Posts Tagged ‘research’

Disengaged citizens

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The Mellon Media & Citizenship Project at the School of Journalism and Media Studies was recently host to Dr James Arvanitakis, senior lecturer in the Humanities at the University of Western Sydney and member of the University’s Institute for Cultural and Society.Dr Arvanitakis spoke to the School of Journalism and Media Studies about his research on citizenship amongst marginalised Australians, and you can here snippets of that presentation here.

Dr Arvanitakis’ research areas include hope, trust, political theatre, piracy and citizenship. James has worked as a human rights activist throughout the Pacific, Indonesia and Europe. He is currently working with the Whitlam Institute looking at issues confronting Australia’s democracy. His latest book, Contemporary Society: A sociological analysis of everyday life, was launched with Oxford University Press in February 2009 which gave rise to ‘socio-logic’ – a weekly radio show on FBI Radio (94.5fm). A regular media commentator he has published widely including The Punch and New Matilda.

James was a former banker and advocate for free trade, but having witnessed child and indentured labour, has worked  to develop sustainable, socially just and equitable economic policies with organisations such as the Centre for Policy Development, where he is a research fellow. James has worked extensively with a number of non-government organizations, including Oxfam International Youth Partnerships and Youth Engagement Program as well as Aid/Watch, as well as working extensively with a number of other justice-based organisations.
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Youth identity, the media and public sphere in South Africa

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Over the last year members of the Mellon Media & Citizenship project have been involved in various ways in a SANPAD funded project investigating the relationship between youth identity, the media and the public sphere in South Africa. This ground-breaking research provides some interesting findings about the way in which young people use the media, their relationship with politics and political activity, and the way that the media shape their political and civic identities.

Using both qualitative and quantitative research methods, the aim of the study was to investigate the way in which the media shape youth identity, both political and civic, and whether the media reflect the voices of the youth. An extensive survey with close to 1000 young people in  South Africa, as well as a content analysis of South African media, focus groups with young people across a range of settings, and document analysis were all carried out by researchers across South Africa who contributed to the report.

Perhaps the most significant results are the fact that while most young people consume news media and use the news media in their daily lives, they do not find the content relevant to them or their situations. Trust across the media was significantly high, but trust in politics and political institutions was significantly low. There is an interesting (perhaps contradictory) relationship between the use of media, and trust in the media, but a sense from young people that it does not actually talk to their lives and their contexts.

What is clear from the results is the fact that young people feel they are not being heard or spoken to by either the news media or political stakeholders. Both the media and political stakeholders (including policy makers, civil society, NGO’s, political organisations and policy advocates) should use this research as  a means to better understand how they can engage with young South Africans in a more meaningful and participatory way.

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Researching media and citizenship amongst South African youth

What is my role as a South African citizen?

Can I make a difference?

Am I able to effect change?

The above questions implicitly confront every citizen on a daily basis and the answers to these questions will affect the qualities of individual citizenship. However, these questions are difficult to answer and when they explicitly confront the citizen he or she may well find it difficult to formulate an answer.

The ‘Media and Citizenship’ initiative of the Mellon Foundation Humanities Focus Area at Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies has embarked on on joint project with the ‘Study of Youth Identity, Media Use and Consumption and the Public Sphere in South Africa’ funded by the South Africa Netherlands Project on Alternatives in Development (SANPAD). This joint project looks at how citizens make meaning of citizenship and scrutinises their use of the media in South Africa’s democratic evolution. The mode of investigation into these issues will take place by means of focus group discussions which will be held in Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth, Alice, East London and Johannesburg.

The project forms part of a larger national project funded by SANPAD which investigates the ways in which the media help to shape the identities of South African Youth. The Mellon-funded ‘Media and Citizenship’ project looks specifically at the media and its connections to citizenship, and our involvement with the larger SANPAD-funded project attempts to widen the range and extent of the SANPAD research and data set. Approximately 1000 people between the ages of 15 and 36 from the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal have already participated in the survey conducted by the ‘Study of Youth Identity, Media Use and Consumption and the Public Sphere in South Africa’.

The purpose of the joint venture between the two projects is to explore some of the issues which were brought to the fore in the SANPAD-funded survey in more depth by creating spaces in which South African citizens of various social, cultural, and economic backgrounds can have their say about the issues which affect them and the greater South African society. The focus group discussions also look at the way individuals navigate and make use of the media in order to become involved in not only community but also national issues. Furthermore the discussions will look at the way in which people acquire information and how they make use of that information in order to connect with other people. The discussions will also attempt to determine how the acquired information assists citizens to become active in their community.

The information gathered in these various locations across the Eastern Cape and Johannesburg will hopefully provide a deeper understanding how the complex dynamics involved in the way in which citizens process information.

In the last few weeks the ‘Media and Citizenship’ group have discussed the importance of ‘listening’ as well as the creation of ‘listening spaces’ with specific reference to the work done by Tanja Dreher. In a sense the focus group discussions become a created space where listening can take place not only between the different participants who are engaged, active and responsive in the process, but it is also a space where the interviewers will be in a position to listen to the information provided by the participants and to interpret and report the views expressed.

  • Focus group discussions have already been conducted in Grahamstown and are at present being conducted in Alice and East London. The Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg focus groups still have to be held.

Media And Citizenship – Between marginalisation and participation

All research starts in personal biography and experience, in fact it’s one of the benefits of the academic world that this environment gives one the permission to turn the most perplexing questions of one’s life into legitimate research.  And one of the issues that perplexes me most about my own life – at this point in our post-apartheid, post-colonial democracy – is the condition of my citizenship, the status of my belonging and what I’m bonded to or not bonded to. I remind myself often of the words in the preamble to the Constitution: “We, the people of South Africa … believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it” [my italics]. These are extraordinary, encompassing, generous words, and I often think “What were the drafters of the Constitution thinking? Were they drunk on post-apartheid freedom in that moment?” But maybe the move from the word “believe” in the preamble to the following paragraphs that deal with “citizens” (and therefore rely on the legal provisions of who and what a citizen can be) underlines the shift from an expansive idealism (as the apartheid shackles were thrown off) to a tying down and making functional for a bureaucratic reality (and increasingly so as we leave behind that giddy moment). We are, after all, talking about the difference between a sense of “belonging” and a right to assert myself as a voter and a client of the state.

If you want to study these conditions in order to understand them better, belonging seems to sit in the fields of psychology and anthropology and citizenship perhaps more with politics and sociology. But if you’re located in media and journalism studies (and especially if you’re located in education and are working with young South Africans) you know that these two conditions have an important, if strange, relationship because they crop up in and through our public conversations captured by journalists and other media workers. I’m very interested in how we talk about who we are, how dismissive we are of those who’ve “abandoned” us in this experiment of nation-building, how we allow racialised public talk (and sometimes extremely vicious forms of public dissing) to destabilise our journey towards creating new forms of belonging and bondedness, how we construe our very different relationships to our state (and its encumbent government with its liberation legacy), and how we do and don’t do this through the media we make in this country.

So if these issues preoccupy you too (whatever their shape or form) this is the space and an invitation to join our conversations.

By: Anthea Garman

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