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The Stunning Ease of The Politics of Outrage

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The world has been witnessing a scary new political communication/mobilization phenomenon: the routine deployment of the politics of outrage by tiny groups of individuals...but  with epic consequences. And what is amazing is how stunningly easy it is to get this going. Consider, if you will, the emerging structure of the phenomenon:

  1. Somebody living in one of the liberal democracies of the West decides to test the limits of free speech by deliberating insulting the Holy Prophet in some way. They don't need to write an entire novel or make a full length movie.  A cartoon is enough or the trailer of a movie.
  2. These days, the Internet does the rest: the provocation acquires the capacity to go  global.
  3. Within the great Islamic community of the faithful are those just watching out for these provocations, rubbing their hands, and saying with Clint Eastwood: 'Make my day!' They take the largely obscure provocation and bring it to the attention of the entire community of the faithful.

Quote of the Week: Samuel Brittan

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“The biggest obstacle to reform is that insiders can devote time and energy to maintaining their position.  For ordinary citizens, political reform is a sideshow that hardly repays such efforts.”

-- Samuel Brittan, Financial Times, July 5, 2012, Nil desperandum in the fight against crony capitalism

The 'Deep State' Confronts the Accountability Revolution

Sina Odugbemi's picture

I believe that we can all agree that an accountability revolution is sweeping the world. More governments are facing pressure from citizens to be accountable and are being held accountable. All major institutions, including those in the private sector, face greater and greater scrutiny. Even major media organizations are being embarrassed and held accountable. If in doubt, just ask Rupert Murdoch.

Yet, what is perhaps the profoundest obstacle in the path of efforts to make governments (and major institutions) more responsive and accountable to citizens is the phenomenon sometimes known as the ‘deep state’.

Quote of the Week: Tony Blair

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"One of the perils of modern politics is that we are engaged in "the era of the loud-mouth". There is an interesting debate – in the west particularly – between the politics of the anger and the politics of the answer."

-- Tony Blair. As quoted in the Financial Times, June 30/July1 2012. Tony Blair: an exclusive interview, by Lionel Barber.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Johanna Martinsson's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

AudienceScapes
New Platforms, New Public Opinion?

"With the continued growth of new communication media and technologies, the public opinion and research sector is abuzz with equal doses of optimism and skepticism for its future. In a world of falling response rates and increasing costs for phone and face-to-face surveys, does this new frontier ask us to merely measure the chatter on Twitter and Facebook or does it reframe the definition of public opinion itself? This is among the many questions challenging the Digital Team here at InterMedia." READ MORE

DFID Research for Development
The engagement of women's movements with religion: legal reform in Anambra state, Nigeria

"Campaigning by the women's movement in Anambra State was instrumental to the introduction of a new law in 2005 designed to prevent the maltreatment of widows. Religion is often implicated in gender inequality and discrimination against women, but religious leaders and organizations played key roles in this campaign. The case study enabled the researchers to address the questions of when, why and how religious actors facilitate rather than obstruct legal reform intended to realize women's rights." READ MORE

Bring in the Clowns: Humor in Political Communication

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Late one night in the capitol city a mugger wearing a ski mask jumped into the path of a well-dressed man and stuck a gun in his ribs. "Give me your money!" he demanded. Indignant, the affluent man replied, "You can't do this - I'm a Member of Parliament!" "In that case," replied the robber, "give me MY money!"

Sometimes all you can do when you hear the latest news from the political stages all over the world is – laugh. Actually, laughing is a good thing in politics. Humor has become a major vehicle for political information. Political commentary in late night shows and political comedy have become an important part of political communication. Humor helps to transmit information and messages in a way that dry news formats probably can’t do.

Quote of the Week: Václav Havel

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

"Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better in the sphere of our Being as humans, and the catastrophe toward which this world is headed, whether it be ecological, social, demographic or a general breakdown of civilization, will be unavoidable. If we are no longer threatened by world war or by the danger that the absurd mountains of accumulated nuclear weapons might blow up the world, this does not mean that we have definitively won. We are in fact far from definite victory.

We are still a long way from that 'family of man;' in fact, we seem to be receding from the ideal rather than drawing closer to it. Interests of all kinds: personal, selfish, state, national, group and, if you like, company interests still considerably outweigh genuinely common and global interests. We are still under the sway of the destructive and thoroughly vain belief that man is the pinnacle of creation, and not just a part of it, and that therefore everything is permitted. There are still many who say they are concerned not for themselves but for the cause, while they are demonstrably out for themselves and not for the cause at all. We are still destroying the planet that was entrusted to us, and its environment. We still close our eyes to the growing social, ethnic and cultural conflicts in the world. From time to time we say that the anonymous megamachinery we have created for ourselves no longer serves us but rather has enslaved us, yet we still fail to do anything about it.

Modes of Punditry, Modes of Influence

Sina Odugbemi's picture

As the global system endures another round of crisis, leaders and policy makers in many countries are under pressure. The tip of the spear ---barring riots and protests -- tends to take the form of inflamed punditry: on air, on line, and on newspaper op-ed pages. Since we live in an age of volubility, or what someone calls the paradox of plenty in the global media, punditry is everywhere these days and yet most of it is of dubious quality. The outlets for punditry grow exponentially every week. The question, though, is this: how do we assess the quality of the massed punditry that we are being bombarded with these days?

I see at least two categories of influential pundits:

Answering the Right Questions

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

In good governance circles, we love to champion accountability tools: citizen score cards, civil society-local government linkages, participatory budgeting, etc. They sound wonderful on paper, and frequently work well off paper, but one can sometimes detect a certain weariness on the part of the supposed recipients/beneficiaries of these tools. These initiatives may be effective at times, but they simply don't address the underlying power structure, development practitioners often hear. What is one supposed to do about the shadowy but real network of frequently unaccountable elite, particularly in the context of a developing country that features a culture of impunity and lacks deeply rooted institutions of accountability?

Yes, The Revolution Will Be Televised. Now What?

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

In a media landscape saturated with images of tweeting revolutionaries and blogging dissidents, it's easier than ever to assume a causal relationship between the spread of technology and political revolution. But take a closer look, and the issue begins to look a lot more complex.

An informative and timely new essay by Marc Lynch, an associate professor at George Washington University and prolific commentator on Arab media and political issues, deftly sums up the main arguments, contradictions and knowledge gaps surrounding the impact of information and communication technologies (ICT) on the phenomena collectively referred to as "the Arab Spring." Entitled "After Egypt: The Limits and Promise of Online Challenges to the Authoritarian Arab State," (subscription may be required), the piece implicitly argues for abandoning the usual "optimist/pessimist" trope that plagues such discussions, favoring instead a more nuanced and complex perspective on the impact of ICT in authoritarian states. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, I agree - see this previous post.)

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