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Politics and the rhetoric of identities: a discursive analysis of the BSE debate

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posted on 25.11.2010, 10:04 by Jacqueline Abell
This thesis considers how politicians' constructions of identity change in the context of the EU ban, imposed upon the import and export of British beef in 1996. This ban was introduced on the basis of reports of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encepathalopathy) in cattle and its possible links with occurrences of CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease) in humans. The data is taken from two sources. The first concerns 3 debates that occurred within the House of Commons on 20 March, 25 March and 20 June 1996. The second is an article written by Malcolm Rifkind (Foreign Secretary, Conservative) for the Sun newspaper (31 May 1996) about the EU ban. Previous social scientific research has noted the shift in emphasis from health to national identity in media reporting about BSE in the context of the ban. However, little attention has been paid to how and why such shifts occur in discourse and if these trends are apparent in political debates at this time. Adopting a discursive psychological approach to analysis, this present work examines the rhetorical functions of these shifts from health to national identity. However, rather than regarding identity as a fixed mentalist notion, it is argued that identity can be understood as a communicative resource in the accomplishment of social actions in talk. Billig et al (1988) have noted how the construction of national identity concerns the management of ideological dilemmas of prejudice and reasonableness. Thus, if politicians construct the national identities of Britain and Europe in negotiating blame for BSE, they should attend to the dilemmatic elements of their talk. How can politicians convincingly allocate blame to Europe for the BSE crisis and at the same time manage his/her own `reasonable' identity? Alternatively, how can a politician from one side of the House assign blame to members of the opposition for BSE, and at the same time avoid presenting oneself as a biased party predictably blaming the other? This thesis considers how issues of accountability and identity construction are inextricably linked in political discourse about BSE.



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


© Jacqueline Abell

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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