Justifying in the Local Public Sphere: Newspaper Representations of Encounters between Citizens and Cities in Finland and in France
Sociology University of Helsinki Helsinki, Finland
Participatory democracy being the fashionable remedy for the shortcomings of current governing systems, plenty of media attention is directed to processes of deliberation between citizens and government. In the framework of a comparative research on local democracy and the public sphere in Finland and France, I examine newspaper articles concerning local disputes and deliberation between citizens, and officials and politicians, in Helsinki and Lyon. What kinds of disagreements attract attention and how do the local media treat them? What kinds of arguments are in use to justify differing views in local conflicts? What convergences and differences occur in the two contexts and how to explain them?
I tackle these questions by analyzing newspaper articles of local conflict issues in one newspaper in each context, during a period of six months. I carry out the comparative analysis with a scheme adapted from Luc Boltanski's and Laurent Thévenot's (1991) theory on orders of worth and justification. I have adjusted this theoretical scheme to empirical analysis basing on the method of political claims analysis (Koopmans & Statham 1999). This combination enables a political claims analysis that results with detailed understanding on the nature of local disputes: What is at stake, and what do different actors judge as legitimate arguments to solve a local controversy? From the part of the citizens, is it bare NIMBY, or a more complicated set of argumentation? How do officials and politicians justify their arguments to the citizens?
The local coverage of citizen-city interaction in the newspapers was, however, not all about conflicts; it was often about avoiding a conflict. Participatory democracy, as represented in newspapers, seems to need plenty of eulogies: How well events of deliberation came off, how satisfied citizens were of information they were dutifully given. I argue that there are issues specific to both contexts that almost never were treated as conflicts in the media, but that the reports functioned as implicit conflict dilution. I reflect upon the themes that seemed to form issues of deliberate non-conflict in the two contexts, juxtaposing them with my ethnographic and interview data on the same contexts.