Blame avoidance in government communication

Hansson, Sten and Wodak, Ruth (2016) Blame avoidance in government communication. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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Governments’ policies and actions often precipitate public blame firestorms and mediated scandals targeted at individual or collective policy makers. In the face of losing credibility and resources, officeholders are tempted to apply strategies of blame avoidance which permeate administrative structures, operations, and language use. Linguistic aspects of blame avoidance are yet to be studied by discourse analysts in great detail. It is necessary to develop a more sophisticated, context-sensitive understanding of how blame avoidance affects public communication practices of governments, because certain defensive ways of communicating may curb democratic deliberation in society. In this thesis, I propose a systematic approach to identifying and interpreting defensive discursive strategies adopted by government communicators in the circumstances of blame risk. I do this by engaging with a set of recent empirical data (samples of text, talk, and images produced by the British government at critical moments in the aftermath of the financial crisis of the late 2000s; field data from the backstage of British government communication), and integrating political science literature on the politics of blame avoidance with the linguistically rooted discourse-historical approach to the study of social problems. I show how reactive and anticipative blame avoidance in government communication involves the use of particular strategies of arguing, framing, denying, representing social actors and actions, legitimating, and discursive manipulation. I argue that officeholders’ discursive practices of blame avoidance should be interpreted in relation to various conceptualisations of ‘government communication’, understood within the frames of a discursively constructed ‘blame game’, and analysed as multimodal defensive performances. This is a multidisciplinary exploratory study that I hope will open up new avenues for future research into government blame games, and, more broadly, into blame phenomena in political and organisational life.

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Thesis (PhD)
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01 Nov 2016 09:54
Last Modified:
07 Nov 2023 23:57