Education, Research

Stranded: a critical discourse analysis

September 27, 2019

Nathalie Hyde-Clarke (PhD), Head of the Department of Culture and Media, Arcada UAS

 

Stranded: “left without the means to move from somewhere” (Oxford University Dictionary)

 

On Wednesday, while introducing third year Methodology students to Critical Discourse Analysis, it quickly became apparent that the world social order is in shambles. Or at least that is how it is represented in the media – and given that is almost the sole source of information about global affairs, then that is certainly how it is perceived by the youth.

We were using a political cartoon by Martin Rowson from The Guardian (23 September 2019) for our class exercise. It contains four frames. Each one represents a different scenario. Each has the word ‘stranded’.

It takes its initial point of reference from the Thomas Cook saga: one of the oldest travel agencies who declared bankruptcy on Monday 23 September ‘stranding’ approximately 600 000 people in holiday destinations around the world (Buyck 2019). While the idea of being stuck in an exotic destination may sound appealing at first, the realities that those affected have faced and now share on social media shows a very different picture. The result has been what British newspapers have referred to as the largest repatriation effort in peacetime (for examples see The Sun, The Business Times, The Telegraph and the British Government new site gov.uk).

The second frame refers to the Labour Party meeting in Brighton, where the Brexit Remain or Leave debate dominated all other discussions. As many of the readers know, in June 2016, the British voted to leave the EU. This process has been marred from the start as it was a small majority (51.9%), the government did not have a clear of action, and over the past three years has demonstrated an inability to reach some consensus as to how it should be done. It is becoming what strategists refer to as a no-win scenario. In the meantime, more than 4.2 million people on both sides of the ocean remain uncertain as to what their future holds.

The third refers to the prorogation of the British parliament – deemed unlawful on 24 September 2019, but still contested on the Monday the cartoon appeared. For months, the British House of Commons had been depicted as being in turmoil and ‘at odds’ with each other over the Brexit deal. This has often resulted in finger pointing and accusations between Ministers of Parliament, all who hold other responsible for the lack of progress. It is for this reason that the frame includes references to ‘scum’ and other derogatory terms in addition to ‘stranded’.

And the final frame simply depicts the world.

Critical discourse analysis not only requires an understanding of how the word is used, but also how it may be understood in the different contexts. Even though the cartoon was designed primarily for a British reader, the topics are of global interest and the Finnish students were easily able to analyse the message. The class agreed that in all these cases stranded referred not only to the literal place of being, but also to the overwhelming feeling of being alone or abandoned.

Notably, students agreed that none of these scenarios were inevitable. They all could have been averted. Thus, ‘stranded’ also points to the lack of accountability and responsibility of authority figures. Stranded in many ways meant ‘let down’ or ‘disappointed’.

Bombarded by images and tales of politicians around the world shirking responsibility, pointing to others for their failures and quite literally closing down differing opinions, there should be little surprise that a ’stranded’ motif resonates with the youth in our classrooms today. The argument that discourse is a good way to determine the knowledge and understanding of social order is certainly valid (building on work by Fairclough from 2001).

While writing this entry, I was struck by how often ‘breaking news’ is packaged in the ‘stranded’ motif. Reports on climate change definitely have that impression despite the best efforts of Greta Thunberg (Helsinki Times 2019) and many environmental activists to galvanise authority figures to action. In Finland, there has recently been quite a bit of news about international students feeling ‘stranded’ as visas are not approved timeously (Wall 2019) or employment for foreign workers remains elusive due to the Finnish language barrier (Wall 2019b), even if the government has expressly said more international talent is required to bolster the Finnish economy in the future. On a more general and pervasive level, one often reads and hears of the ‘lost youth’ in Finland (Yle 2019): those who have left school but not appeared on workplace records or study registers thus far.

‘Stranded’ does seem an uncomfortably familiar frame of reference in our media today. Of course, it would be unfair to suggest the media itself generates this despondency – and certainly many of the above reports suggest ways in which the issue may be resolved. Yet, the theme clearly influences how the youth view many social and political issues.

Is a change in discourse enough to alter our understanding of the social order? How does our reading of the four scenarios change if the word ‘stranded’ were to be replaced with ‘waiting’. Does this set a more positive and active tone? Some in the class agreed, and some most pointedly did not. As we are learning from Greta Thunberg and the thousands of school children who are marching for ‘change’, words are no longer enough to placate the youth. There is an expectation of actual action – and when using the suggested alternative term ‘waiting’, there is always one person in class who almost immediately recalls ‘Waiting for Godot’ anyway.

How then should the media frame stories of perceptions of political inactivity or inadequacy without creating feelings of abandonment amongst the youth? This surely is a study worth undertaking.

References

Buyck, C. 2019. Thomas Cook’s Collapse Prompts UK’s Largest Repatriation. AIN Online. https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/air-transport/2019-09-23/thomas-cooks-collapse-prompts-uks-largest-repatriation. Accessed 27.9.2019

Fairclough, N. 2001. Dialectics of Discourse. https://www.sfu.ca/cmns/courses/2012/801/1-Readings/Fairclough%20Dialectics%20of%20Discourse%20Analysis.pdf. Accessed 27.9.2019

Helsinki Times. 2019. You are failing us: Greta Thunberg offers stern rebuke to world leaders at UN. https://www.helsinkitimes.fi/finland/news-in-brief/16776-you-are-failing-us-greta-thunberg-offers-stern-rebuke-to-world-leaders-at-un.html. Accessed 27.9.2019

Oxford University Dictionary 2019 Stranded https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/stranded. Accessed 26.9.2019

Rowson, M. 2019. On the collapse of Thomas Cook. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/picture/2019/sep/23/martin-rowson-on-the-collapse-of-thomas-cook-cartoon. Accessed on 25.9.2019

Wall, D. 2019. Finland’s international students stumble over residence permit roadblockshttps://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/finlands_international_students_stumble_over_residence_permit_roadblocks/10954730. Accessed 27.9.2019

Wall, D. 2019. “I’m broken, depressed”: Foreigners struggle to find work in Finland. https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/im_broken_depressed_foreigners_struggle_to_find_work_in_finland/10641139. Accessed 27.9.2019

 

hydeclan@arcada.fi