- Top of page
- STUDY 1: PRODUCTION OF WAR/ANTI-WAR DISCOURSE IN PARLIAMENTARY SPEECHES
- STUDY 2: RECEPTION OF ARGUMENTS IN A GENERAL POPULATION SAMPLE
Recent research has questioned the traditional assumption that populations inevitably rally round their national leaders in times of war and suggested instead that whether this occurs depends upon political communication and mass media coverage. In this study, we provide systematic analysis of the debate in Scotland over the invasion of Iraq in 2003. We examine how the conflict was construed as either for or against the national interest, and how the way this is done is linked to different dimensions of context. First, we provide a mixed-methods analysis of debates in the Scottish Parliament. We show that anti-war speakers from Scottish separatist parties map opposition to the war onto a series of collectively consistent and temporarily flexible categorical oppositions, starting with a familiar antinomy between Scottish people and British rulers (before the invasion), and then shifting to broader oppositions between subjugated people and imperial powers (after the invasion). By contrast, speakers from other parties appear less consistent and less flexible in the nature of their arguments. Second, we examine the opinions of a population sample on the war, how these opinions relate to understandings of Scottish identity and how the media context is pivotal in the translation of anti-war opinions into votes for separatist/anti-war political parties.
- Top of page
- STUDY 1: PRODUCTION OF WAR/ANTI-WAR DISCOURSE IN PARLIAMENTARY SPEECHES
- STUDY 2: RECEPTION OF ARGUMENTS IN A GENERAL POPULATION SAMPLE
Many social scientists have noted that outbreaks of war are typically periods where populations tend to rally more easily round their government as a symbol of the nation. An early and resolute advocate of this view was Nelson Polsby who argued that wars ‘invariably’ increased the popularity of US Presidents ‘regardless of the wisdom of the policies he pursued’ (Polsby, 1964; p. 25). Subsequent and more systematic time-series analyses of monthly polling data seemed to support this hypothesis: Mueller (1970) and Kernell (1978) both found empirical evidence of short-lived increases in presidential support at the outbreak of international crises.
However, the consensus about rally effects was shaken by the work of Baker and Oneal (2001). Using a broader set of variables and more flexible analytic techniques, they challenged the view that US incumbents always gain popularity in wartime. Lai and Reiter (2005) produced similar results from the United Kingdom. While there may have been strong rally effects around the Falkland and Gulf War, there were no such rallies in the case of the Korean, Suez, and Kosovo wars as well as for other, non-violent crises in which Britain was involved.
What is more, even within the United Kingdom, there may be major variations in the extent to which people rally to the cause of war. While there was as huge rally effect throughout the United Kingdom during the invasion of Iraq in March and April 2003 (Lewis, 2004; Rallings & Thrasher, 2004), Scottish elections on 1 May 2003 resulted in a loss of six seats for the ruling Labour Party and an overall net gain of five seats for Scottish separatist parties that took a position against the invasion. Moreover, this discrepancy between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom in public opinion towards the war endured for years afterwards.1
So, what determines whether, when and where rally effects do (or do not) occur? Baker and Oneal (2001) suggest that it comes down to the nature of political communication and the ability of incumbents to command the media agenda. Lai and Reiter propose that ‘[R]allies seem most likely and largest after the nation has been clearly attacked or challenged and when vital national values are at stake’. Importantly, although, they continue by admitting that ‘it is difficult to delineate uncontroversially what is and is not the national interest’ (Lai & Reiter, 2005, p. 266). Hence, it is possible to combine the two approaches and argue that rally effects depend upon political debates concerning the relationship between war and the nation. That is, rallies will occur when incumbents prevail over their opposition and succeed in presenting war policies as an expression of the national interest. Conversely, rallies will fail when oppositions prevail over incumbents and succeed in presenting war policies as either alien to or else unassociated with the national interest.
This, of course, simply raises the question of what determines who prevails in debate. Many factors will be involved, not least who has access to or control over the means of communication. Our focus, however, lies more on the relationship between the contents and the contexts of political communication, than on its media coverage or scope of dissemination. We root our argument in a growing literature which suggests that the ability to achieve influence and to mobilize popular support is a process of social identity management whereby speakers present themselves as being of the group and acting for the group (e.g., Augustinos & De Garis, 2012; Haslam, Reicher, & Platow, 2011; Klein & Licata, 2003; Reicher, Cassidy, Wolpert, Hopkins, & Levine, 2006; Reicher & Hopkins, 1996, 2001). Leaders, that is, should be seen as ‘entrepreneurs of identity’ (Reicher & Hopkins, 2001).
In common with the basic assumptions of social identity and self-categorization approaches, we suggest that the ways in which people adopt and define social identities are tied to social context (Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987). However, in line with the identity management approach, we see ‘context’ as something which is not self-evident or directly imposed, but rather as something which is also actively constructed and whose consequences can handled, or at least inflected, by collective action. Accordingly, to be effective, those who seek to mobilize or consolidate support need to construe context or adapt their proposals so as to make them more ‘fitting’. In other words, the management of context is a key feature of identity entrepreneurship. As we will develop, members of the political elite can (attempt to) manage the contexts of their speeches through a variety of strategies: by reshaping facets of context over which they do have some control (e.g., by drawing selective attention to particular contextual knowledge available within their audience, or by coordinating rhetoric strategies among political allies so that each single speech appears consistent on the backdrop created by other speeches) and by adapting their rhetoric to facets of contexts beyond their control (e.g., by reframing non-essential arguments when the external course of events changes, or by incorporating specific associations or connotations that are rendered particularly salient or plausible by concurrent public debate or mass media coverage).
Our central concern in this study is to examine this proposition in relation to the question of rally effects. That is, we aim to show how the debate over whether to support or oppose a war, and whether the war is consonant with (or else dissonant to) the national interest, is linked to the construal of the specific context in which the debate occurs. To this end, we present an analysis of the controversy in Scotland surrounding the 2003 invasion of Iraq. We address the issue from two perspectives. First, we look at the way that political elites, during debates about the invasion in the Scottish Parliament, either adapted their rhetoric to the wider context of these debates or actively reconstrued this context. Second, we look at the way in which a representative population sample responded to the invasion as a function of the context of reception. Before we go on to describe these studies in more detail, however, it is necessary to be more explicit about the way in which we understand the term context and the various ways in which category constructions can be contextualized.
Four dimensions of context
We address four different aspects of context in our analysis which we refer to as narrative context, argumentative context, chronological context and receptive context.
Narrative context: the relationship between category constructions and systems of knowledge which are chronically available to the intended audience
The relationship between political elites and their audiences does not occur in social and historical vacuum. The wordings or metaphors which allow condensing a political position or appealing to common values are embedded in a broader context of chronically accessible phrases and symbols. The way national history is taught in schools, the cultural icons of nationhood, the celebrations of national events, even the monuments to national heroes, all bear upon the way in which speakers are able to construct nationhood (Reicher & Hopkins, 2001). The narrative context hence concerns the way in which texts are able to draw upon broadly shared understandings of the social world to anchor their approach to the specific issue of debate (Moscovici, 1961/2008). One example might be the way that the first Gulf war of 1990 was construed as the fight of the civilized world against one demonic tyrant (the so called ‘new world order’ rhetoric of George Bush senior) by anchoring it in World War 2. This was achieved in many ways, some direct and some more subtle such as photos of Saddam Hussein which trimmed down his moustache to look more like Hitler's (see Herrera & Reicher, 1998). Our emphasis here has to do with the contextual availability of widely disseminated and well-understood narratives of war and of the nation which can be used to make sense of contemporaneous events, to establish either that conflict does or does not serve the country.
Argumentative context: the relationship between any single contribution and the overall body of contributions in a debate
It is important to address not only how category constructions relate to systems of knowledge accessible to the intended audiences but also how they relate to what political allies and rivals communicate concurrently on the same issue. The argumentative context hence concerns the tripolar relationship by which any given contribution to the debate refers to other contributions. Consistency among ruling elites or epistemic authorities (Bar-Tal, 2004) is pivotal to the transformation of individual opinions into social facts. It is even more important for those who are contesting a dominant consensus category constructions to converge to a collective point of view, which consistently addresses or contests the rival points of view (Mugny, 1982). One would expect such minorities to spend particular rhetorical effort in making explicit and contesting the terms of debate.
Chronological context: the relationship between category constructions and the constraints imposed by a changing course of external events
At the same time as category constructions need to be consistent, speakers also need to avoid being seen as rigid especially in response to the unfolding nature of events under consideration. The world is never static. War, in particular, characteristically involves rapid and significant change. Hence, chronological flexibility is particularly important in the way that war is represented. Perhaps the most obvious shift occurs from before to after the outbreak of hostilities – when a ‘phony way’ turns into a ‘shooting war’. At this point the interests of the nation characteristically become concretized in the interests of the troops and any critical argument which can be portrayed as undermining or endangering these troops becomes particularly risky (Baker & Oneal, 2001; Lai & Reiter, 2005). For this reason, we would again expect flexibility to be particularly important in the case of opposition rhetoric.
Receptive context: the relationship between category constructions and other interpretations brought simultaneously to the audience through other channels of communication –, notably via the mass media
Elite constructions do not exhaust the field of communication, especially when it comes to important events such as a war. Audiences navigate through a rich and complex set of voices and the likelihood of any one voice (e.g., political leadership) being heard depends upon the extent to which it is corroborated by the other voices to which individuals are exposed. The people one talks to, the television programmes one watches and the paper which one reads all frame the reception of what the politician says. There are two important senses in which this dimension of context differs from the others that we have outlined. First, unlike the other three which have to do with what happens within the political debate, this fourth dimension has to do with (and must be studied from) the perspective of audience members. Second, the importance of these other voices, particular mass media voices, is that we know them to be heard by many people and hence they do not only tell us what to think but also tell us what type of knowledge other people like ourselves (who read the same papers and watch the same programmes) have access to. In other words, they communicate common references and social norms as well as opinions. It is this normative aspect which may be particularly important in framing how we act in relation to the topic of concern (Elcheroth, Doise, & Reicher, 2011; Paluck, 2009). To be more concrete, the step from holding anti-war opinions to acting against the war depends upon information indicating that ones viewpoint is shared, or at least shareable.
Background to the case study
As we have indicated, our analysis addresses the relationship between war debates and these four dimensions of context through a study of Scottish responses to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. There are two reasons on choosing Scotland for our case study. First, as mentioned above, opposition to the invasion was more prevalent in Scotland than elsewhere in the United Kingdom and hence it was possible to conduct a more balanced analysis of pro- and anti-war positions in the debate. Second, nationhood is more troubled and contested in Scotland – a situation reflected at the structural level in the shifting constitutional settlement between Scotland and England. Since the set up of a devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether the devolved settlement is adequate,2 whether the parliament should have greater powers or whether there should be full independence. Furthermore, if the issue of how Scottishness relates to Britishness is at the top of the political agenda, it is equally salient at a psychological level (Sindic & Reicher, 2009). If one is to rally round a flag, should it be the (Scottish) Saltire or the Union Jack? Should they cheer their athletes as part of a British team (as at the Olympic Games) or as part of a Scottish team (as at the Commonwealth Games)? As Rutland, Cinnirella, and Simpson (2008) have pointed out, both categories are chronically available. This makes Scotland a particularly promising place in which to examine how national categories are construed and how these are used to argue for or against war.
We provide systematic analyses of how the Iraq invasion of 2003 was understood in Scotland, respectively, by elites and by the overall population. The first part includes all the contributions to four Scottish parliamentary debates about the Gulf War which occurred between January 2003 and June 2004 – a total of 106 interventions, defined as the full contribution of one individual member of parliament to one of the four debates. Note that at the time of the 2003 Gulf War, there was a campaign for election to the Scottish Parliament (only the second time people had gone to the polls since the formation of the Assembly).3 This allows us to see how the Gulf debate related to the electoral debate and hence makes particularly clear how wider understandings of the world are invoked in making sense of war.
Each parliamentary intervention was coded for which debate the speech was drawn from; for the party membership of the speaker (and hence whether they were pro-independence or not); for the overall moral argument (or arguments) being made, and for the categorical structure of the conflict (in other words who was against whom in the war). Using Multiple Correspondence Analysis (MCA) we then examined (1) the type of categorical structure that was invoked to support pro- and anti-war positions, and the extent to which these structures were rooted in the broader political culture (i.e., links to narrative context); (2) consistencies and differences between different contributors to the debate (i.e., links to argumentative context); (3) shifts in argument and in categorical structure over the course of events – especially between the pre- and post-invasion debates (i.e., links to chronological context).
In the second part, we turn from elite discourse to popular understandings of the war, to analyse the constituency context of the political speeches. The study is based on data from the Scottish Social Attitude (SSA) survey of 2003. We analyse how anti-war and pro-war respondents express their own nationhood and how the translation of individual anti-war positions into electoral support for the anti-war separatist parties relates to their exposure to mass media sources (i.e., links to receptive context).
In combination, the two parts of the study are so designed that they allow us to see whether and how narrative, argumentative, chronological and receptive contexts structure and/or are restructured by both the production and the reception of Scottish political discourse concerning the 2003 invasion of Iraq.