Feminism – a matter for pioneers?

Feminism is an important issue that concerns not only women but society as a whole. Feminism is difficult to define, as it is as ideologically contingent as it is an economical, sexual, and political question. Whereas some feminists would say that the best way to promote women is to encourage higher education in order to get higher paid jobs, others claim it is better to increase minimum wages and conditions in the public sector where many women work. Others believe feminism is a done deal in Western countries and is needed only in less free countries. Therefore I will stick to a definition I think most would agree on; that it is about equality between women and men. And that is far from yet achieved in the west.

When Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State in 2009 she allegedly mentioned women 450 times during her first five months. That means a new dawn for feminism in international politics, as no other politician as powerful as her has made women’s rights a linchpin of foreign policy. Now odds are that Hillary Clinton will be the next American president and establish feminism on the American and international agenda. Therefore, I decided to take a look at a feminist campaign in the big country in the West.

A campaign made by UN Women released in the USA uses the Internet to reveal how the world really feels about women. Google search is programmed to show popular searches in a drop-down as a word is being typed in, and this function is used by the campaign.
Even though the searches were made in Dubai, there were allegedly many similarities with the U.S results. It is indeed depressing:

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What this campaign aims to do is to portray how down right misogyny is as world-encompassing as Google. These opinions are typed in everywhere and among all peoples, as the women’s different ethnicities symbolise. It is a global issue but the solution lies within the individual – the responsibility is not only international actors’ such as the UN or a future American Ms. President:

“Of the three major psychological groups – Pioneers, Prospectors and Settlers – only the first are likely to “think globally and act locally”. The others tend to see the international framing of the problem as denoting that the solution has to be by ‘international actors’ like presidents and prime ministers, that it is ‘not people like us’” (Rose 2010:29)

Pioneers are by Chris Rose defined as “They act as the ‘scouts’ for society, testing out and developing new behaviours. A dynamic of a model which campaigners can utilize, is that new things start with the Pioneers (IDs), may be adopted by the Prospectors (ODs), and only then are likely to be taken up by the Settlers (SDs).”(Rose 2010:29)

The campaign has an international frame and therefore realistically targets only the first group. It seeks out to Pioneers who understand that global issues can be solved on a local level if we all just scrutinise our own behaviour and prejudice, and seek to influence our closest environment to do the same. Prospectors and Settlers thus might need further guidance from Pioneers or actors like Hillary Clinton.

The campaign resonates with everyone who desires to make a change by going first. Hillary Clinton also argues with a world-encompassing framing:

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The campaign’s and Hillary Clinton’s message is that every Pioneer out there matters when it comes to raising awareness on misogyny and to educate on feminism. Everyone needs to look at themselves, be a Pioneer in their own right and try and educate their peers. With that said, I wish Clinton the best of luck in 2016.

Reference: Rose, Chris. How To Win Campaigns: Communications for Change (2010) Routledge

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Counter framing the Sweden Democrats

Earlier this week I wrote about how far-right party Sweden Democrats (SD) managed to block the Social Democratic/Green party government’s budget and create an unprecedented political crisis. Today, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven was forced to proclaim that new elections are inevitable, only four months after the change in government. As the Alliance (liberal bloc) refuses to support the government’s budget due to ideological and principal reasons, SD proclaims it will support the opposition’s budget in all future elections if the government’s budget does not include a cut in immigration by at least 50 per cent. In that way, the left/green parties and the Alliance are forced to negotiate over the bloc border if they do not want to rule by the support of SD, which creates a situation where there is no real opposition part from SD. Thus, SD has managed to outmaneuver a corner stone of democracy. Sadly, this also confirms SD’s narrative of being the only real opposition.

SD’s ability of storytelling is one reason as to why they have reached this powerful position. Another one is the “establishment’s” inability to tell an efficient counter story. After 2006, every established political party shunned SD’s topics whilst established media denounced SD in unison, either explicitly or by not taking up the discussion about immigration. Thus, SD’s frame on immigration got a stronger hold of the discourse of the issue, since they were the only ones talking about it. Campaigning specialist Chris Rose (2010:29) writes “Triggering the frame is more important than defining a particular message or argument. Once a frame is established – for example in an interview or other communication episode – attempts to argue against it are doomed.” In other words, when “the establishment” – media, established politicians and other actors – started talking immigration, the frame had already been set by SD.

Hence, one could argue that SD’s plot was unintentionally confirmed. Previously I wrote “[..]immigration has had the prefix ‘mass’ added to it, making the second and third frames consequences of this first undisputed fact. By doing so, the narrative takes the form of a choice: either we prioritise ‘mass immigration’, or we prioritise welfare and security. We cannot have both. This choice is what makes up the plot.” So when the media and established parties were standing up for values such as open borders, free movement and solidarity, they confirmed that immigration indeed was at a ‘mass’ scale, and that it was massive consciously. This is exactly how SD wanted to it to be discussed since values such as solidarity and open borders are not embraced by everyone, no matter how hard one tries persuade them. Instead of  countering the frame itself early on (that we don’t have to choose between immigration and welfare/security) by explaining how integration was going to work out and how it was going to be funded, the counter story was told in the same way as SD’s story’s moral; that we have to take sides in terms of values.

Giving SD the opportunity to set the frame around the discourse on immigration can explain how they went from being a scolded peripheral party to Sweden’s third biggest. As disheartening as it is that 13 per cent of Swedish voters do not agree with values such as free movement, one must not forget that the large majority do.
I believe the only way to persuade SD’s voters to leave SD is for the “establishment” to take voters’ concerns on immigration more seriously, and explain how immigration and maintained welfare/security indeed do go hand in hand. Explaining how desperate people fleeing for their lives are a gain to Swedish society is distasteful, but clearly necessary. Once again, this is because it is next to impossible to try and persuade people to embrace values they do not have – one can only seek to tap into values that are already there. If that means speaking of immigration in economical and not only moral terms, so be it. Putting labels on your opponent is not an argument, at least not one that seems to work. This way “the establishment” could undermine the David/Goliath metaphor, as they do not fall in the trap of acting elitist and morally superior. Hopefully then SD would lose the casting vote in parliament and let go of the choke hold on Swedish politics.

Below is Swedish PM 2006-2014 Fredrik Reinfeldt (from the Moderate Party, a liberal-conservative party which deeply values generous immigration policies) pleading to Swedes to “open their hearts”. As noble as his speech is, he did fell into the trap of confirming SD’s frame and made it into a question of values.
Unfortunately this video is from a far-right channel (hence the comments and suggested videos) but it is the only one I could find with English subtitles. This shows in the translation as well, as his actual speech is less dramatic.

Narratives: Sweden Democrats vs. Goliath

Today it is impossible to write a blog post about anything other than the political crisis Sweden just plunged into. Far-right Sweden Democrats has decided to vote against the budget proposed by the Social Democratic/Green Party minority government in tomorrow’s vote, which means the opposition’s shadow budget will win and create political chaos. This is a development as unexpected as it is expected. As PM Stefan Löfven threatens to resign, the opposition blames the government and the government the opposition. It is safe to say the ‘establishment’ is stunned. How could this happen?

Ever since the Sweden Democrats (SD) became a player to be reckoned with (around 2006 when the party first reached parliament) they have portrayed themselves as ‘Davids’ against Goliath – with Goliath being the “establishment”. By ‘establishment’ I refer to politicians, journalists, cultural personalities and others active on the Swedish political scene who discountenances the Sweden Democrats. The ‘establishment’ is however SD’s own wording/framing and should only be used with that kept in mind. This “establishment” has shunned SD in every way, concurrently as support for the party has grown exponentially. This has put Sweden in a situation where neither blocs (social democratic and liberal) can reach majority, leaving SD with the casting vote. Thus, their position has gone from peripheral to central, and as we have seen today; very powerful.

Featured imageSDU’s (Sweden Democratic Youth) president Gustav Kasselstrand: “David has just won against Goliath.”

This development can be analysed using SD’s and the “establishment’s” stories and counter stories. Doing so, light can be shed on how usage of narratives can lead to political influence. Firstly, I will describe SD’s narrative of Sweden, and then how they have used this narrative to create the David/Goliath story about themselves. Secondly; due to lack of space my next blog post will be devoted to the “establishment’s” counter frame instead of cramming that into this one.

By using frames, SD has created a narrative about Sweden. There are three notable frames:

  • Immigration is on a level that is irresponsibly high- it is now ‘mass’ immigration. This is hurtful for Sweden’s a) national identity c) safety b) general welfare.
  • Crime needs to be battled; with tougher sentencing in particular.
  • Conditions for the elderly need improving.

As different as the three may seem, together they make up a coherent story. The immigration frame conditions the story as it brings the frames together. Due to ‘mass immigration’ the welfare system is crumbling; Sweden can no longer afford to keep the truly deserving, such as the elderly, fed and warm. With immigration, Sweden is also importing crime and unrest. Thus, each frame tells its own story, which in turn fits into and reinforces the larger narrative (Afoko, Vockins 2013:8). In this case, immigration has had the prefix ‘mass’ added to it, making the second and third frames consequences of this first undisputed fact. By doing so, the narrative takes the form of a choice: either we prioritise ‘mass immigration’, or we prioritise welfare and security. We cannot have both. This choice is what makes up the plot.

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“Cuts in pensions or immigration? You decide. It is Your country – Your choice!”

The characters of the story are the protagonists/heroes and antagonists/villains. The protagonists are the Swedes who were once the losers of globalisation, but today are defenders of everything Swedish and the “folkhem” (Swedish political concept, refers to a welfare state based on a midway between capitalism and socialism). The antagonists/villains are mainly the actors who make up the “establishment”. These are portrayed as having taken Sweden away from the Swedes, by letting immigration change and bankrupt the country. As journalist/researcher Daniel Poohl eloquently puts it, the approach is a sledgehammer blow: first it is swung upwards, towards Stockholm and the elite, and then it falls back to hit minorities and immigrants. All in one blow. Thus, protagonists can identify themselves with an empowering us against a them. This leads to the moral of the story: at some point, everyone have to take sides. We cannot protect everyone, but we have an obligation to protect what is “Swedish”.

This story is powerful in its simplicity. It is a story in black and white, and unfortunately success in politics is often about delivering an easily understood story. Furthermore, the narrative of a choice with only two alternatives is more efficient when it comes to easy votes than providing a more honest and holistic account of society, since complicated causality, short-term losses/long term gains and uncertainty will not win as many votes. Many voters are simply not enough interested in politics and economics to follow a line of reasoning too far, which makes politics an art of keeping balance.
To conclude, SD has created a narrative of a party made up of Davids, a strong metaphor of the righteous underdog that is the only real oppositional voice in society. Goliath is the big and powerful establishment that is patronising and elitist, but underestimating of David. Today, SD is Sweden’s third biggest party and has indeed blindsided the establishment. This is much due to their ability to tell a consistent, memorable, and simple story; one that clearly paid off, most profoundly so today.

To get a clear visualisation of SD’s story, check out this ad from the 2010 election:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkRRdth8AHc

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In my next blog post I will analyse the counter frame and discuss how it could have lost so much ground.

Reference: Carys Afoko and Daniel Vockins 2013 ‘Framing the Economy’ report by the New Economics Foundation

Poohl, Daniel: “SD framme vid sitt mål – och nu sluter nazisterna upp” Published in Dagens Nyheter 18/12/14. Collected 18/12/14 http://www.dn.se/kultur-noje/kulturdebatt/sd-framme-vid-sitt-mal-och-nu-sluter-nazisterna-upp/

Theories of Change and the WWF Chemicals and Health Campaign

This blog post is dedicated to theories of change, an abstract concept that is quite difficult to explain without being either too narrow or too broad. I will therefore try and deconstruct an actual campaign and use it as an example of how theories of change can be interpreted and used. The campaign in question is the WWF Chemicals and Health campaign from 2001 as described by Chris Rose in How to Win Campaigns 2010:298.

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Theories of change (ToCs) are, in very simplified terms, theories of how social change occurs. It can (simplified) be divided into

– Individual behaviour change (which means that individuals are responsible for creating social change, thus campaigners need to understand what makes individuals take action and who/what influences them) and/or

– Structural or institutional change (which means that governments, corporations etc. can impede/enforce social change, thus campaigners need to know where power lies and how it is used.)

Hence when working with a theory of change the level of the problem must be identified. However, according to Rose and scholar Inigo Retolaza Eguren (2011: 4, 18) exercising a theory doesn’t begin with identifying the problem but rather with a visualization of what could be a future reality. The reality must be possible to attain as this justifies the resources and effort put into the campaign.
Hereafter the campaigner must identify the agents of change; these are the people who will be affected by the change or who are already part of the reality they wish to influence.

The WWF campaign was indeed focused on institutional change, but it also shows that institutional/ structural change and individual behaviour change are neither absolute nor incompatible. It was launched at a time when the EU was in the process of legislating “REACH”: Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals. Thus one of the goals of the campaign was to ensure the legislation passed, which would safeguard a better, yet attainable future by institutional change. This established the EU as a key agent of change, alongside other key actors such as the chemical industries and of course ordinary citizens.

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The campaign adopted the search-discover-act format as framing of the campaign, which means that the consequences of a discovery tell the story rather than the actual discovery. The campaigners agreed that a “wish list” of dangerous chemicals to ban would lead to deadlock as “toxics” already had been a topic for years, and feeding the public with more figures would have little additional effect. Also, it would had played on the strengths of the chemical industries as the issue would have developed into a “their experts” vs “our experts” issue with little sense made for the public. Therefore, the WWF and campaigners searched for chemicals in the human body, which added a human touch to a scientific and inherently difficult matter to most people, and they did indeed discover that our bodies were polluted.

The campaign was very successful as people all over Europe got their bodies tested for chemicals and 160 000 people signed petitions for the EU to act. The REACH legislation passed; as a result of the campaign or not we will never know. But the WWF campaign is an example of how campaigners successfully can make use of theories of change, as it sought to understand what make individuals take action – the thought of pollution inside ourselves – in order to mobilise the public and subsequently enforce institutional change.

References:

How to Win Campaigns by Chris Rose (2010)

Theory of Change: A thinking and action approach to navigate in the complexity of social change processes by Inigo Retolaza Eguren (2011)

Donation – today’s papal indulgence?

Today’s blog post is not exactly about campaigning, but rather a discussion about charities’, philanthropy’s, and donators’ role in society. An issue that has trended recently in Sweden is the issue of tax deductibility on philanthropic donations. One side argues that it is right of the current government (as it has done recently) to remove the possibility to deduct tax on donations, and claims that it is a modern counterpart to medieval papal indulgence.  An indulgence was a payment to the Catholic Church that purchased forgiveness for some types of sins, with the rationale that paying money for the support of good work is as good as performing good works, and good works earns salvation. Indulgence was one of the features of the Catholic Church that sparked the Reformation, as Martin Luther’s concerns regarding the practice prompted him to author his “95 theses”. (source: West Chester University of Pennsylvania, http://courses.wcupa.edu/jones/his101/web/37luther.htm)

The argument of this side is that citizens who give to charities are purchasing a cleared conscience rather than anything. Supporters claim that the state has the sole responsibility of its citizens, and it is a responsibility that civil society cannot and should not try to shoulder or even contribute to. To remove the ability to deduct tax on donations is thus the state’s way to reclaim this responsibility. As donators take it into their own hands to decide where their money will go, this side argues that society as a whole will miss out if there is no tax on it. This because paying taxes is to let the state decide where money is best spent, and the state has a better overview of society’s needs.

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The other side objects to the government’s new ruling and dismisses taxation of donations. They reasons that Sweden’s high taxes, according to the logic of indulgences, could be considered a purchase of discharge too. When confronted with a serious societal issue Swedish citizens point their finger at someone else, most likely a politician. Hence, the tax burden set them free from responsibility as they have a sense of having already contributed to society. This side argues that the ability to donate without paying taxes on top of it simply removes the tax on the actual gift, which makes society’s loss small in comparison to charities’ gain. Evidence also show that income for municipalities has been affected only slightly whereas donations to certified charities such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Save the Children have skyrocketed. This side thus asks why money given by the state’s hand is better than, or can’t be complemented with, money given by citizens’ hands.

Considering the setting, my personal view is asking why it even matters why money is being donated. Is it defensible to patronise over why people are giving their money away for good causes? The two views are not mutually exclusive; it is possible to believe in a strong government that takes responsibility of its citizens and at the same time believe that it is desirable for civic society to participate with resources as well as commitment. In the best of worlds people would be happy to donate as much even without tax deductions, but in the real world economic incentives cannot be ignored nor patronised. To believe that all citizens by extension lose out by giving people the ability to donate to good causes free of charge is just.. begrudged on behalf of charities.

Do we really want a society where we have either 1) no charities/NGOs at all, as everything that needs to be done is managed by the state or 2) only charities/NGOs that are funded by and thus controlled by the state or 3) a society that emphasises that the state comes first and civil society second? When it comes down to it, that is how one could view taxation of donations. Contributing to charities is not mandatory, but if you do contribute, you have to pay the state its cut.
Chris Rose writes “A campaigning organization is not necessarily expected to deliver huge change, but to change more than business as usual can. Normal politics is the art of the possible. Campaigning is the art of the impossible.” (How to Win Campaigns 2010:61). I believe this goes for common citizenry as well. ‘Normal’ politics can only change so much whereas civil society’s efforts are at the heart of development. If a citizen wants to contribute, whether it is with their checkbooks or with active commitment, it should not be looked down upon or questioned. Putting commitment to the state over commitment to common citizenry is just backwards.

Power, counter power and creative destruction

“If you already had the power to change something there would be no reason to campaign. Campaigning is nearly always about attempting to alter the balance of power within a situation.” (Lamb 2011: 46)

Power relations and understanding how to transform them is at the heart of campaigning. In political terms, Castells (2007: 239) defines power as the capacity of a social actor to impose its will over other social actors, and counter power as the capacity of a social actor to resist and challenge institutionalised power relations.  Castells writes about the notion of “political spaces” as institutional channels, political discourses and social and political practices, and discusses how societies change and develop by deconstruction, in the sense that old institutions crumble under the pressure of new power relationships. The struggle for power is based on Foucault’s principle that power comes from everywhere, in the sense that power is available and can make anyone a “deconstructor”.

Also economies develop by deconstruction of power relationships in the sense that new business challenge old business and tomorrow’s powerful challenge yesterday’s powerful. On-going deconstruction and rebirth unavoidably lead the thought to Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction. This concept is term in economics and political theory and describes one of the centerpieces of capitalism: growth through market evolvement. It is referred to as “creative” because it seeks to highlight the positive outcome of market turmoil; that lost jobs and failed industries (allegedly) are making space for newer, better, jobs, more productive industries, and higher living standards.

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Perhaps Schumpeter’s idea of creative destruction can be discussed in relation to Castells’s idea of renegotiation of power relationships, as it might say something about power renegotiation in social change. The main issue with Schumpeter’s notion of creative destruction is its long-term perspective. Human short-term interest is quite flippantly lost in the sake of the long-term well-being of the economy, which could seem backwards. It certainly does not console a person who just lost their job to be told that it is better for the market. Analogically, could there be a long-term/short term problem in Castells’s idea? If the problem with capitalism is that we more vividly experience  the “destruction” element (people losing their jobs due to market deconstruction) than the “creative” element (that deconstruction creates new jobs somewhere else), perhaps the opposite logic can be applied to campaigning. When citizens engage in successful campaigning we might experience more of the “creative” element, as we accomplish a change we want to see. However, what we might miss is the “destruction” element – that we might have lost something at the same time. Sometimes we do not realise exactly what until afterwards, when we miss something we did not know we had.

References:

Communication, Power and Counter -power in the Network Society by Manuel Castells, International Journal of Communication 1 (2007), 238-266

The Good Guide to Campaigning and Influencing by Brian Lamb, NCVO, 2011

The role of the media – an actor in itself. Two examples

This blog entry will use two examples to portray media’s role for creating and sustaining public opinion.

My first example is not about social movement but political crisis – bear with me. It’s about Russia’s violations of the Swedish border. Just now, a Russian submarine might have been discovered lurking about outside Stockholm. Naturally, media has been all over this. However! It is not established yet that this submarine is Russian or even there, but this does not seem to matter to the Swedish main stream media. According to media it’s there and indeed Russian, so the axe is already dropped over Putin’s head, without any sort of evidence.

My second example is about a social change campaign, an indeed fruitful yet simultaneously disastrous one. Swedish PR firm Studio Total staged a teddy bear action in Belarus a few years ago, and in short, Studio Total managed to fly into Belarus and drop 800 teddy bears with democratic messages over Minsk and then fly back again without capture. Lukashenko was of course humiliated and a diplomatic crisis was fait accompli. Now, you would think that this would be considered a victory for freedom fighters everywhere, especially in Sweden? Quite the contrary. Studio Total was portrayed in the media as attention seekers in their own right, narcissists who neglected what dictatorship means (bloggers in Belarus were arrested after posting pictures of the teddy bears) and who didn’t care if the political efforts made by the Swedish government were thrown out the window (Lukashenko closed the Swedish embassy and Swedish diplomats were refused entry in the country.) To view one of the articles (unfortunately it is in Swedish), see http://www.fokus.se/2012/08/bjorntjansten/. Nevertheless, once could also say that despite everything this action highlighted the truth about Belarus and the fact that it’s Europe’s last dictatorship. Lukashenko’s atrocities have indeed been overshadowed by the crises in Syria and Ukraine, and this changed that. It is ironic and enlightening that photos of teddy bears with messages about freedom of speech were posted on a blog and that led to the blogger’s arrest. However, the legacy of this stunt was up to the media, and the media was not affirmative.

In these cases media has become an actor in itself, who cast judgment and form public opinion in tangible ways. In the first example the turnout of the public opinion is pretty predictable, but even if the submarine can be explained (or proved not Russian!) it would not change the now blazing Swedish opinion towards Russia. As for the second example media’s judgment could have gone in either direction, maybe it just depended on who was in office that day. In this case the media also turned into an arena where the conflict between political journalists and the responsible campaigners was played out openly, with a much tilted power balance and with a certain outcome.

What could have been done differently so that the teddy bear stunt would have been considered a success? Why was their actions not seen as independent from the country that they are from? Why did Swedish media confirm Lukashenko’s view that this was Sweden’s official stance and not the actions of a single social change bureau?

We’d have to ask the responsible media channels, I doubt Studio Total has a clue.

See more:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/teddy-bears-bring-down-2-belarus-generals/

http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=83&artikel=5582606