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Tracking discoursal shift in news media representation of economic inequality: developing and applying corpus linguistic and critical discourse analysis methods

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - DINEQ (Tracking discoursal shift in news media representation of economic inequality: developing and applying corpus linguistic and critical discourse analysis methods)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-08-31

Economists have documented that, since the 1970s, the UK has become a more unequal society, the gap between the richer and the poorer growing systematically from then onwards. Today, there is more relative poverty in the UK than 40+ years ago, and wealth is distributed in a more polarized way, with the top 10% of UK citizens owning 100 times more than the bottom 10%.
In this economic context, one may ask how the UK has reached such a situation, not just to understand the process, but, more importantly, to identify some of the bases on which relevant agencies might try to slow it down and even reverse it, in the interests of a fairer allocation of resources for all UK citizens. This matter is important for many observers simply on moral or ethical grounds. But in addition to ethical considerations, it has been robustly demonstrated that people who live in more unequal conditions have worse health and social relations: life expectancy, mental illness, obesity, violence or drug use and abuse are just some of the factors that become affected by economic inequality.
Although economic inequality is addressed by economists, sociologists and political scientists, linguists can and should contribute to the debate, because inequality and a toleration of inequality, is in part maintained through the discourses a society deploys. In this sense, arguments on the role of newspaper discourse have developed since the late 1980s, with critical linguistics analysts claiming that news media not only report thoughts and actions in society, but also contribute to society attitudes and expectations towards different issues. This means that newspapers may also have contributed to changes in the way society thinks by representing new attitudes and beliefs as habitual, the new normal and common sense, and thus making society less resistant to such changes. Turning back to the problem of economic inequality, over the last 50 years it is arguable that certain influential British newspapers may have changed the way their readers are encouraged to think about the rich and the poor, what is fair and unfair and what in the prevailing circumstances the state can reasonably do and cannot.
In this context, the overall aim of DINEQ has been to look for a discursive change in the way that the right-of-centre UK press has represented economic inequality and related matters since 1970s. The focus has been placed on the right-of-centre press because it has been assumed that these newspapers represent a broad rightward-moving socioeconomic trend that is more approvingly with the economic and societal changes just mentioned.
DINEQ has reached its goal by performing a corpus-informed discourse analysis of the representation of economic inequality in the right-of-centre UK press. By now, the fellow has particularly looked at the representation of maternity leave as a state benefit, in the belief that this (like any other state-backed benefit in the UK system) helps in mitigating wealth inequality. The first step consisted of building a set of news stories about maternity leave in the Times and Daily Mail as representative samples of a broad, rightward moving, socioeconomic press in the years in which UK introduced significant changes in this state provision. These new stories were obtained from online sources and formatted to be processed through software tools that allow the analysis of big linguistic data. The second step consisted on comparing the frequency of use of economic terms in these stories. The strongest difference came in the use of afford, whose use was incremented by 5 (in relative terms) in the late 1990s/early 2000. The final step consisted on a contextual analysis of all the uses of afford in these stories, in search of underlying ideologies. The close reading of these has revealed a considerable opposition in these newspapers to the introduction of new entitlements for women with new-borns, a hostility that was not apparent when improvements to maternity leave provisions were first introduced in the 1970s.
The fellow has communicated the findings of her work through the following publicly-oriented resources:

1. Project website and blog that can be accessed through www.dinequality.com. The website includes a blog where she has posted the main project activities undertaken. It uses a non-specialized language, as it is oriented towards the general public.
2. Twitter account: the fellow has publicized every change in the project website though her academic twitter account (@emgomezjimenez).
3. Public workshop: on 25th April 2018, the fellow and Prof. Michael Toolan organized a public workshop at the Public Library of Birmingham (Centenary Square, Birmingham), freely available to anybody interested.

During the fellowship period, the fellow has disseminated internationally the results of the project through the publication of 1 peer-reviewed paper in Discourse, Context and Media, a high-impact journal specialized in CDA, CL and media communication. She has also disseminated the results through the following international conferences and research meetings, where she has given peer-reviewed talks and invited talks respectively:

IWODA: INTERNATIONAL WORKSHOP ON DISCOURSE ANALYSIS. Santiago de Compostela (Spain). 2018.
22ND SOCIOLINGUISTICS SYMPOSIUM. Auckland (New Zealand). 2018.
X INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON CORPUS LINGUISTICS. Cáceres (Spain). 2018.
APPLIED LINGUISTICS: RESEARCH SEMINAR. University of Swansea (UK). 2018.
STYLISTICS AND DISCOURSE ANALYSIS READING GROUP. Centre for Research in Applied Linguistics. University of Nottingham (UK). 2018.
2017 BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOR APPLIED LINGUISTICS CONFERENCE. Leeds (UK). 2017.
INTERNATIONAL CORPUS LINGUISTICS CONFERENCE. Birmingham (UK). 2017.
ELR SEMINAR SERIES. University of Birmingham (UK). 2017.

The fellow and Dr. Michael Toolan organized an international symposium on inequality discourses in the media. This was held on 15th June 2018, at the University of Birmingham, and included talks by specialists in the field. The symposium welcomed more than 30 attendees. A book proposal containing the papers resulting from this symposium has been accepted by Bloomsbury to be published in 2019.
DINEQ has been the first project to explore a broader and dispersed discoursal change relating economic inequality in UK. This pioneering research has shown that the discourse surrounding wealth inequality in the right-of-centre press has not kept the same as in the 1970s, with results suggesting that wealth inequality is displayed in the latter years as inevitable and placing the new stories in the trend of a neoliberalist, hegemonic discourse. The methodology used in DINEQ assists in the investigating of linguistic shifts in the discourses of economic inequality, but it may also be applicable to the study of other forms of inequality or discrimination of interest to CDA researchers. This methodology permits a diachronic approach to the study of ideology and power, and so it can be used by a wider community of linguists and communication scientists to further our understanding of discoursal changes over longer periods of time.
The training and knowledge obtained during the fellowship period has allowed the fellow to gain a temporary position at the department of Modern Languages at the University of La Rioja (Spain), where she is working at present.
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