a theoretical and political project that has had profound implications in the erosion of liberal-democracy. Such critiques often have rightly focused upon damage that has been done to basic economic arrangements, and the underlying social contracts, that have been fundamental to modern welfare states. Media institutions have been implicated in this pattern of erosion as subject and object of economic restructuring that favors elites, both through sustained messages that legitimate the upward transfer and concentration of property and wealth, and through the deregulation and privatization of the media, thereby placing media out of reach of democratically organized political will-formation. However, this project has been largely defined in technocratic terms that mask the value non-neutrality of the ends they serve. Neoliberal language and rhetoric powerfully asserts a fundamentalist belief that markets are neutral and rational, all the while concealing the interests that are brought to bear in governing markets in ways that assert the rights of large corporations above all others. Similarly, the normative ideals of liberal democracy are too often asserted as the critical counter point to the neo-liberal onslaught without due critique and detailed analysis of their contemporary application.   The papers on this panel share a common assumption, which is that although the distinction between “political” and “economic” liberalism may be useful for analytical purposes, the dichotomy breaks down in practice. Andrew Calabrese’s paper examines Marx’s critique of internal tensions inherent in liberalism’s focus on political procedures that mask economic inequality. Natalie Fenton and Gavan Titley use Wendy Brown’s critique of liberal democracy to raise questions about media studies’ long-standing allegiance to the ideals of “publicness” and “political participation.” Milly Williamson and Gholam Khiabany juxtapose responses to mediated anti-Muslim sentiments and explicit photos of British royalty to raise questions about the connection between the liberal ideal of freedom of expression and material relations of social and economic power. And Janice Peck uses works by Benjamin Constant, Joyce Appleby, Isaac Kramnick and Jonathan Israel that open up tensions within liberal ideology to raise questions about the political implications of digital media “activism.” All of the papers draw on political theory and in political-economic history, engage with arguments/critiques of liberalism, and link their analysis to media forms, institutions, practices, and policies.

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