The role of discursive opportunity in contesting public issues: the struggle over food security discourse

Farley, Isla (2019) The role of discursive opportunity in contesting public issues: the struggle over food security discourse. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Organisations wield extraordinary power in contemporary society. Much of this power is exercised through the strategic use of language as a variety of actors and organisations compete with each other, and with governmental authorities, to influence the political system (Hoffman & Ford 2010). The discursive struggles that take place around contested issues such as modern slavery, climate change and global food security can be conceived of as public issue framing contests (Dahan & Gittens 2010; Ryan 1991). The extent to which organisations are able to engage effectively with discursive opportunities presented by the socio-political context affects the level of influence they have on the outcomes of such contests (Koopmans & Statham 1999). Consequently, some are able to play a much more prominent role than others in shaping public discourse and influencing how shared global challenges are responded to, including what resources get deployed, where, and by whom (Boin et al 2008). This thesis takes a critical perspective on discourse in organisations in order to explore how issues of power and political agency affect the relative capacity of different organisations to engage with discursive opportunities to influence the outcomes of public issue framing contests.

The study adopts a discourse analytic approach to explore organisational discourse around the highly contested issue of agricultural biotechnology as it relates to wider debates about global food security. Deploying a frame analysis methodology developed by Creed et al (2002) to deconstruct the communications of four focal organisations, the research identifies key themes and frames, exploring explicit frame clashes, implicit frame conflicts, and contested frame elements as they emerge. Investigating how the frames are put to work in the public arena, the analysis examines three periods of intense struggle in the public debate over agricultural biotechnology. It reveals how competing organisations engaged with discursive opportunities offered by the wider socio-political context to shape public understandings of agricultural biotechnology as a response to the issue of global food security.

Three important theoretical outcomes emerge from the research relating to i) the relative political agency of different organisations in relation to discursive opportunities, ii) how organisations engage with stable and volatile discursive opportunities, and iii) the role of discursive opportunities in the struggle for discursive space. Specifically, the research demonstrates how the strong traditional power-base of corporations facilitates their engagement with stable discursive opportunities, reducing their need to engage with more risky volatile discursive opportunities. In contrast, the limited traditional power-base of CSOs compels them to engage with volatile discursive opportunities. Whilst risky, this can in fact facilitate the differentiation of claims from their corporate framing competitors, counteracting frame co-optation and creating space for discursive struggle. The analysis identifies and newly theorises ‘opportunity framing’ as an effective means of responding to volatile discursive opportunities. Whilst much of the framing literature de-politicises the framing process, the current research provides a more nuanced understanding of how discursive opportunities facilitate and constrain the framing attempts of organisational actors with distinct interests and agendas.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Caruana, Rob
Pouryousefi, Sareh
Keywords: food security; public debate; agricultural biotechnology; corporate discourse
Subjects: H Social sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > Nottingham University Business School
Item ID: 56178
Depositing User: Farley, Isla
Date Deposited: 24 Jul 2019 04:40
Last Modified: 07 May 2020 11:31

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