Discourses, Actors and Citizens in the Communicative Construction of Conflicts : The Catalan Case
Gagnon, Alain-G., with Marta Montagu, Carlota M. Moragas-Fernández
Beyond being a dispute of great magnitude, which since 2010 has confronted the Catalan government and the Spanish state, the Catalan political conflict is also a conflict constructed through the media. That is, the Catalan conflict is a mediatized conflict, in which the logics and the tempo of politics and media have been overlapping and intermingled. Moreover, the Catalan case presents other features that make the situation even more complex in terms of communication : (1) the coexistence of two similar but territorially differentiated media systems ; (2) the high level of politicization of both public and private media ; (3) and the existence of a mobilized civil society that has become a key actor of the conflict by organizing demonstrations and other offline and online mobilization actions.
Two years after 1 October 2017 the conflict is currently at its tensest political and social moment, since the prison sentences for Catalan leaders were announced on 14 October 2019. This special issue of the Catalan Journal of Communication and Cultural Studies sets out that, despite the fact that a major dispute is still underway and a political solution has yet to be found, scholars can provide significant insights on the communicative aspects of the Catalan case. The issue, entitled ‘Discourses, Actors and Citizens in the Communicative Construction of Conflicts : The Catalan Case’, aims to do so by gathering different studies that deal with what could be a paradigmatic case of a media-built conflict.
As Guest Editors, we are aware that the flames of the conflict could lead to a chronological lack of distance when analysing it, but we also believe that scholars can contribute to the reflection on the political situation with an approach that can stand above the media ‘noise’ of the last two years. Actually, as we will elaborate on, political polarization and hence discursive polarization constitute a clear backdrop for the creation of two political communities, the independentist and, similarly, the unionist, who have constructed a space for an intense discussion and political debates taking place within their own borders.
These two communities have been fuelled by their media of reference (Micó and Carbonell 2017 ; Almiron 2018 ; Valera-Ordaz 2018) and the dynamization role of social media, where citizens have found a path of their political activism online, either through the publication of tweets, the viralization of iconic images of the conflict or the use of humorous resources such as memes. This sort of activism has also been materialized through the work of civil society organizations, who have acted as first-order mobilizing agents and, therefore, have become key political actors in the configuration of the public debate in Catalonia (Crameri 2015). These organizations have occupied a media space that has sometimes overlapped or gone beyond the traditional role of political parties. The exceptional nature of the Catalan conflict has also had a media impact at the international level, but the information on the political situation in Catalonia was either adapted to the territorial context of the foreign country that was covering it or covered with the restrictions imposed by the standard/usual journalistic routines, where the centrality of institutional and political information sources and the use of the generic framework of conflict have downplayed the complexity of the Catalan case.
All in all, despite also being seen as a useful conflict-solving tool, communication is an active component of the conflict itself. So, it is paramount to study how media articulated the conflict and the way in which politicians and citizens made use of them for achieving their political engagement or objectives. Since we cannot understand the communicative dimension of the conflict without paying attention to the context in which it is taking place, the following sections present a brief contextual note on the Catalan case and on the arguments of the contending blocks to finally go back to the role of media, as a means for introducing the articles that make up this special issue.