Base, Superstructure and the Irish Property Crash: Henry Silke

The “Great Western Crisis” starting in 2008 has reinvigorated much debate on capitalist crises and causation, Marxist scholars have long debated crisis theory falling into a number of major theoretical positions, at a crude level they can be divided into three (sometimes overlapping) major positions: that is the theories of financialisation, overproduction/underconsumption, and the tendency of the rate of profit to decline. This paper discusses the role of communications and the media in capitalist crises drawing from the literature of both crisis theory and communications theory to investigate the relationship. The paper discusses the role of communications and the media on two levels, firstly on a functionalist level, that is how communication tools and channels play a role in the dissemination of information and secondly on an ideological level of how media can play a role in normalising market and class relations including support for elite political policies. The paper returns to the concept of base and superstructure noting a strong dialectical relationship between economic base and media and communications superstructure that can be found in trends of media concentration, media crisis and media work practices. The paper also discusses the dialectical relationship between media, markets and the wider economy….

…As discussed in Marxist literature, the broader economic base including the relations of production have a dialectical relationship with the various superstructures of society (including the state and the media). The tripartite relationships between the state, the media sphere and powerful economic interests may act to reinforce class relations and economic trends including periods of economic crisis. This is at least partially because the media—through ownership, institutional practice, alongside content, agenda setting, and overarching ideologies—tends to act to defend or at least defer critique of the economic and political system it is based on…

…The paper looks at the Irish economic crisis to explore these issues by briefly investigating the Irish Times and Irish Independent (two key political and economic papers in the Irish Republic) treatment of three key points in the downturn: The Irish property market on the run up to the 2007 general election (on the cusp of the crash); the blanket bank guarantee of 2008, where the state effectively guaranteed the debts of the entire Irish banking system in its totality, and finally the introduction of the National Asset Management Agency, a state sponsored bad bank aimed at cleaning up the (then) private banking industry…

…While media effects is a contentious issue amongst academic researchers, the empirical findings informing this paper point to the conclusion that that overall blanket positive coverage of the property market, the downplaying of the oncoming crisis and more fundamental deep seated ideology of housing being first and foremost a commodity has had some effect. In May 2007, the lack of critical analysis of either the residential or commercial property markets even on the cusp of a major crash meant that the newspapers at best failed in their normative watchdog role and left society and state ill prepared to deal with the outcomes. At worst, the papers could be considered to have been the ideological mouthpiece of the property industries, that is as uncritical “in-house” journals that privileged and pushed policies beneficial to the narrow economic interests of property developers, financiers, speculators, landlords and estate agents. The papers even if they were unaware of their obvious bias towards industry actors seem to have been so blinded by neo-liberal ideological assumptions that the concept of market “self-regulation” was above question.

The newspapers dependence on sourcing from the property industries coupled with a close economic relationship to the industry poses obvious questions around impartiality and independence, questions that neither newspaper group have sufficiently answered since the crash. Overall it is very likely that the coverage of housing in 2007 contributed to the housing bubble itself, the newspapers highly ideological defence of the market at a time of both heightened awareness and a critical juncture in the political cycle may have acted to reassure buyers and speculators, moreover the newspapers concentration of attention on stamp duty reform rather than key structural issues underlined assumptions of “market self-regulation” and that all would return to “normal” post political “interference” on the market; again acting to reassure market actors that the “normality” of bubble economics would continue. Moreover the newspapers framing and promotion of stamp duty reform in 2007 helped push the policy to the top of the agenda and see its eventual realisation. Stamp duty of course proved to be a red herring as the policy of abolition was enacted and did not prevent the crash. The view that the print media elongated the property bubble is supported by Julien Mercille’s (2013) research which also found a hugely favourable view of the property market before 2008 that he maintained sustained the rise in house prices…

…It could be argued that now with the onset of a severe housing crisis alongside the “tsunami of homelessness” (RTE News 2014) we are reaping the fruits of a non-critical media sphere. The coverage of housing throughout the crisis seems to have remained wedded to the market with the assumption that only private developers and private markets can supply housing leading therefore to discussion of how to best remove “market barriers” for the benefit of the aforementioned actors (much like 2007); the basic questions around how satisfactory housing policies may be achieved have rarely been discussed outside these parameters. Likewise, the newspapers treatment and framing of other political policies such as the blanket guarantee and NAMA most likely had some affect. There were some exceptions to this, in particular in some opinion pieces. However, the key trends and frames point to a “captured press”, that is, a press in service of a narrow class based interest. The Irish crisis with the fundamentally important role of the print media therefore acts as an exemplary case study of the base-superstructure relationship between the mass media and the market economy. The Irish experience concurs with much critical theory on the role of mass media in capitalist society in terms of economics, power and politics and seems to verify the long suspected role of the media as a structurally important part of the modern capitalist state rather than an objective “watchdog” holding truth to power…

…The links between super-structure and base are of long standing interest in Marxism; that is the dialectical and reflexive relationships between the economic base, economic actors, class relations and the superstructure of the state and various aspects of civil society. Two key elements of the superstructure are institutional political processes and institutional media processes. There are many other elements of the superstructure such as education, religion and various state and cultural organisations, however media and politics are two important elements of the superstructure coming from both state and civil society (Gramsci 1971/2003), and it would seem two of the more overtly political elements in the structures of power, and most importantly they represent two elements where cracks of agency may just exist.

Likewise in the wider base both media and communications play an indispensable role in the commodity circuit. This paper proposes a move towards a Marxist crisis theory of communications that would attempt to link the various aspects of the base-superstructure relationship in a holistic fashion. It is important to state that the relationship between ideological, institutional and material factors should not be considered as artificially separate spheres but rather as overlapping parts of a totality, which act to influence each other, moreover, all of which are “born into” particular historical and social structures. We make our own history but not in the circumstances of our own choosing. Likewise, while we have agency over our ideas they cannot be separated from pre-existing ideological structures. The base-superstructure concept is a tool, therefore, that allows us to attempt to deconstruct various elements of society at work and investigate their influences over other elements. The base or material factor generally is key as it is upon the material structures of society and economy that the political and ideological structures rest; however as discussed above there are periods when the superstructural elements can be more influential and this subjective element liberates us from an overly deterministic outlook and allows at least some political agency.

The full paper is available here

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Media, Markets and Crisis – Towards a Crisis Theory of Communication

The mass media, advertising and ICT play an increasingly important role in both market systems and capitalist crises. This role directly impinges on the dissemination of information to market actors as well as the reflexive and dialectical nature of the processes by which actors respond to market information. Further, the media serve as an ideological apparatus, resource or arena which acts to naturalise the market through what this research describes as a market orientated framing mechanism (Preston and Silke 2011).

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Thompson (2003) contends that communication is an integral and reflexive part of the contemporary market system. As he puts it, there is a complex relationship between the producers and distributors of economic information, and those who use that information to make decisions about investment and trade. Many recent studies point to the convergence of flows of information such as those on 24 hour news channels, business channels and internet blogs and sites with market activity itself. For Hope, (2010) information broadcast on such media by bankers, stockbrokers and traders themselves tends to be self-serving and inevitably leads to ‘a real time feedback loop that proliferates then contributes to the growth and collapse of speculative bubbles’ (Ibid p. 665). Finally, we must note how the mass media also play a pervasive and important role in the commodification process through advertising and indeed comprises a part of the circulation of capital itself (Garnham 1979, Fuchs 2009). This research reflects the Marxist concept of base and superstructure, beyond a perceived notion of economic determinism, but rather as a dialectical relationship between various superstructures, in this case the state and the media, and the economic base including the various aspects of class power inherent within.

Since the onset of the ‘great recession’ there have been key debates around various aspects of crisis theory, most notably around the areas of the rate of profit (Brenner 2009, Kliman 2012), under-consumption/overproduction (Clarke 1990) and fiancialisation (Duménil and Lévy 2004). This research maintains that communications and the media are a key though non-deterministic element of the contemporary market system and proposes a move towards a crisis theory of communications.This paper explores theoretical aspects of the evolving role of the media with respect to deep and prolonged financial and economic crises, especially the ‘Great Western’ crisis since 2008.

As empirical reference point and by way of case study, the paper considers three key moments in the Irish economic crisis and their treatment by sections of the mainstream press media: The Irish property market in the run up to the 2007 general election on the cusp of the Irish crash, the blanket bank guarantee of 2008, where the state effectively guaranteed the debts of the entire Irish banking system in its totality, and finally the introduction of the National Asset Management Agency, a state sponsored bad bank aimed at cleaning up the (then) private banking industry. The paper uses these examples to consider the role of the media and its relationship to both the markets and political policy.

A crisis theory of communications, looking at dialectical relationships between economic structures, trends and crises and media content.

Henry Silke 2014

This is an abstract for a paper to be presented at ECREA 2014, Lisbon Portugal

 Bibliography

Brenner, R.  2009.  “What is Good for Goldman Sachs is Good for America: The origins of the Current Crisis,”  Prologue to the Spanish Translation of Economics of Global Turbulence, Akal.    IN: Economics of Global Turbulence.  Madrid: Akal,

Clarke, S. 1990. The marxist theory of overaccumulation and crisis. Science & Society, 54(4), pp.442-467.

Duménil, G. and Lévy, D. 2004. Capital resurgent: roots of the neoliberal revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Fuchs, C. 2009a. Grounding critical communication studies. Journal of Communication Inquiry,

Fuchs, C. 2009b. Some theoretical foundations of critical media studies: Reflections on karl marx and the media. International Journal of Communication, 3pp.369-402.

Garnham, N. 1979. Contributions to a political economy of mass communication. Media, Culture & Society, 1(2), pp.122-146.

Hope, W. 2010. Time, communication and financial collapse. International Journal of Communication, (4), pp.649-669.

Kliman, A. 2012. The failure of capitalist production: underlying causes of the Great Recession. London: Pluto Press.

Preston, P. and Silke, H. 2011. Market ‘realities’: De-coding neoliberal ideology and media discourses. Australian Journal of Communications,

Thompson, P.A. 2003. Making the world go round? communication, information and global trajectories of finance capital. Southern Review, 36(3),

Manufacturing Consent – Media Panel at the Anarchist Book Fair 2014


DABFRabble300wAudio from the Media panel on Manufacturing Consent at DABF 2014


Just how good are the mass media at keeping the rabble in line? This panel from the 2014 Dublin Anarchist Bookfair explores the media’s complicity with the rich and powerful and what we can do about it.

Speakers:
Julien Mercille, lecturer at University College Dublin, talked about Irish media coverage of the housing bubble and economic crisis in Ireland since 2008.

Henry Silke, curator of the Critical Media Review blog, discussed the structural aspects to news production and the ideological aspects of the media response to the crisis.

Mark Malone, long-time participant in anarchist/radical projects and co-producer with The Live Register media collective, looked at what, if any, recent changes in communication tech offers media activism in support of social struggles

 

Journalism, Ideology and the Markets: The Irish Media and the Property Crash

The role of the Irish media in the property crash and following economic crisis is again hitting the headlines with a Sindo special edition promised this Sunday (10/11/2013); the Irish Left Review has also recently published an interesting piece on the role of the media by Bryan Wall on the fifth anniversary of the banking guarantee, while research from UCD’s Julien Mercille into the media’s role in the property crash continues to attract interest here. In light of this renewed interest CMR will post an article previously unavailable online on the role of journalism, ideology in market crises published in Look Left. This article considers the role of communications and media in crises of capital focusing on the Irish crash. Other articles on the property crisis by the author are available here.

First Published in Look Left magazine, September 2012

Click on the images to enlarge

look left cover housing article cover

Silke 2012 Journalism, ideology and the Markets  pg 1

Silke 2012 Journalism, Ideology and the Markets pg2

Silke 2012 Journalism, Ideology and the Markets pg 3

Major International Communications Conference to be held in Dublin June 2013

Crises, ‘Creative Destruction’ and the Global Power and Communication Orders

IAMCR 2013 Conference, Dublin City University, Dublin, 25-29 June 2013

The conference theme centres round the concepts of crisis and “creative destruction”, with connotations of historically-rare periods of intensified flux and challenge, accompanied by all-round or multi-dimensional processes of innovation.

Thus, this theme invites reflections and papers addressing whether or how the current deep economic/financial crisis and its attendant gales of “creative destruction” may engender various shifts in the geo-political and communication order. Examples include considerations of whether and how the current crisis may serve to:

.a) Reshape the roles, operations and key features of mediated communication services,institutions and practices, as well as enhancing the role of social media forms and practices;

.b) Amplify tendencies or shifts towards new geo-political configurations, including, including an enhanced role for the communication and cultural industries in the operation of global power and hegemony.

.c) Accelerate change in the nexus of ‘new’ and ‘mature’ media institutions and their associated practices, cultural forms, and and policy frameworks;

.d) Accelerate the search for new and more relevant theories and concepts in the expanding and rapidly diffusing field concerned with the study of mediated communication.

For more information:

http://iamcr2013dublin.com/
Call for papers:

http://iamcr2013dublin.com/call-for-papers

Market ‘Realities’: Decoding Economic Ideology in the Press – Paschal Preston & Henry Silke DCU

[T]he superstructure depends on its economic foundations.  But it is necessary to emphasise the fact that the superstructure operates retroactively on its base.  The retroactive superstructual influence in no less important than the influence of the base itself.  The historical process can only be explained by observing the interaction of the two.  They do not affect each other mechanically or as externally independent factors; they are inseparable moments of a unity.

(Franz Jakubowski 1976 p. 57)

Introduction

In the current economic and political crises the mass media continue to play an important role in both political and economic discourse. Therefore how the news media treats the economic crises and its political aftermath is of some importance. The authors maintain that current neo-liberal ideological assumptions have an influential effect on contemporary news and financial journalism and that the latter, in turn, serve to shape the course of economic and financial processes. They maintain this is important as neo-liberal ideologies are not separate from the material world but can have real effects in terms of state policies and business strategies. Moreover, neo-liberal assumptions may have blinded journalism to potential crises related to market contradictions and bubbles.

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Property, Property, Property!

“Nothing exciting – or dangerous – is in prospect for the (property) market    over the next two or three years”  –  Marc Coleman (Economics Editor); The Irish Times, March 1st 2007

The current economic crisis in Ireland, though deeply rooted in Ireland’s role as a dependent economy in the European periphery, is primarily a crisis caused by the property bubble and subsequent crash. The Irish mass media, most notably the press, played an important role in the lead up to the crisis both as cheerleaders and beneficiaries of the property bubble.  All major Irish newspapers include lucrative property supplements, and both the Irish Times and Independent News and Media made substantial investments in property listing websites. Unsuprisingly, the mass media and especially the press were uncritical of the hyperinflation of housing cost. In fact in the journalistic frame of housing as a speculative commodity (rather than social nessesity) price inflation was reported as a positive.  Irish Journalism, blinded by market ideology, against all historical evidence, seemed convinced that the market would slowly deflate into the much vanted ‘soft landing’.

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