Blame, responsibility and positioning in the global financial crisis: A critical analysis of US, UK and Australian newspaper opinion texts

Jennifer E Cope

PhD, conferred 2016

Despite a huge amount of media focus on the severity of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and its far-reaching repercussions, existing literature has paid little attention to the actual language used to express blame and responsibility during the GFC. Nor has the literature considered how countries affected to differing degrees by the GFC might have shaped this expression. This study contributes to the scholarly literature in understanding how authors of newspaper opinion texts from the three cultural contexts of the US, the UK and Australia discursively positioned themselves during the critical panic stage of the GFC in 2008, and attempted to position their readers, through the discourses of blame and responsibility. It is one of the first studies to attempt to differentiate between the concepts of blame and responsibility.

To investigate positioning in the opinion texts, the study carried out contextual and textual analyses. The contextual level analysis considered the impact of factors such as the settings of the texts, author identity features, and the main text topics. The textual level analysis considered individual blame and responsibility communication strategies. The sample consisted of thirty-six texts, each written by a different author. Texts were drawn equally from a financial newspaper and a general daily newspaper in the US, the UK and Australia. The analyses revealed how contextual factors contributed to shaping the discourses in the opinion texts, and to positioning. Frequency counts on the textual level were high overall for blame and responsibility communication strategies, and spread quite evenly between countries. A greater proportion of blame was expressed than responsibility, although the expressions of responsibility were substantial. Qualitative analysis found that the types of objects blamed and types of actors of responsibility in the GFC were comparable across countries. Differences, however, were found between the construction and positioning of the GFC in the three countries. The US texts, for example, constructed and positioned the GFC as a predominantly US phenomenon, because the majority of blamed objects and actors of responsibility were based in the US. In contrast, the Australian texts constructed the GFC as a global phenomenon, from which Australia was relatively protected; this was because blame was attributed to more objects outside of Australia, whereas responsibility was accepted for more actions taken within Australia.

This study provides theoretical, methodological and pedagogical contributions. It differentiates between the negativity of the blame strategies and the positivity of the responsibility strategies, with implications for both critical and positive discourse analysis. A pedagogical approach is suggested for English language learners to develop their critical literacy skills, for a deeper understanding of opinion texts. A further significant contribution is the Positioning Model, developed from the results of analysis in this study, which can be applied in future discourse studies.

Supervisor: Dr Marie Stevenson