Citizenship in a Deterritorialised World

15 Feb

Evaluate the debate about citizenship in a “de-territorialized world”. What are the elements of this debate and what is its significance for the refugees at its centre and the nations with which they are associated?

 The idea of a ‘de-territorialised world’ and the associated idea of de-territorialised citizenship has been the subject of extensive debate across a variety of academic disciplines. This essay will concentrate on the debate occurring in refugee studies to explore how arguments about citizenship in a ‘de-territorialized world’ have implications for the refugees at its centre and the nations with which they are associated.  The debate is characterised by the degree of relevance denoted to the structure of the nation state, and the citizenship rights inherent in its democratic form. It looks to examine the conceptions of space and place in refugee studies, the consequences of which play out in the development of refugee policies and representations of refugees and asylum seekers on national and international levels. Firstly, a brief discussion of concepts of citizenship and identity will be followed by a summary of the concept of de-territorialisation. The implications of a deterritorialised identity will then generally be discussed before turning more directly to address the components of the debate. Finally, a discussion of how the conceptual elements of the debate can be seen to exist in current refugee policies.

Citizenship is a political concept which has been tied to Western discourse with the emergence of the nation state in the eighteenth century. The notion of citizenship has been widely contested, for example in whether it can be considered to be a universally accepted concept.[1] However, with the increasing prevalence of global interactivity as a result of globalisation, it has been argued that the conceptualisation of citizenship can be said to extend beyond the boundaries of the state, the implications of which are the existence of a form of global citizenship not tied to individual states but to a wider human community. The changing nature of citizenship has led to a crisis for the contemporary political system for those people who exist outside state membership, which offers them security, rights and opportunities. The global refugee problem has created a crisis of stateless persons.[2]

For refugees and the nations with which they are associated citizenship is inherently linked to the construction of their identity. Liisa Makki argues ‘identity is always mobile and processual, partly self-construction, partly categorised by others, partly a condition, a status, a label, a weapon, a shield, a fund of memories, et cetera. It is a creolized aggregate composed through bricolage.’[3] Furthermore, Don Mitchell argues ‘identity thus exists as a nexus, a meeting point, not as an unchanging “thing” rooted to place, and with each historical upheaval, each new conquest, each new round of “time-space compression,” identity is radically transformed’.[4]  The continuously changing nature of a refugee’s identity can be said to be partially the result of their changing citizenship. Furthermore, there is an inherent contest between citizenship rights and human rights, of which refugees are at the centre. Institutions which seek to enforce human rights may necessarily breach sovereign rights and hence, citizenship rights. Ideally they will develop to complement each other; however, the degree of separation between dominant and subordinate states suggests this process has many challenges yet to face.

            Citizenship has become an increasingly prevalent issue as the traditional territorial boundaries of the nation state are challenged by globalisation. Democracy is seen today as the most legitimate form of self-government. A modern democratic state must exist within a bounded territory to be legitimate, and hence, be an ‘effective actor in international relations’.[5] Gaim Kibreab defines territory as ‘an actual terrain in which the activities which sustain human lives and social relationships are produced, reproduced and transformed’. [6] Information technologies and economic forces are allowing for the detachment from the constraints of state based territorial identities to obtain social membership in highly differentiated societies.[7] Mitchell suggests social and economic identities are ‘uprooted as new systems of communication and new systems of power are constructed that seem to span, rather than reinforce, the traditional power of the nation-state’.[8] These changes imply a reconfiguration of space. For Mitchell, heightened tendencies towards de-territorialisation are for many an indication of the end of the nation state and the homogenisation of global culture, as a result of homogenised product consumption.[9] Citizenship in a ‘de-territorialised world’ implies a cosmopolitan identity. It indicates a fragmented and insecure form of citizenship, with a de-territorialised belonging. The understanding of cosmopolitan forms of citizenship and identity relates directly to contemporary modern political agendas and how this de-territorialisation frames the reading of individual cosmopolitan subjectivity. It also suggests the need for strategies to cope with shifting attachments to national cultures or cultures created outside the state through ethnicity, gender, culture, etc., as well as, the need to assess the contradictions of diverse national belonging and multiple identity memberships of citizenship existing, for example, to the international community.[10]

            The debate about citizenship in a ‘de-territorialised world’ has centered on the contentious issues raised above. Its implications for refugees and the nations with which they are associated have been carried out largely in the Journal of Refugee Studies. The debate is complicated and highly nuanced depending on individuals’ areas of study and their preconceived understanding of the issues at hand. The extremes of the debate argue citizenship is either not territorially anchored, implying the existence of global citizens or indeed that it is territorially anchored and hence, remain rooted in territorially bound state structures. Proponents who argue for the former argue to varying degrees that globalisation has resulted in the loss of significance for geographically based national borders and therefore, has made mobility the mode of existence, as a result of which ‘identity has more or less become de-territorialised’, characterised by a ‘“generalized condition of homelessness”’: ‘“we are all refugees”’.[11] For proponents of a de-territorialised form of identity, mobility and displacement are the emerging general condition of human existence. Hence, ‘refugeehood is in come conditions a physical manifestation of the general condition which characterises the state we are in’.[12] For Daniel Warner ‘homelessness’ has become ‘part of all our experience’.[13] The relationship between identity and a territorial place is denied, becoming citizens of a globalised world: ‘concepts such as homeland, locality, territorially anchored national or collective identities have either become a thing of the past or lost much of their significance’.[14] Makki argues ‘now more perhaps than ever before, people are chronically mobile and routinely displaced, and invent homes in absence of territorial, national bases…through memories of… places that they can or will no longer corporeally inhabit.’[15] Malkki does not ignore the importance of place in the construction of identity but rather tries to show the direct links between de-territorialisation and identity. Sedentarist thinking, which roots people’s identity to a specific place, is said to be ‘not anchored in the objective reality of our time’.[16] This argument logically concludes that since there is no need for identity to be tied to a geographic local, there idea of displacement is a ‘misconception’.[17]

            Those who maintain identity remains territorially bound follow an essentialist conception, arguing for a natural relationship between people and places. Gaim Kibreab is a proponent of this view. He argues a person’s identity is intrinsically linked to a state structure, in a geographically bound space, which extends citizenship rights to that individual, which they voluntarily accept.  In this view geographic areas remain highly territorialised under the system of nation states, and as such, ‘there can be no deterritorialised identity in a territorialised space’. [18] Kibreab argues ‘the globalisation process has not been accompanied by opening of borders to those who are forced to flee in search of safety’.[19] Mitchell provides an example given by Doreen Massey who points out ‘we may be able to communicate across the globe by email with just the press of a button, but as we do, “somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, there’s a woman – amongst many women – on foot, who still spends hours a day collecting water”. This is the reality of “reproduction in a de-territorialised context,” a reality marked not by the end of territoriality, but by increasingly unjust reconfigurations of space.’[20] Territorially anchored identity remains the ‘basis of membership and of apportioning rights’.[21]

In order to establish de-territorialised global citizenship, it is necessary that there are international institutions to protect identity rights as well as receptive governments to accept refugees. ‘Global citizenship or cosmopolitan identity cannot be established in a spatial vacuum’.[22] Gaim Kibreab views this conceptualisation of a de-territorialised identity as located within the ‘pursuit of adventure or tourism’.[23] For him citizenship in a ‘de-territorialized’ world exists only for those who can monetarily afford it to. Inherent in his argument is that refugees are seeking safety and security in other countries, not from a globalised body. He argues that de-territorialised citizenship reduces the refugee problem to that of mobility. He contends the problem of refugee displacement is dismissed as ‘there was never a “home” in the first place’.[24] Access to employment, ‘social services, rights to freedom of movement and residence’, political participation and protection of equal treatment exists only within ‘territorially anchored identities’. [25] As such the plausibility of being able to achieve a stable ‘socially and economically fulfilling life’ outside of the state is not within definitions of known citizenship.[26]  

            The consequences of the debate are present in the development of refugee policies and representations of refugees and asylum seekers on national and international levels. William E. Connolly’s discussion of political divisions illuminates the plight of the refugee, existing outside the realm of citizenship. For Connolly the division ‘between being an illegal alien and a citizen’ is a ‘fundamental [break] which scramble[s] the spheres both as descriptions of actuality and as norms capable of integrating outcasts…and aliens’.[27] Individuals, such as refugees, who experience the loss of the protection of citizenship and, hence, part of their political identity ‘encounter expectations, resentments, demands and cruelties that systematically demean, confine and depoliticise them’.[28] Refugees who walk along these dividing lines looking for admission are outside the currently recognised forms of citizenship of contemporary life. For Kibreab there are two discernable elements of the debate which have implications for ‘the refugee problem’. They are firstly, with the concept of displacement and, secondly, with the solutions to this displacement.[29] Current international institutions solution to the refugee problem are conceptualised ‘in terms of acquisition or reacquisition of nationality’.[30]

Globalisation, although resulting in an increase in global interconnectedness, has, according to Kibreab, done little allow refugees to forge transnational identities or new identities. He concludes ‘the globalisation process has been accompanied by restrictive immigration and refugee policies,’ especially since the end of the Cold War.[31]  For Kibreab geographic spaces will continue to anchor identities, as long as ‘places of origin will continue being the repository of rights and membership’. For refugees this implies the favourable outcome is voluntary repatriation. He argues never before has the desire to ‘inhabit culturally and ethnically distinct places’ been so intensely felt, as a result of the fragmentation caused by globalisation between the first and third worlds.[32]

            Refugee protection has become increasingly complicated for state structures in the contemporary transnational world. This has resulted in restricted access by states due to the linking of refugee protection and migration management: ‘states tend to consider refugees and asylum-seekers as part of a single phenomenon of irregular movement which needs to be controlled by various repressive means.’[33] Current policies do not effectively take into account the mixed motives or different protection needs of refugees. The application of a more restricted definition for refugee status means legitimate refugees find it more difficult to achieve the status they need for the international community to protect their human rights. A lack of inter-state co-operation means secondary movements of refugees are not addressed. [34] In July 2006, The UN High Commissioner for Refugees launched the ‘10 Point Action Plan on Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration’,[35] which has since been met with mixed responses. Johannes van der Klaauw argues states are ineffectively handling mixed migratory flows, meaning refugees global citizenship status often results in them not receiving the legal and moral support they need. [36]  If de-territorialised citizenship is not recognised by the wider political community and the according responsibilities undertaken, refugees will not be provided the protection they deserve from the international community.

The debate surrounding citizenship in a ‘de-territorialised world’ has implications for the protection and recognition of refugees in the nations with which they are associated: conceptually, morally and legally. Membership to a collective of shared moral standards, validated by other states recognition, remains important for the protection of individual rights. The boundaries of the territorial state may be abstract but they are not transparent, nor are they osmotic. Gaps in monitored territory do not permit the natural movement of individuals between state structures, certainly not with support from all parties involved.


Connolly, W. E., ‘Democracy and Territoriality’, Millennium – Journal of International       Studies, vol. 20, no. 3, (1991), p. 475.

Kibreab, Gaim, ‘Rejoinder to the Replies’, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol 12, no 4, (1999),         pp. 422-428.

Kibreab, Gaim, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, Journal        of Refugee Studies, vol 12, no 4 (1999), pp. 384- 410.

Long, Lynellyn D. and Ellen Oxfeld, eds., Coming Home?, (Philadelphia: University of    Pennsylvania Press, 2004)

Makki, Liisa, ‘National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialisation of   National Identity of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees’, Cultural   Anthropology, vol. 7, no 1 (1992), pp. 24-44.

Mitchell, Don, Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing,         2000).

O’Brien, Darren J., Dimensions of Global Citizenship: Political Identity Beyond the Nation-         State, (London: Frank Cass & Co., 2003).

Turner, Bryan S., ed., Citizenship and social theory, (London: Sage Publications, 1993).

Stepputat, Finn, ‘Dead Horses’, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol 12, no 4, (1999), pp. 416-            419.

Turton, David, ‘Responses to Kibreab’, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol 12, no 4 (1999), pp.         419-422.

UNHCR, ‘Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action’, Jan. 2007,        Rev.1, [online]. Available: <;           (last visited 28 Mar. 2010).

van der Klaauw, Johannes, ‘Refugee Rights in Times of Mixed Migration: Evolving Status           and Protection Issues’, Refugee Survey Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 4, (2010),  pp. 59-86.

 Warner, Daniel, ‘Deterritorialization and the Meaning of Space: Responses to Kibreab’,   Journal of Refugee Studies, vol. 12, no. 4, (1999), pp. 411-416.

[1] Darren J. O’Brien, Dimensions of Global Citizenship: Political Identity Beyond the Nation-State, (London: Frank Cass & Co., 2003), p. ix.

[2] Bryan S. Turner ed., Citizenship and social theory, (London: Sage Publications, 1993), p. 1.

See Lucia Ann McSpadden, ‘Contemplating Repatriation to Eritrea’, in Lynellyn D. Long and Ellen Oxfeld, eds., Coming Home?, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), p. 45.

Lucia Ann McSpadden, in her study of Eritrean refugees, argues refugees have an overt consciousness of the unpredictability of political events.  She argues ‘being Eritrean was basic to their identity, but being a citizen of a Western country provided political security.’   This suggests the security which refugee’s desire is only obtainable from a state structure, which provides them with rights and opportunities through citizenship.

[3] Liisa Makki, ‘National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialisation of National Identity of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees’, Cultural Anthropology, vol. 7, no 1 (1992), p. 37.

[4] Don Mitchell, Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2000), p. 276.

[5] W. E. Connolly, ‘Democracy and Territoriality’, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, vol. 20, no. 3, (1991), p. 475.

[6] Gaim Kibreab, ‘Rejoinder to the Replies’, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol 12, no 4, (1999), pp. 424.

[7] Turner, Citizenship and social theory, p. 2.

[8] Mitchell, Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction, p. 274.

[9] Mitchell, Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction, p. 277.

[10] Mitchell, Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction, p. 274-280.

[11] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol 12, no 4 (1999), p. 385.

[12] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 386.

[13] Daniel Warner, ‘We Are All Refugees’, International Journal of Refugee Law, vol. 4, no. 3 (1992) cited in Gaim Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol 12, no 4 (1999), p. 386.

[14] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 385.

[15] Makki, ‘National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialisation of National Identity of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees’, p. 24.

[16] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 386.

[17] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 386.

[18] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 387.

[19] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 385.

[20] Doreen Massey, Space, Place and Gender (1994), cited in Don Mitchell, Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2000), p. 149.

[21] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 407.

[22] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 402.

[23] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 386.

[24] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 386.

[25] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 386, 407.

[26] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 386, 407.

[27] Connolly, ‘Democracy and Territoriality’, p. 469.

[28] Connolly, ‘Democracy and Territoriality’, p. 469.

[29] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 386.

[30] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 389.

[31] Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, p. 390.

[32] Kibreab, ‘Rejoinder to the Replies’, p. 423.

[33] Johannes van der Klaauw ‘Refugee Rights in Times of Mixed Migration: Evolving Status and Protection Issues’, Refugee Survey Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 4, (2010), p. 60.

[34]  van der Klaauw, ‘Refugee Rights in Times of Mixed Migration: Evolving Status and Protection Issues’, p. 60.

[35] UNHCR, ‘Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action’, Jan. 2007, Rev.1,

available at: (last visited 28 Mar. 2010).

[36]  van der Klaauw, ‘Refugee Rights in Times of Mixed Migration: Evolving Status and Protection Issues’, p. 59.


The Lived Experience of War

15 Feb

How have modern armies dealt with the phenomenon of war-induced mental illness?

 War is for many of those involved, but not all, a highly traumatic experience. Factors associated with an abnormally stressful environment such as constant threats to one’s life, witnessing death and destruction and the act of killing itself coupled with feelings of homesickness, the disciplined nature of life in the armed forces and the aftermath of coming home resulted in significant numbers of soldiers experiencing war-induced mental illness. The phenomenon of war-induced mental illness has been identified under multiple, changing labels throughout the long 20th century. From nostalgia, effort syndrome and soldier’s heart in the American Civil War, to shell shock in the Great War, battle fatigue and war neurosis in the Second World War, to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the Vietnam War. The prevalence of war-induced mental illness has led to greater interaction between the discipline of psychiatry and the armed forces with increasing recognition in the latter half of the 20th century and the early 21st century of the importance of good mental health in those serving and the validity of the role mental health practitioners can have. This paper will address the changes in treatment which occurred after the First World War, the Second World War, and the Vietnam War, closing with contemporary treatment methods in the Iraqi War in order to analyse how modern armies have dealt with war-induced mental illness.

The Great War was the first war in history which utilised industrialised warfare. The prevalence of war-induced mental illness in the First World War is often attributed to the more lethal nature of industrialised warfare leading to battles of longer duration placing intensive stress upon the human mind. World War One saw the implementation of mental health screening in the selection of candidates, to supposedly remove those with a predisposition to mental illness. Mental breakdown was perceived as a failure of moral character, suffering soldiers were viewed as ‘cowards lacking moral fibre.’[1] It was also concerning to military officials that ‘the presence of psychiatrists encouraged the display of psychiatric symptoms.’[2] The discipline of psychiatry was unprepared for the degree of mental illness occurring in the armed forces as the duration and nature of the warfare resulted in an increasing number of cases. Uncertain of where or how to treat the phenomenon psychiatrists lost their credibility with military officials, whose response was the court-martialling of soldiers for cowardice, solitary confinement, and disciplinary treatment. According to Simon Wessely ‘at the end of the [first world] war the ascendant view was that the war-traumatized veteran was weak and selfish.’ [3] Psychiatrists turned to the methodology of psychoanalysis, somatic treatments and physical re-education near the front lines, as mental hospitals on the home front proved incapable of effectively stabilising returned soldiers, who continued to suffer severe, sustained forms mental illness.

Commissions after the First World War concluded the best way to prevent breakdowns was not to grant the phenomenon recognition, but rather to ‘ensure that troops were properly trained, properly equipped and properly led.’[4] Consensus suggested more stringent selection processes, as well as further efforts to maintain morale and patriotic spirit needed to be implemented; however, there was recognition of the necessary role of psychiatry and an expansion of the medical field.[5] An expansion in the role of psychiatry in the military, more sites for treatment including the beginnings of forward psychiatry, where treatment occurred near the front lines, as well as an expansion of social mandate of psychiatry in society through literary and cultural writing resulted from the military’s attempts to deal with the epidemic of shell shock.

By 1943 the damaging duration of the Second World War forced the recognition of the ineffectiveness of the selection policy. The policy was abandoned in a shift from belief in prevention to acknowledgement that everyman had his breaking point.[6] Roy Grinker and John Spiegel were the proponents behind this concept, which they labelled war neurosis.  Hans Pols argues ‘army psychiatrists were treating not pathological conditions in abnormal individuals but normal reactions of perfectly healthy and previously well-adjusted individuals who had been exposed to extraordinarily stressful situations’; there was a readjustment to recognise that mental breakdown was not the result of pre-existing conditions but rather the result of environmental stresses, in which every man had a breaking point.[7] Hans Pols and Stephanie Oak argue ‘the failure of selection provided a serious challenge to the notion of that predisposing factors were critical to the development of mental health problems during deployment’, challenging psychiatrists to explore ‘other causes, such as the stresses of warfare.’[8] Military psychiatrists during the later years of the Second World War began to implement systematic treatment methods with some success.[9] William Menninger introduced the concept of stress, as impacting negatively on mental health when occurring for extensive periods. These progressions led to advancements in forward psychiatry, with the implementation three tiered recovery systems based on the idea of PIES (Proximity, Immediacy, Expectancy, Simplicity), treating soldiers suffering mental illness close to the front line with effective results.

Post World War Two there were significant changes to existing doctrines. Military psychiatry recognised the close relationship between physical and psychiatric casualties. There was a significant shift in the understanding of combat motivation with small group psychology replacing the primary group explanation of moral reasoning and patriotism.  Also, there was an understanding that refusing to grant legitimacy to the phenomenon of war-induced mental illness by denying its existence was impossible to sustain, especially for the democracies.[10] Wessely argues the ‘real “watershed”  in the conceptualization of war-induced breakdown was not reached until the second world war and the acknowledgement of the almost inescapable impact on the psyche of industrialized warfare, and not until after Vietnam that a medical label for breakdown again found favour.’[11] After the war there was a return to the concept of predisposition with the prevalence of the work of Edward Strecker, perceiving war as ‘a great leveler’[12], who placed the blame for the phenomenon of war-induced mental illness on overprotective maternal relationships.

 Military psychiatrists implemented the lessons learnt in World War Two in the Vietnam War with successful results during combat but disastrous effects in the aftermath. Limited tours of duty to theatres of war, small groups for combat motivation, forward psychiatric treatment following the PIES strategy worked effectively during the war but the number of soldiers suffering from mental illness after returning home succeeded those of World War Two dramatically. A crucial legacy of the Vietnam War was a new diagnosis by military psychiatrists in Vietnam veterans. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder brought about a major shift in psychiatric thinking, ‘the new orthodoxy was that long-term psychiatric casualties were no longer the fault of genes or upbringing, but the insanity of war itself.’[13]  The phenomenon of war induced mental illness was recognised as the result of the inherently ‘traumatogenic’ nature of war itself.[14]

Therefore, it can be surmised that the ways in which modern armies have dealt with the phenomenon of war-induced mental illness have changed extensively over the 20th century and continue to do so in the 21st century; from viewing war as a trigger to pre-existing genetic or predisposed mental illness to recognition of the abnormality of war and the stresses it places upon the human mind. The mental health consequences of war are still inadequately defined. Diagnoses remain uncertain with a lack of consensus in military psychiatry and a stigma of weakness continues to persist around displaying psychiatric symptoms in the military. The psychological consequences of traumatic experiences must be accepted as an unchanging reality and continue to be studied to not only minimise the impact of war but also understand its costs.







Pols, Hans, “War, Trauma and Psychiatry”, Australian Review of Public Affairs, (2 February 2004),              [online] Availability:  <; viewed                 18 August 2010.

Pols, Hans, “War Neurosis, Adjustment Problems in Veterans and an Ill Nation: The Disciplinary                 Project of American Psychiatry During and After World War Two”: pp. 72-92.

Pols, Hans, and Stephanie Oak, “War and Military Mental Health: The US Psychiatric Responses in            the 20th Century”, American Journal of Public Health, 97, no 12 (Dec. 2007): pp. 2132-42.

Pols, Hans, “Waking Up to Shellshock: Psychiatry is the US Military During World War II”, Endeavour,       30, no. 4 (2006): pp. 144-9.

Stone, Martin, “Shell-shock and the Psychologists”, in William F Bynum et al. (eds), The Anatomy Of       Madness: Essays in the History of Psychiatry, pp. 242-271.

Wessely, Simon, “Twentieth Century Theories on Combat Motivation and Breakdown”, Journal of          Contemporary History, 41, no. 2 (2006): pp. 271-82.

[1] Hans Pols and Stephanie Oak, “War and Military Mental Health: The US Psychiatric Responses in the 20th Century”, American Journal of Public Health, 97, no 12 (Dec. 2007): p. 2133.

[2] Hans Pols and Stephanie Oak, “War and Military Mental Health: The US Psychiatric Responses in the 20th Century”: p. 2133.

[3] Simon Wessely, “Twentieth Century Theories on Combat Motivation and Breakdown”, Journal of Contemporary History, 41, no. 2 (2006): p. 271.

[4] Simon Wessely, “Twentieth Century Theories on Combat Motivation and Breakdown”: pp. 271 – 272.

[5] Stone, Martin, “Shell-shock and the Psychologists”, in William F Bynum et al. (eds), The Anatomy Of Madness: Essays in the History of Psychiatry, p. 247.

[6] Simon Wessely, “Twentieth Century Theories on Combat Motivation and Breakdown”: p. 274.

[7] Hans Pols, “War Neurosis, Adjustment Problems in Veterans and an Ill Nation: The Disciplinary Project of American Psychiatry During and After World War Two”, Osiris, 22, (2007):p. 78.

[8] Hans Pols and Stephanie Oak, “War and Military Mental Health: The US Psychiatric Responses in the 20th Century”: p. 2134.

[9] Pols, Hans, “Waking Up to Shellshock: Psychiatry is the US Military During World War II”, Endeavour, 30, no. 4 (2006): p. 144.

[10] Simon Wessely, “Twentieth Century Theories on Combat Motivation and Breakdown”: p. 279.

[11] Simon Wessely, “Twentieth Century Theories on Combat Motivation and Breakdown”: p. 273.

[12] Hans Pols, “War Neurosis, Adjustment Problems in Veterans and an Ill Nation: The Disciplinary Project of American Psychiatry During and After World War Two”: p. 91.

[13] Simon Wessely, “Twentieth Century Theories on Combat Motivation and Breakdown”: pp. 281-282.

[14] Hans Pols, “War, Trauma and Psychiatry”, Australian Review of Public Affairs, (2 February 2004), [online] Availability:  <; viewed 18 August 2010.

Content Analysis

15 Feb

Not many people like being told their wrong. Even less deliberately ask to be contradicted. However, Barry Dick’s use of masculine specific language deliberately provokes the expression of strong opinions from his audience. Barry Dick’s “Tell Barry He’s Wrong” sports blog for the Brisbane Courier Mail Website – – offers instant opinionated analysis of sports events and personalities.  As M. Stephen’s aptly states “News is, in effect, what is on societies mind” (Wall 154), the website offers eighteen different blogs enabling viewers to interact to discuss what is on their mind. These range in topic from parenting advice to political issues to sports discussion. The wide variety of topics under discussion permit a large range of individuals to interact in flexible, computer-mediated blogs with a professional endorsed by the Courier Mail, whose credibility is emphasized by the professionalism of the site and its affiliations. For the audience of Courier Mail bloggers interested in sharing an opinion about recent sports news Dick’s sports blog is an effective method of self-publication, proving to be highly popular.  Dick’s latest blog topics under discussion, as of September 1st 2008, deliberate players in the Australian Football League (AFL) (posted September 1st 2008, 1:56 pm), Australian coverage of the Beijing Olympics (posted August 25th 2008, 8:28 am), the National Rugby League (NRL) and AFL grand finals (posted August 18th 2008, 9:32 am), and the focus blog of this content analysis, channel Seven’s poor coverage of the Beijing Olympics (posted August 11th 2008, 11:26am).

Barry Dick’s sports blog receives the second highest levels of interactivity of the Courier Mail blogs. A comparison of the interactivity of the blogs is illustrated in Appendices 1 and 1.2. Dick’s topics attract a high level of interactivity over a comparably small number of postings from Dick. He adds new topics each Monday from August 1st to September 1st, making comments only on the Monday, although bloggers continue posting comments for several weeks. Content analysis was conducted to examine the research question to what extent the interactivity in Barry Dick’s blog, “Tell Barry He’s Wrong” about the topic “Seven Get’s a Games Zero”, was written in masculine specific language rather than feminine or gender neutral language. I hypothesized that the interactions analysed in Dick’s blog would be written to a greater extent in masculine specific language. No assumptions were made about the actual sex of the blogger, only about their online pseudonym.  Extensive research has been undertaken in identifying gender features in language. Widespread research of gender specific language features in the blogosphere is not yet available. The unique situation blogs create for anonymous interactivity allows bloggers to post opinions without accountability and assume a different identity (Karl, McChesney, Pandey-Jorrin). A total of 17 interactions were collected from August 11th to 25th.

The categories chosen are derived from the work of Daniel J. Canary, Deborah Cameron, Isabel Crouch, Kathryn Dindia, Betty Dubois, David Graddol, Irmi Karl, Luce Irigaray, Anthony Mulac, and Joan Swann. These researchers come from backgrounds in socio-linguistics, linguistic theory, feminist linguistic theory, and semiology. The majority of their research has not been undertaken with a focus in the blogosphere. However, their research is part of the foundation for understanding the role gender specific language has in interactivity between different genders and as such can be applied to the blogosphere, as a realm of interactivity. The work of feminist linguists is of particular interest in validating or abandoning my hypothesis. Irigaray asserts “For I do not believe that language is universal, or neutral with regard to the difference of the sexes…” (Cameron 128). This assertion reasons that language shapes gender interaction. It is further explained by Cameron’s statement “Language is part of patriarchy” (Cameron 3). The blogosphere provides a unique situation for interactivity to take place without gender forming hierarchies (Graddol, Swann 176). However, my hypothesis conjectures that the language used by the host blogger will determine the bloggers responses, independent of gender.

The three encompassing categories of feminine, masculine and gender neutral, reflect the different stereotypes of gender identity in language. Within the three categories eight feminine, six masculine and four gender neutral indicators have been chosen. These indicators have been confirmed by more than one of the researchers listed above. Where there has been disagreement the majority has over ruled. Masculine identity uses features that assert authority and confidence in their opinion. The masculine language features analysed were: quantity references, for example “100 times” seen in blog post nine[1]; judgemental adjectives, for example “ridiculous” seen in the host’s original blog[2]; directives, for example “Lesson one for Seven” seen in the host’s original blog[3]; locatives, for example “…at the Games.” seen in blog post one[4]; first person references, for example “i[sic] agree” seen in blog post two[5];  and tag questions, which had a marked absence. Feminine identity uses features that express emotion and uncertainty. The feminine language features were: intensive adverbs, for example “really” in blog post two[6]; references to emotions, for example “I love…” in blog post eleven[7]; sentence initial adverbials, for example “Surely…” in blog post five[8]; uncertainty verbs, which had a marked absence but for example ‘seems’; oppositions, for example “…watched SBS or muted the sound.” in blog post two[9]; negations, for example “…definitely not…” in blog post one[10]; hedges, for example “I may have…” in blog post four[11]; and questions. Gender neutral identity uses features that are equivocal in masculine and feminine use. The gender neutral language features were: personal pronouns; fillers, which had a marked absence but for example ‘like’; progressive verbs, for example “ENJOYING [sic]”in the host’s original blog[12]; and justifiers, for example “Apart from that, you’re doing a wonderful job…” in the host’s original blog[13]. The absence of tag questions, uncertainty verbs and fillers suggests that bloggers had clear ideas about what they were going to post before they made their comment and had confidence in their opinions, possibly derived from the anonymity of the blogosphere.

The final tabulation of the accumulated results in Appendix 2 reveals that the majority of analysed interactions were written in masculine specific language, validating my hypothesis. Dick’s original blog had more gender neutral language features (17) than masculine (11). However, both counts were far greater than the four feminine features indicated. Dick’s replies to comments included 11 masculine features, with only five feminine features and four gender neutral features. From this data it was determined that blog interactions made by the host were written to a greater extent in masculine specific language rather than feminine or neutral. The accumulated interactions from bloggers revealed 80 masculine language features compared to 46 feminine language features and 52 gender neutral features.  Nine of the twelve bloggers analysed, including Dick, used more masculine language features, including the two bloggers with female pseudonyms.[14] There are several conclusions that can be drawn from the data. Firstly, the hypothesis is valid; Barry Dick’s sports blog “Seven Gets a Games Zero” is written to a greater extent using masculine specific language in the interactivity that takes place between the bloggers and Dick. Secondly, the gender specific language used by the host to describe the topic and reply to bloggers impacted upon the gendered language used in the interactivity of the bloggers. Without further content analysis of the language used in Dick’s sports blogs and blogs in general, this inference may not hold true but for this instance. Finally, the sports blog was discussed to a great extent in masculine language inferring gender biases in the topic for discussion and the sports blog itself.

 Further analysis of the gender specific language used by bloggers in their interactivity may reveal that gender hierarchies have found their way into the blogosphere. The idiosyncrasies of weblogs in general are derived from their anonymity (Breen, Flew, McChesney, Pandey-Jorrin). The presence of a gender bias in the analysed blog suggests that even though people are free to assume any identity they choose there are still constraints and status hierarchies. The suggestions made in this study form some guidelines for future analysis of the separation of online identity from gender in blogging in sports blogs, and are a basic analysis more useful in the context of a thematic meta-analysis of how researchers apply content analysis to language and gender in blogs.

“The problem is how to safeguard specific local interests while catering to the new, globally oriented readership” (van Leeuwen 2006: 218).

Local accent distinct voice “foreignizing” and “domesticating” tendencies compete (van Leeuwen 2006: 235).

“Such heterogeneity manifests itself mostly at the lexical level, through the uses to which words are put, and through surprising concepts and turns of phrases, rather than at a grammatical level” (van Leeuwen 2006: 235).

[1] Appendix 3.9

[2] Appendix 2

[3] Appendix 2

[4] Appendix 3.1

[5] Appendix 3.2

[6] Appendix 3.2

[7] Appendix 3.11

[8] Appendix 3.5

[9] Appendix 3.2

[10] Appendix 3.1

[11] Appendix 3.4

[12] Appendix 2

[13] Appendix 2

[14] Appendix 4


15 Feb

The phone rings. A quiet, pacifying pitch. An undertone to the clacking of keyboards and softly spoken voices. I pick it up. It’s the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship’s office hoping to speak to Paul Powers, CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia. In a rare moment Paul is at his desk. I transfer the call through. But will the urgency of his message ever get through?

The plight of refugees in Australia has churned, rocked and sunk over the past 20 years. From the sewing of lips, suicides from building roofs, messages written in blood to endless years of waiting, as a country Australia does not seem to have come very far from where we started.

But where did we start?

Mandatory detention came into effect in 1992 under a Labor government, with further provisions added in 1994. ‘Australia is the only western nation with mandatory detention policies which see all asylum seekers locked up for the duration of their processing,’ says Powers. All arrivals without documentation were put in immediate and automatic detention while their claims were processed. The application procedure stretched over an indefinite period, from months to years in high security detention facilities.

The Afghan War saw numbers of asylum seekers increase drastically worldwide in 2001, with 44 boats arriving with 5516 people seeking asylum in Australia. The surge in numbers prepared John Howard’s Coalition Government to implement drastic policy changes. The Pacific Solution introduced in 2001 forcibly prevented unauthorised asylum seekers from reaching Australian territory. Howard was credited with stopping the boats which had arrived in waves since 1999. Tough visa conditions, punitive detention and an embargo on legitimate and illegitimate arrivals were the highlights to asylum seeker policy in the Howard era. Wider political changes including tougher border control, the political unrest, and greater regional cooperation have been promoted as opposing reasons for the decline of boats under Howard. The shift in policy turned the focus from Australia’s humanitarian and legal responsibilities to border protection and control.

The Last Five Years

By 2005 outcry from advocates joined with dissent in the Coalition ranks. Recognition of the mental and physical damage resulting from long-term detainment led to policy changes. Legislation introduced new discretionary powers, enabling the immigration minister to release minors into community-based care. Detaining children was listed as a last resort but the implementation of these changes has since been conveniently overlooked.

In 2007 Kevin Rudd’s Labor Government introduced New Directions in Detention. Changes included the closure of the Nauru Detention Centre, the abolition of Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and a review of long term detention cases. Mandatory detention was still regarded as necessary for border control. But few of the changes were implemented before Rudd’s term ended.

Kate Gauthier, President of ‘A Just Australia’, says the not much has changed in the last five years on refugee policy. ‘In 2005 we saw major policy changes brought about by the Howard Government in response to various scandals and community concern.’ Gauthier sees Australia’s policies once again returning to a border control focus, rejecting humanitarian and legal aspects to the asylum seeker debate.

The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service annual report for 2009-2010 reveal 8749 people were taken into detention, with 3977 the previous year. Of the 2009-2010 arrivals 7116 were unauthorised arrivals, with 1489 arriving by air and 5627 by boat.

Australian’s attitudes towards boat and air arrival of asylum seekers continue to diverge. Powers says the media and political parties drive these often racist attitudes for ‘sensationalism and political gain’ and fail to correct the misunderstandings they enable. Powers says the media perpetuate ‘a lot of misunderstanding about asylum seeking’. ‘People think the numbers are huge and that entering by boat is illegal…There is the misperception that boat arrivals are somehow breaking the law, whereas plane arrivals must be the right kind of people, as they have a visa to get here.’

 Australia’s political parties continue to conflate population debate and refugee policy. ‘For people who simply dislike the idea of boat arrival refugees, talking about it in terms of sustainable population growth gives politicians and voters a chance to argue against asylum seeking on grounds other than we simply don’t like those kinds of people’ says Gauthier.

Australia’s current detention network is ‘quite clearly on the verge of collapse’ in its provision of ‘adequate services’ because of the facilities remote locations making services much more difficult to deliver, says Gauthier. In April 2010 the Rudd Government sought to deal with the increasing numbers of people arriving by expanding centres and suspending processing of applications for asylum from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.  The opposition and Tony Abbott increased its banter of ‘turning back the boats’, which Rudd failed to deflate. In numerical terms the detention network was being expanded before the change in Labor leadership and the 2010 Election suspended proceedings.

Where are we?

Australia went into the 2010 federal election with Labor, the Coalition and the Greens refusing to defend the current immigration program.

On July 6 Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the Government would adopt a policy of offshore processing in East Timor. The proposal met with opposition from the East Timorese Government. Dr. Jake Lynch, President of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS) at Sydney University, says ‘there are abuses which are implicit in the practise of detention centres, but the move to community housing, while not great, is at least a modest step forward.’ East Timor is a signatory to the Refugee Convention, unlike other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. ‘We aren’t looking to send asylum seekers to Indonesia or India where they would be stripped of their rights. It’s a belated realisation of the complexity of the issue.’ At least ‘some provision is being made to get these people out of the detention centres, let’s hope there’s more of that,’ says Dr. Lynch. ‘There seems to be a recognition that it’s not as simple as just holding the line anymore, that there needs to be a more creative approach.’

A regional processing framework would provide ‘a multilateral reappraisal,’ says Dr. Lynch. ‘There needs to be a more honest and open debate about refugee numbers and how to deal with them. Every country concerned seems to be doing the bare minimum…These countries are supposed to be the upholders of refugee rights, of international conventions which they’ve signed, [instead] they are creating roadblocks around the edges.’

Gauthier says ‘regional processing, as part of a broader regional framework, would be a positive step forward.’ If completed in compliance with relevant human rights considerations ‘it would enable refugees to access a system of processing and accommodation and potential resettlement from a central location,’ says Gauthier. However, she notes that done poorly it could ‘actually result in narrowing the protection available to asylum seekers rather than broaden it’.

Gillard’s Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has slowly brought in changes to adjust to the implementation of a regional framework and to deal with the high numbers of detainees. On the October 24, Bowen announced the majority of family groups held in detention would be released into community care over the next eight months. The move has been heralded the biggest change since the introduction of mandatory detention in 1992.

The expansion of current facilities to house more families is considered an emergency by DIAC yet it will take months before the process is complete, with the government saying it will take until mid-2011. Gauthier says, ‘the recent announcement by the Gillard Government is merely a return to the Howard policy circa 2005’. ‘The centres are quite clearly overcrowded…leading to conditions that could best be described as a pressure cooker environment.’

The Labor Party sees this as the long game, to provide a meaningful way of moving forward but advocates say it’s taking too long. Bowen continues to emphasize the 50 per cent chance asylum seekers have of their claim being accepted. A message he argues is to provide a deterrent to the international community but works domestically for Australian’s who fear being overrun by refugees.

Where are we going?

Dr. Lynch says the asylum seeker debate is one Australia just keeps coming back to. ‘I went to an asylum welcome conference…one of the protestors was holding up a sign… “Why am I still protesting about this crap?”’. Dr. Lynch says this attitude resonates with both sides of the debate, which has been political dynamite for ‘every Prime Minister going back 20 to 30 years’. ‘Bob Hawke was at it about refugees from the Vietnam War, with “Bob’s not your uncle”’ then it moved to Lynton Crosby advising John Howard, whose plans failed to have any impact, ‘everything [Crosby] advised fell flat’, and now? ‘Labor has lost its majority and the Greens hold the swing…’

‘There is something about our political system which makes it more obvious’ says Dr. Lynch. ‘Officialdom have been prime sources for news…we have this obsessive Canberra focus…it must be because that’s all Canberra is…there’s no one in Canberra except for politicians.’          

Australia has emerged from the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) relatively unscathed. Yet there are ‘profound and widening inequalities’. ‘High levels of inequality [result] in anti-social attitudes…inequality breeds anxiety and resentment,’ says Dr. Lynch. Days before the 2010 Election the major broadsheets ran the clichéd western suburb Aussie battler ‘I hate boat people’ story. Dr. Lynch says this is the result of the ‘widening inequality we are seeing in Australia, those people who are on “struggle street”…society is reflecting these ideals of Australia’s prosperity, of outlandish wealth and they are asking where theirs is.’

The media is voicing the opinions of the Australian population but politician’s rhetoric is drowning out the real plight of refugees. ‘Journalists need to stop getting sucked into the political bidding war,’ says Dr. Lynch. ‘You have a story about asylum seekers, you never hear from them. They are almost invisible…we need the media to put a face to these statistics; a face would go a long way to diffusing the issue.’

Politicians are driving this debate based on the fear they can create around population growth, immigration and border protection. ‘Australia does not have a problem. Its irresponsible politicians who create a problem,’ says Dr. Lynch. Ramped up rhetoric about being swamped by boat loads of foreigners and losing control of Australia’s borders has become common slather. And boy do they spread it on thick. ‘MP’s are given parliamentary books with the correct figures…they are fully aware of these facts but they choose to make mischief out of it, they present them…out of context [and] we need to find ways to put pressure on them [to be accountable].’

Powers says, ‘there needs to be a large public awareness campaign, coupled with political leaders who are more willing to confront these myths’. In order to see Australian refugee policy provide a humane framework to support refugees Powers says the 2007 New Directions in Detention policy needs to be implemented effectively. ‘This would protect the Australian public from any health or security issues, while ensuring that asylum seekers are not unnecessarily detained.’ It would also reconcile the differences between boat and air arrivals. ‘Asylum seekers are not a border security issue. They present themselves to the authorities and have a vested interest in doing so. They believe they will be granted settlement at the end of the process.’


Alicia Alford is a volunteer at the Refugee Council of Australia.


15 Feb

Athletes planning to travel to India for the Commonwealth Games this week may find themselves in the heartbreaking position of making a choice between their safety and their dreams.

Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive Mike Hooper was this morning unable to give a guarantee the event will proceed.

For months Commonwealth Games Federation committees, coaches, athletes and political leaders have questioned whether India would be ready to host the games by September. With ten days before the opening ceremony the first Australian athlete to withdraw, Dani Samuels, chose to sacrifice the opportunity to earn the gold medal desired for her whole life for her own safety. It takes a great deal of guts to make that decision.

But it should not be the responsibility of individual athletes to have to make this choice. If we cannot ensure their safety we should not be sending them at all.

The Commonwealth Games Federation should feel ashamed. After failing to meet successive deadlines for over a year, extreme terrorist alerts, corruption allegations and dangerous health epidemics, Delhi should have been stripped of its opportunity to host the games long ago. It now places coaches, athletes, and their families in an entirely unwarranted position.

When a supposedly world class venue is described as ‘unfit for human habitation’ it reflects very poorly on the host country and is an embarrassment for the Commonwealth Games Federation. With only 10 days to go till the opening of the games many of the venues are unfinished and the athlete’s village is not ready for its intended occupants by a far stretch.

Imagine you’ve spent at least the last two years of your life dedicating your time, your body and your money to peak at exactly this moment to find in the penultimate hour it all gets cancelled. The warning signs have been flashing in neon for over a year. Questions of why the roadblocks weren’t heeded have been left until much too late.

It should not be the responsibility of an individual athlete to have to stand up and say the risk is not worth taking. The Commonwealth Games Federation has a responsibility to the young people who have dedicated their time and effort to represent their country and to inspire other young people to work hard to reach their goals.

All the athletes deserve our support whether they decide to go or not but a decision needs to be made as a team. Australia’s love affair with elite athletes puts an unacceptable amount of pressure on individual athletes who might otherwise not consider it worthwhile to take the risk.                    The sporting leaders of Australia should not have to face matters of geo-political security. Certainly not in an environment which has proven to be highly volatile and incapable of reaching the basic standards required.

Those who argue it is up to individual athletes to make a call on their own level of comfort in competing have a point, but that decision should only be based on firm safety assurances by the Federation and host country. With security experts saying there is an 80 per cent chance of a terrorist attack the risks clearly outweigh the rewards. If we cannot ensure the safety of our athletes to a reasonable extent then I say let the terrorists win this one and let our athletes aspire to the Olympic Games in 2012.

Reforming the Brigades

15 Feb

 Scrutiny of the NSW Fire Brigades shows an organisation in the process of change, writes Alicia Alford.

14 June 2010

THE New South Wales Fire Brigades (NSWFB) has come under intense scrutiny this week as an independent investigation reveals a ‘Boys Club’ culture, rife with allegations of physical and psychological abuse. The report highlights the feelings of isolation and inadequate support felt by those who experience psychological distress in their time on the job.

The independent review of workplace conduct in the NSWFB put forward recommendations in the hope of reforming the organisation’s culture. The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has also announced it will launch its own investigation. Reforming an entrenched organisational culture takes time. It needs to be done over several stages and reinforced as each new group of employees progress through their career stages. Questions of whether it will work and how long it will take are difficult to answer, yet it is apparent that within the Brigades attitudes are changing.

A ‘Boy’s Club’ mentality has permeated the organisation, driven by the challenging physical nature of the tasks fire fighting requires. Masculine qualities of physical strength and practicality were and continue to be necessary qualities for aspiring recruits. However, a stronger focus on the mental health of fire fighters is starting to feature alongside physical ability. In a widespread shift of attitudes, the Brigades are seeking to transform the management of mental health from a code of silence to acceptance as genuine reaction.

Risk is inherent in some things. It is certainly so in the role of a fire fighter. A constant willingness to place one’s own life on the line to save the lives of others is no easy sacrifice. 

Terry Kirkpatrick, of the NSW Fire Brigades says ‘the stigma has been breaking down in the last 10 years. The people seeking help really do have some issues.’ Both a fire fighter and trained psychologist, Kirkpatrick sees the culture of mateship and teamwork within the Brigades as part of the support system but recognises it may not be enough for some individuals. ‘In general work teams are very supportive. It’s often workmates who recognise changes early on, which means they can get help early on,’ says Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick suggests it is up to the individual to access the internal and external systems made available by the Brigades. ‘How people respond is very individual. Group sessions do not always work. Some individuals find them quite confronting, they like to be alone and process things themselves.’

Research into fire fighters responses to seeking mental health support suggests the stigma round seeking mental support is dissolving, says Dr. Helen Paterson, Psychologist at the University of Sydney. ‘The culture [in the fire brigades] is changing for the better.’ Most surveyed in her research felt that those with psychological distress were experiencing ‘genuine reactions’.

There is no single superior way to provide mental health support for those who experience trauma. Paterson’s research indicates mental support programs cannot be a one size fits all response. ‘Individuals have different means of coping. People may vary on their responses to the incident, it depends on the situation.’

The NSW Fire Brigades offers voluntary internal and external counselling services, or Employee Assistant Providers (EPAs). ‘The EAPs provide psychological support, which is offered 24/7 through a 1300 number.’ Internal EAP services cover a broad scope of mental health issues. ‘Internally, the EAP we offer is much broader in its scope to offer fire fighters and their families support,’ says Kirkpatrick.  In support of ‘broader mental health issues’ the Brigades offer services which are based on the model of what the ‘white, male, Anglo-Saxon’ would in general need support for, including ‘depressive episodes, anxiety and psychiatric disorders’. ‘It’s free and independent,’ says Kirkpatrick. ‘It’s voluntary whether or not they use it.’

Whether counselling should be obligatory or continue on a voluntary basis is contested. Kirkpatrick says, ‘generally, we find on average three per cent of the workforce utilise the external EAPs. Internally, you’re looking at four per cent.’ These figures are fairly standard for organisations which offer these services. Also under continued discussion is the necessity of providing both internal and external EPA services. Dr. Paterson suggests some fire fighters turn to external services for the sake of ‘anonymity’.

Integrating mental releases into the everyday running of the Brigades offers one option to further support. ‘One idea has been for fire fighters [who are returning from a traumatic situation] to have time offline, where they know they won’t have to respond to another call for several hours,’ says Paterson. Ideas such as time offline would allow fire fighters to cope in their own ways, whether by “surfing, working out, [or] talking about the experience”.

It is apparent attitudes towards mental health within the Brigades are changing. But learning from experience can take time.

Celebrities Are the New Aristocracy

8 Feb

Has globalisation resulted in a homogenised global culture?

Celebrities are the new aristocracy: high status players in a global world where their lives become part of a global culture. OK! Magazine feeds celebrity news to an audience seeking glamour, entertainment and excitement. Its function is to addressing a globally minded readership with an interest in signifying their allegiance to a source of cultural authority. Structured around a standardised layout, this weekly multinational magazine localises its global celebrity news for ten countries as diverse as Russia, Thailand and Spain. This diversification of content can be interpreted as the hybridisation of a homogenised form of globalised culture. While representing a pluralised interpretation of the world the magazine maintains the validity of sovereign cultures as points of reference and understanding. I argue the national online forms of the celebrity magazine OK!, in networking with a global culture centered on celebrity, exemplify the process globalisation plays in homogenising this form of global culture, but also in hybridizing localised systems of meaning. This essay will discuss the construction of global culture, as well as the increasingly arbitrary role of geographic boundaries juxtaposed against the persisting importance of the sovereign state. I will then turn to the roles of the media and multinational media conglomerates have in the creation and sustainment of global culture. Using content analysis, I will then compare sections from OK! websites, in order to justify my hypothesis that globalisation has indeed resulted in the homogenisation of global culture but has also promoted the heterogeneity of localised interpretations of global culture.

Globalisation has allowed for the construction of what to an extent needs to be described as the homogenisation of international standards of genres. However, the content produced by media through these genres is rather an organised hybridisation of diverse networks, catering to mutual spheres of global cultures: both localised, recognising the value of cultural niches and local abilities, as well as providing for an increasingly internationally minded audience. Today’s cosmopolitans live their lives within the structure of a global culture, integrating the structure of the nation and the structure of locality in which locals retreat (see Hannerz 1990). Hugh Mackay argues ‘…whatever globalization has been achieved – to the extent that it has – can be seen as a result of…the power of the cultural’ (Mackay in Held 2004: 48). Sylvia Harvey’s description of culture as a ‘…whole way of life and experience of a people…’ (2006: 1) emphasizes Charles Leadbeater’s argument that ‘cultures are not made strong by becoming inward looking, nostalgic and defensive’ (2002: 301). Globalisation is increasingly decentralised; its effects are felt as much in Western countries as others (Giddens 1999: 16). Anthony D. Smith argues ‘[t]oday’s emerging global culture is tied to no place or period. It is context-less, a true melange of disparate components drawn from everywhere and nowhere, borne upon the modern chariots of global telecommunications systems’ (1990: 177). Furthermore, Ulf Hannerz argues global culture ‘…is marked by an organisation of diversity rather than by a replication of uniformity. No total homogeni[s]ation of systems of meaning and expression has occurred…’ (1990: 237). According to Hannerz ‘…cultures rather than being easily separated from one another as the hard-edged pieces in a mosaic, tend to overlap and mingle’ (1990: 229). Culture is not a static construction, and therefore, all forms of culture ‘…construct and deconstruct social identities and social relations’ (Diana Crane 2002: 1).

The last several decades have seen the restructuring of state and corporate identities to move with global changes in identity. ‘The strongest homogenising factor so far has been nationalism’ (Rantanen 2005: 92). However, cultural identities increasingly transcend national boundaries, rejecting the state’s need to confer specific identities and values over their citizens to the exclusion of others (Rantanen 2005: 92, Crane 2002: 10-11). Manuel Castells argues ‘[t]he dynamics of networks push society towards an endless escape from its own constraints and controls, towards supersession and reconstruction of its values and institutions…’ (Castells 1999: 409). Therefore, as Anthony Giddens suggests there arises the need to reflect on our current institutions and their incapacities to deal effectively with the tasks they are called to perform in an increasingly interconnected world (1999: 19). Increasingly we are aware of the diversity of cultures within a single nation, to the extent that a homogenous national identity is no longer tenable as traditions are enhanced in order to paradoxically either defend against or encourage global influence and exchange (see Giddens 1999: 36-50). According to Crane ‘[g]lobal cultures may render traditional identities less salient or produce hybridized identities as local cultures absorb and respond to these influences’ (2002: 10). Multinational media companies can be seen to be fulfilling a vacuum of sorts between a state constructed sphere of influence and a global marketplace for cultural interaction. Multinational media conglomerates may extend their influence and control over types of global culture, but more importantly, they facilitate the production of standardised genres of information and entertainment, increasing the producers of and markets for media diversification and access.

Global culture reflects increasingly ‘borderless’ (Vick cited in Morris and Waisbord 2001: 9) communications systems, where a global public sphere of interaction fulfils the function of a network encompassing or disregarding national cultural networks, where shared ideas and information are exulted to a separate sphere of interaction. These networks within networks can be seen to function as internal and external dimensions to sovereignty (Vick cited in Morris and Waisbord 2001: 10). These networks are perceived as a threat to sovereign culture, fearing a process of homogenisation as ‘…an ever-greater uniformity of personal tastes and lifestyles…’ (Ramachandra 2010: 25), heavily influenced from the west and the United States of America especially. Those who argue globalisation will result in homogenisation believe the dominance of global distribution by western and primarily US products ‘…diffuse the ideology and value system of their creators and will ultimately replace the cultures where they are distributed’ (Hannerz cited Garrett 2006: 393). However, others argue the products are hybridised. As such the ‘ideology is ignored’, it is only the genre of the original which is disseminated (Howes cited Garrett 2006: 393).

Susan McKay argues media ‘help us to organise the ways we understand our society and culture. They are often the only way we have of understanding other societies and cultures’ (2006: 597). OK! magazines offer readers the opportunity of showing their allegiance to a global culture of celebrity, reflected in the pleasure and entertainment they receive from their interaction with the publication by accessing it in multiple media forms. Van Leeuwen suggests “[t]he problem is how to safeguard specific local interests while catering to the new, globally oriented readership” (2006: 218). To an extent this heterogeneity to reflect localised identity shows the ability and the desire of companies and readerships to access and create local or regional content above international content with the flare of the later. In order to explore this idea of hybridised versions of media, content analysis was conducted of online versions of previews for the magazine OK!. I have compared the most recently updated OK! ‘In This Issue’ online descriptions as of the 16th April, 2010, in the Australian, German, Thai and USA versions of the magazine. These countries versions were chosen for their diversity in region and culture.  The purpose of the content analysis is to establish to what extent the content produced for each country’s version of the magazine is similar in composition.

The format of the websites is very similar for each of the versions represented online. The ‘In This Issue’ section allows readers a preview to the contents of the tangible magazine, which goes on sale weekly as ‘a high quality glossy stock…OK! provides credible, in-depth coverage of celebrities’ (ACP Magazines Website 2010). The target audience is mostly women, aged from their mid-20’s to their mid-30’s. The magazines online and printed content chooses to focus on celebrity interviews, with large glossy and often glamorous photographs. OK! magazine as a global brand chooses to concentrate widely on positive coverage, with few negative portrayals of celebrities or the celebrity lifestyle (see Voice of America News 2007, Pierce 2002, Murray, Askew 2006, Lee 2006).

In examining the content themes of these online content descriptions, I hypothesized there would be a large extent of uniform coverage of American Hollywood celebrity culture across all four versions. I have chosen to analyse the frequency with which comparable themes and language are presented ‘to help determine motivations, values, beliefs and attitudes of the source’ (Go 1984: 149). The themes present in these sections I have identified as: pregnancy; divorce or cheating; religion; marriage, engagement or dating; fashion or models; health trends; music, television or movies promotions; adoption or children discussions. I have placed all of the written content from the selected section into one of these theme categories in Appendix 1, with similar results for each version. The majority of content appears to be focused on relationships, pregnancy, fashion and promotional interviews. From this analysis it can be argued the general themes discussed in each version are similar. Hence, the genre of celebrity magazine is being translated across geographic boundaries.

However, further analysis of the content within these categories suggests there is a diversity of celebrities being discussed. Appendices 2 and 3 identify the nationality of the celebrities mentioned in each version. Overwhelmingly it is evident that each version significantly reports on a localised form of celebrity. For example, OK! Australia discusses the largest number of celebrities in its preview. The largest coverage is on Australian celebrities, and international celebrities linked to Australian celebrities. OK! USA is the most localised content reporting on relatively few international celebrities. This reflects the world recognition of American celebrities and their centrality in this global culture. However, this level of recognition does not seem to prevent other versions of the magazine from localising global content to their audience’s interest. Indeed, OK! Thailand has, I argue, the most localised content with the fewest overlapping representations of global celebrities, choosing rather to focus on stars within their own region (see Appendices 4 and 5). This focus on localised content demonstrates the power of the media to create the tradition of celebrity in each context. Allowing the application of the global ideal of high status persons enables OK! magazine to adjust its genre just enough to reach cosmopolitans and locals alike around the world, manipulating all elements of the global culture to deliver profits.

Hence, it can be argued OK! magazine promotes the positive coverage of global celebrity culture, which it then adapts to localised preferences, whilst maintaining the nature of celebrity and the magazine’s ideological frame of reference. Globalised media content is ‘domesticated’ (see van Leeuwen 2006: 235) by localised translation of interests, just as local media content can be ‘foreignised’ (see van Leeuwen 2006: 235) for a globally oriented readership. Globalisation has contributed to a homogenisation of global culture but has also facilitated the development of an active process of localised cultural hybridity in an attempt to personalise patterns of cultural response. Cultural identities can increasingly be seen to transcend national boundaries into regional cultures (Crane 2002: 11). Hence, multinational media conglomerates are able to extend their influence and control over certain types of global culture (Crane 2002: 7), creating standardised production values, conforming to preconceived genres and layouts. These homogenised styles of structure allow for the establishment of benchmarks in international media coverage.  Genres are being translated across geographic boundaries but the ideological values associated with them are not necessarily also being transmitted.

Therefore, content analysis of an international media source reflects a regional response to the concept of a global culture. Celebrity culture can be seen to be selected to reflect the desires of a localised readership that is both complex and diverse. Target audiences in this case have reflected an internationally minded notion of the world but maintain a strong connection to a regionalised form of cultural identification. Hence, it can be argued in this case it is the genre of the medium and a standardised content layout which is being transferred. However, the ideological values are not necessarily being conferred in the texts I examined. The magazine although created by a global media corporation does not expect its audience to simply absorb the content or desire a purely westernised concept of celebrity. Hence, this example would suggest that globalisation has not resulted in the homogenisation of global culture because as yet there is very little conceptual or business value given to the idea of a global culture; rather it is more specifically regionally related.


ACP (2010), ‘ACP Magazines’, [online]. Available:     [Accessed April 9 2010]

Castells, Manuel (1999), ‘An Introduction to the Information Age’, in Hugh Mackay and Tim         O’Sullivan (eds.), The Media Reader: Continuity and Transformation, London, Sage, pp. 398-                410.

Crane, Diana (2002), ‘Culture and Globalisation: Theoretical Models and Emerging Trends’, in Diana         Crane, Noboku Kawashima and Ken’ichi Kawasaki (eds.), Global Culture: Media, Arts, Policy       and Globalization, New York, Routledge, pp. 1-25.

Garrett, Peter et al. (2006), ‘What Does the Word “Globalisation” Mean to You?: Comparative   Perceptions and Evaluations in Australia, New Zealand, the USA and the UK’, Journal of          Multilingual and Multicultural Development, Vol. 27, pp. 392-412.

Giddens, Anthony (1999), Runaway World: How Globalisation is Reshaping our Lives, London, Profile    Books.

Go, Mae Jean (1984), ‘Quantitative Content Analysis’, in W.B. Gudykunst and Y.Y. Kim (ed.s),     Methods in Intercultural Communication Research,  Beverly Hills, Sage, pp. 147-153.

Hannerz, Ulf (1990), ‘Cosmopolitans and Locals in World Culture’, Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 7,      pp. 237-251.

Harvey, Silvia (ed.) (2006), Trading Culture: Global Traffic and Local Cultures in Film and Television,          Eastleigh, UK, John Libbey Publishers.

Leadbeater, Charles (2002), ‘Globalisation Can Be Good’, in his Up the Down Escalator: Why the                                Global Pessimists are Wrong, London, Penguin, pp. 289-327.

Lee, Jeremy (2006), ‘Media ABCs: OK! Ousts Now to Steal Celebrity Magazine Crown’, MKTG     Marketing, 22 February 2006 [online]. Available:          1G1-142384372/media-abcs-ok-ousts.html [Accessed April 9 2010]

Machin, David and Theo van Leeuwen (2005), ‘Language Style and Lifestyle: The Case of a Global             Magazine’, Media, Culture and Society, Vol. 27, No. 4, pp. 577-600.

Mackay, Hugh (2004), ‘The Globalization of Culture?’, in David Held, A Globalizing World?: Culture,          Economics, Politics 2nd Ed., New York, The Open University, pp. 48-84.

McKay, Susan (2006), ‘Media and Language Overview’, in Keith Brown (ed.) Encyclopaedia of    Language and Linguistics 2nd Ed., Oxford, Elsevier, pp. 597-602.

Murray, Lisa and Kate Askew (2006), ‘It’s PBL Media, $6b Predator’, Sydney Morning Herald, 18                 October 2006 [online]. Available:                                                                                                                        predator/2006/10/17/1160850931271.html [Accessed April 9 2010]

OK! Magazine Thailand (2010) ‘In This Issue’, [online]. Available: http://www.okmagazine-      

OK! Magazine Australia (2010) ‘In This Issue’ [online]. Available:      

OK! Magazine USA (2010), ‘In This Issue’, [online]. Available:

OK! Magazine Germany (2010), ‘In This Issue’, [online]. Available: http://www.ok-      

Pierce, Andrew (2002), ‘Talk is cheap…unless it’s a celebrity magazine – People’, The Times, 25 July         2002 [online]. Available: [Accessed April 9 2010]

Ramachandra, Vinoth (2004), ‘Worldwide Inc.: when global meets local, who wins’, Sojourners Magazine, Vol. 4, pp.24-40.

Rantenan, Terhi (2005), The Media and Globalisation, London, Sage.

Smith, D. Anthony (1990), ‘Towards a Global Culture?’, Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 7, pp. 171-         191.

Thussu, Daya Kishan (1998), Electronic Empires: Global Media and Local Resistance, New York,   Oxford University Press.

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van Leeuwen, Theo (2006), ‘Translation, Adaptation, Globalization: The Vietnam News’, Journalism        Vol. 7, pp. 217-237.

Vick, Douglas W. (2001),Exporting the First Amendment to Cyberspace: The Internet and State               Sovereignty’, in Nancy Morris and Silvio Waisbord (eds.), Media and Globalisation: Why the        State Matters, Oxford, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, pp. 3-20.

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Fourth World Scandal

8 Feb

Fourth World Scandal

“Aboriginal communities are ensuring the continuity of their languages and cultures and representation of their views…they speak for themselves, no longer aliens in [a media] industry which for a century has used them for its own ends.”

Michael Leigh (1988: 88)

When Russian figure skaters Oksana Domina and Maxim Shabalin performed in the recent winter Olympics their routine and costumes caused controversy in the Australian media. Their piece was what they described as “Aboriginal dance”, in outfits detailed with designs expressing their representation of Australian Indigenous culture. In an opinion article “Russian Ice Dancers Should Rethink Their Routine” by Bev Manton, (SMH 21/1/10), herself an indigenous Australian, she expresses outrage and offense. However, the comments following the article attribute Manton as being “narrow minded” and “out of touch with society”. Does the SMH feel compelled to publish this angle of the story as a duty or as a way of protecting Indigenous Australians?

I argue the Australian media has a propensity to collectivise Indigenous Australians as an imagined community perceived as existing under Immanuel Kant’s humanitarian principle, and the hypothetical imperative. Kant’s formula of humanity is to “[a]ct in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end” (Kant, 1785 cited Nelson, 2008: 2).

Hartley argues gone are the days of the media acting “malevolently” towards Indigenous Australians (2003 cited Probyn and Lumby, 2003: 43). However, I argue the Australia media frequently and almost habitually patronises Indigenous Australians as a “victimised other, vulnerable to the influence of powerful agencies and as incapable of self-determination or self-representation” (Hartley, McKee, 2000: 4). Thereby, the media diminish the value and capacity of their contributions to wider debates about ethnicity and identity. Furthermore, Hartley argues Aboriginal people systematically appear as ‘they’ figures, outside the imagined community of media audiences.

The “‘generic’ news narratives [of Indigenous issues] focused on stories of ‘correction and protection’ of Aboriginal people” (Hartley: 1992, 3). The media still concentrates on finding examples of racist or negative coverage of Indigenous Australians (Hartley, McKee, 2000: 1, 275). However, Hartley and McKee argue “the generic imperatives of hard news, rather than any racist impulse, lead to the focus on conflict, the ‘negative’, and so on” (2000, 275). Hartley argues the problem of journalism that deals with indigenous affairs is not an ethical but a political one (Hartley, 2003 cited Probyn and Lumby, 2003: 44). However, I contend without an increased degree of indigenous ethical awareness and a decreased need to separate Aboriginal Australians from their Australian identity, the ethical need to constantly treat people’s of shared identity as a separate ethical problem will continue.

The supposed need for separate codes and regulations is illustrates by the Response Ability website, where certain population groups are elected needing differential treatment. Indigenous Australians, rural Australians and multicultural Australians are listed as requiring exceptional awareness of their “social and emotional wellbeing” (Response Ability, 2009). Media practises of regarding these individuals as a means to an end, a problem, rather than individuals deserving of respect and humane conduct equal to that of any other Australian.

If it is the duty of a good journalist to report with “professional indifference”, it is their duty to report based on professional ethics, not their own individual ethics (Hartley, 2003 cited in Lumby and Probyn, 2003: 44). So, why does a prominent Australian newspaper feel compelled to publish an article so adverse to the attitudes expressed by its readership? Does it have a duty to share this angle of the story with their audience? I argue Indigenous Australians and Manton are being used as a means to an end of confirming the controversy or ‘newsworthiness’ of the story, because Indigenous culture must be protected.

Other articles published by the SMH on the same topic describe the event as “controversial”, a “misguided homage” (“Russian skaters continue to use controversial Aboriginal routine”, SMH). Manton’s dual identity can be seen here as disenabling her from being “indifferent” ethically, when she would have to abandon ethical values attached to her indigenous identity (Hartley, 2003 cited in Lumby and Probyn, 2003: 44), but this does not forego the media’s duty to report other Indigenous Australian’s responses (even those that were not offended). In not doing so, they single out indigenous Australians as the “other”, and hence, needing a specific and protective response from a clearly identified “authentic” source.

Indigenous Australians involvement in the production of media has evolved extensively. Once the passive recipients of good actions and bad actions of white discourses (Ginsburg: 1991, 4), increasingly they produce their own media content not only to resist “outside cultural domination” (Ginsburg, 1991: 92), but also to demonstrate their active participation as equal members of the mediasphere, to pursue their own self-representation, community building and political agenda (Hartley and McKee, 2000: 7).

Social Life-support

8 Feb

 Social media life support for mainstream?

 A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both.

— James Madison

Social media is designed to be just that: social. Mainstream media is not social. Yet. But as we are beginning to see (and here) the conservative giants of the media industry are pushing hard to engage their audience on a social level.

Social online media- Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, and Blogs – are major players in all demographics. These technologies have the ability to shift the balance of power to a more user focused version of mainstream media. They have become vehicles integrated into the mainstream for networking, news consumption and commenting.

Experts are conflicted in their expectations for the role social media will play as further integration occurs between mainstream and online.

Television remains a tightly controlled, conservative medium of communication. Yet the interactivity and back channel chatter of social network sites is starting to play a bigger part.

Ideas such as peer-influenced viewership and network platform-ing are emerging as pathways to make television more social. Peer-influenced viewership is in its infancy. Designed to make television consumption more social and interactive, it encourages users to mul­ti­task with their lap­tops while watch­ing television. A whole new generation of devices will bring the internet into the shared living areas of the home, see Boxee (Hyperlink–, LinkTV (Hyperlink—, and Intel Software Network (Hyperlink– Allowing television to function as a network platform to other forms of media will be integral to the success of internet television in reaching large demographics. Access beyond the walls of an individual website allows more users to engage.

Running news feeds and integrating video players for live streaming of events and content offer hints of what shared digital experiences might progress towards. Exclusive coverage and immediate user feedback are only just beginning to take on real calls to action.

In Australia, recent examples of mainstream integration of social media can be seen on Q&A on the ABC ( Hyperlink—, (PHOEBE I WANT TO GET YOUR INPUT HERE AS TO WHICH ELECTION COVERAGE MEDIA I SHOULD FOCUS ON)

I recommend checking out the Mashups (Hyperlink— for some excellent examples of how mainstream footage can be reconfigured through online media to take on new user driven meaning.

 One of the key ways mainstream and social are working together is in breaking news. On the 2010 Election night the tweets were running thick and fast, being broadcast regularly in the mainstream media. Candidates updated their Facebook pages regularly along the campaign trail, yet many have sat untouched since the election (for more see Phoebe Hooke’s article here.) (hyperlink–!/pages/Tony-Abbott/216342268645?ref=search,!/pages/Julia-Gillard/161674172327?ref=ts). The role immediate feedback will play in future broadcasts in uncertain but what is for sure is that it will be tapped into more effectively in each subsequent election.

The convergence of old and new technologies poses many opportunities – but just as many problems. Social online media is able to supplement coverage for free, waving costs associated with travel, technical equipment and reporters. Mainstream news is able to give breaking stories immediate coverage by borrowing from social media, using eyewitness accounts and the mobilizing efforts of users.

In depth analyses are still important. The danger is that rumours and inaccuracies will overtake quality reporting for the sake of speed. However, it also means important stories which are not receiving mainstream coverage can be brought to attention. Have a look here for how Twitter is redefining the concept of ‘breaking news’ (hyperlink–

The 2007 Election saw Labour under Kevin Rudd use a web campaign, not to engage in a dialogue with more voters, but to gain mainstream media publicity for being in touch with younger voters. The Liberal Party under John Howard choose to mostly ignore social media to its peril. In the 2010 election politicians have come a long way towards the beginnings of social media use. They still have a long way to go to using it effectively. Each platform attracts different kinds of content and discussion. Mainstream media wants to move online and integrate the online into the mainstream. To do this effectively the mainstream media will need to alter content styles, choices of what constitutes newsworthiness and the level of active response to have any success. A huge gap still exists between mainstream media and social media but it is closing fast.

Also recommended:

How fast is fast-tracked?  (Hyperlink—

Another Twitter Feed Gets CBS Comedy Deal (Hyperlink—

The future of media: Mainstream press + social media (Hyperlink—


Desperate Housewives and Feminism

8 Feb

Is Desperate Housewives a feminist text?

Desperate Housewives is desperately confusing but desperately pleasurable. The contradictory values and ideals presented in the text emphasize the ambivalence and ambiguity contemporary women have surrounding the ideals of what a contemporary woman’s life is supposed to comprise. Desperate Housewives presents a post-feminist critique of both feminist and post-feminist values. The binary of appearance versus reality is a powerful post-feminist construction used by the series to criticise feminine oppression from several perspectives: the presentation of choices with societal expectations, patriarchy, and the false promises of feminism. This binary will be explored through a discussion of three prominent concepts in the first season, with a focus on the four main housewives. Firstly, the lack of post-feminist solutions offered for the housewives, secondly, the confusion of gender identity roles, and thirdly, the performance of reality as assumed by patriarchal society.

The pleasant exterior of Wisteria Lane serves to contradict and, therefore, emphasize the internal struggles of the four female lead characters, Susan Mayer, Lynette Scavo, Gabrielle Solis and Bree Van de Kamp. The show is a prime-time soap opera whose conventions allow it to explore contemporary political ideology.[1] It articulates a post-feminist sensibility characterized by an emphasis on the individual, neo-liberal feminine subjectivities and self-surveillance and monitoring, and choices of normative femininity and/or consumerism. The female characters function as representatives of the zeitgeist,[2] although there are still incidences where the fictional nature of some of the characters is reinforced.

Judith Lancioni argues the show critiques feminist practises from a post-feminist perspective.[3] The series confronts the oppression some women feel by the post-feminist ideals they are supposed to live up to. It deals with the realisation that not all women can have it all and do it all. The show is not only a representation of modern feminism but rather open to interpretation from certain groups which identify with the characters and life choices. Third-wave feminisms are broad with diverse and sometimes with conflicting values.[4] Desperate Housewives draws on the ambivalence and ambiguity viewers have surrounding the ideals of what a contemporary woman’s life is supposed to comprise. Carol Morgan argues the women of Wisteria Lane collectively serve as a metaphor for the gender role identity crisis of the modern day woman: ‘You cannot be a successful career woman and a stay-at-home mom at the same time. You must choose.’[5]  There exists confusion in the identity role of the modern woman. For all its idealised glossy appearances the series delves to deeper levels, not to confront, but to explore the repercussions of living a life of contradicting self identities. This is exemplified in the decision made to be a housewife resulting in dissatisfaction with the narrowed choices of that identity and its traditional constructs. Dave Hoskins argues that at no point in the show is a judgement being made about the choices these women have made,[6] rather it questions why society places such high expectations on the role of housewife; ‘…the entire point of the series is to maintain a breezy facade. However, even the apparently jokey title gives us a clue about the dichotomy that lurks beneath the surface. On the average TV show housewives aren’t allowed to be desperate…Their kids can be gay and their husbands can be serial killers, but the real taboo lies in presenting mothers’ desperation as normal.’[7] These women can choose to ‘opt-out’[8] of their career to become mothers and/or wives or vice versa, however, the framing of their changing identity as a satisfying ‘choice’ is where some of Desperate Housewives most pertinent post-feminist critique is represented.[9]Contemporary women who assume the identity of a housewife are portrayed in Desperate Housewives as experiencing a lack of post-feminist solutions to dissatisfaction with their role. By allowing viewers to experience these walking, talking contradictions in Susan, Lynette, Gabrielle and Bree it becomes clear the show is satirising the archetype of ‘desperate housewife.’ This show rarely offers feminist solutions which in a sense leaves the housewives more desperate than ever. The real challenge to patriarchal hierarchy comes from this lack of solutions. Female oppression is emphasized in the inability for the males in Desperate Housewives to transcend the homemaker and full time parent role; for example, Lynette’s husband, Parker Scavo’s, disregard for how difficult it is to be a full-time mother, “I don’t need a pamphlet; it’s not brain surgery, their just kids for god sake” 1(3). Satirising the archetype of stay-at-home mothers, through a female centric ‘gaze’, allows for the creation of popular media with a message.

The performance of the housewife draws attention to the role as being nothing more than a construct. Niall Richardson argues this is especially prevalent in the stylisation of Bree as camp. He argues that ‘far from being mere comic relief, Bree’s campness is a survivalist strategy in a post-feminist era.’[10] There is no alternative beyond performance.[11] This reinforces the lack of choices women face; they are forced to keep up appearances as  the wife, loving mother and homemaker figure and never falter from their belief in their decision.[12] Even if those appearances are kept in check to near perfection, as in Bree’s strict policing of her body and choices, it is not appreciated in the domestic sphere: Rex Van de Kamp in demanding Bree for a divorce states passionately  ‘I want a divorce. I just can’t live in this detergent commercial anymore. I’m sick of the bizarre way your hair doesn’t move’ 1(1). Richardson cites Betty Friedan to describe Bree as being stuck in a ‘“comfortable concentration camp.” He argues ‘Bree will be the ultimate Stepford Wife, thus showing…she is performing a socially constructed role within an oppressive culture.’[13] Bree’s immaculate appearance and composed performance creates a powerful contrast to her rarely shown true feelings of fragmentation at the dissolution of her marriage and her difficult relationships with her teenage children.

That Desperate Housewives is a feminist text is not irrefutable; however, interpreting the series as blatantly anti-feminist rejects the satirical nature of the series and the double- coding constructions of the characters. Luciano Di Gregorio argues “it [Desperate Housewives] ultimately does not fall within the category of television shows that are in some way subversive: the controversial events, storylines, actions and behaviours of the characters are in themselves often stereotypical in their attempt to tap into the archetypical desires of the television viewer….’[14] This interpretation suggests the text is nothing more than a guilty pleasure to be semi-attentive towards. However, Desperate Housewives was and remains a very popular show, where viewers watching the series perceive it as an event, ‘planned in advance, viewed attentively and even considered afterwards.’[15] The program does not exist in

a vacuum; it is viewed in homes, alone or with family and friends. David Self believes it is easy to underestimate the impact of drama, especially well made soap operas, whose ideas and images can ‘fester in the subconscious.’[16] A program like Desperate Housewives has anoverwhelming element of watching a guilty pleasure, which is what makes it so accessible to wider audiences and multiple readings. It is this approachable facade presented by Wisteria Lane which emphasizes the so-called ‘dirty laundry’ just under the glossy surface: the oppression of women by false post-feminist ideals. Justifying generalisations about the series as a whole embracing a particular understanding of feminism are routinely contradicted in the show and by theorists. However, a post-feminist reading of the text allows for the inclusion of both second-wave feminist and post-modernist feminisms. [17]It can be argued that the show offers refreshing representations but which often fall short of its ambition of liberating housewives from their desperation. Sayeau argues that instead issues are glossed over as nice ideas but unable to be practically applied. However, it is through the emphasis on the lack of post-feminist solutions presented to the housewives that feminist practises are critiqued. The housewives disillusionment with the societal ideals while they continue to conform to them emphasizes the ambiguity and ambivalence of the dilemmas faced by contemporary women without oversimplification of their struggles.[18] 

Desperate Housewives allows contradictory post-feminist discourses to coexist. In relation to the binary of appearance versus reality a discourse of freedom of choice, outwardly happy, sexually liberated, beautiful women contrasts with a real dissatisfaction with their lives living up to their expectations and the need to hide this discontent from the public sphere, while often allowing it to seethe away in the domestic sphere. The satirical nature of the show uses feminine stereotypes to highlight their ridiculous nature as well as the ambivalence and ambiguity contemporary women feel towards the contradictory ideals of post-feminisms.


Baxter, Judith (2008), ‘Constructions of Active Womanhood and New Femininities: From a         Feminist Linguistic Perspective, is Sex and the City a Modernist or Post-Modernist        TV Text?’, Women and Language, Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 91-98.

Creeber, Glen (2004), Serial Television, London, British Film Institute.

Di Gregorio, Luciano (2005), ‘Disconcerting Truths: Uncovering the Values in Desperate Housewives’, Screen Education, Vol. 43, pp. 62-65.

Gill, Rosalind and Elena Herdieckerhoff (2006), ‘Rewriting the Romance: New Femininities        in Chick Lit?’, Feminist Media Studies, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp. 487-504.

Hoskin, Dave (2006), ‘Keeping Up Appearances: Desperate Housewives’, Metro Magazine,          Vol.  145, p. 160.

McCabe, Janet and Kim Akass (eds.) (2006), Reading Desperate Housewives: Beyond the             White Picket Fence, London and New York, I.B. Tauris.

Morgan, Carol (2007), ‘Gender Role identity Crisis on Wisteria Lane: Desperate Housewives       as a Metaphor for the Modern Day Women’, The Florida Communication Journal,     Vol. 34, pp. 112-118.

Richardson, Niall (2006), ‘The Politics of Camp Reconsidered By Desperate Housewives’,           Feminist Media Studies, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 157-174.

Self, David (1984), Television Drama: An Introduction, Hong Kong, Macmillan.

Zalewski, Marysia (2000), Feminism After Postmodernism: Theorising Through Practise, London and    New York, Routledge.



Bonner, Frances (2003), Ordinary Television: Analysing Popular TV, London, SAGE        Publications.

Brunsdon, Charlotte and Lynn Spigel (eds.) (2008), Feminist Television Criticism: A Reader,        2nd Ed., Berkshire, Open UP.

Lasswell, Mark and Rob Biederman (2005), ‘103 Critics Pick the Best Shows on TV’,                   Broadcasting and Cable, July 11, p. 14.

Lyon, David (1999), Postmodernity, 2nd Ed., Buckingham, Open UP.

McCabe, Janet and Kim Akass (eds.) (2007), Quality TV: Contemporary American Television       and Beyond , London and New York, I. B. Tauris.

Weedon, Chris (1999), Feminism, Theory and the Politics of Difference, Oxford, Blackwell           Publishers.

[1] Creeber, Glen (2004), Serial Television, London, British Film Institute, p. 13.

[2] Coward, Rosalind (2006), ‘Still Desperate: Popular Television and the Female Zeitgeist’, in Janet McCabe and Kim Akass (eds.), Reading Desperate Housewives: Beyond the White Picket Fence, London, I.B. Tauris, pp. 31-41.

Gill, Rosalind and Elena Herdieckerhoff (2006), ‘Rewriting the Romance: New Femininities in Chick Lit?’, Feminist Media Studies, Vol. 6, No. 4, p. 489.

[3] Lancioni, Judith (2006), ‘Murder and Mayhem on Wisteria Lane: A Study of Genre and Cultural Context in Desperate Housewives’, in Janet McCabe and Kim Akass (eds.), Reading Desperate Housewives: Beyond the White Picket Fence, London, I.B. Tauris, p. 140.

[4] Zalewski, Marysia (2000), Feminism After Postmodernism: Theorising Through Practise, London and New York, Routledge, pp. 1-5.

[5] Morgan, Carol (2007), ‘Gender Role identity Crisis on Wisteria Lane: Desperate Housewives as a Metaphor for the Modern Day Women’, The Florida Communication Journal, Vol. 34, p. 113.

[6] Hoskin, Dave (2006), ‘Keeping Up Appearances: Desperate Housewives’, Metro Magazine 145, p. 160.

[7] Ibid., p. 160.

[8] Richardson, Niall (2006), ‘As Kamp as Bree: Post-feminist Camp in Desperate Housewives’, in Janet McCabe and Kim Akass (eds.), Reading Desperate Housewives: Beyond the White Picket Fence, London, I.B. Tauris, p. 90.

[9] Ibid., p. 90.

[10] Ibid., p. 90.

[11] Richardson, Niall (2006), ‘As Kamp as Bree: Post-feminist Camp in Desperate Housewives’, in Janet McCabe and Kim Akass (eds.), Reading Desperate Housewives: Beyond the White Picket Fence, London, I.B. Tauris, p. 93.

[12] Akass, Kim (2006), ‘Still Desperate After All These Years: The Post-Feminist Mystique and Maternal Dilemmas’, in Janet McCabe and Kim Akass (eds.), Reading Desperate Housewives: Beyond the White Picket Fence, London, I.B. Tauris, pp. 52-53.

[13] Richardson, Niall (2006), ‘As Kamp as Bree: Post-feminist Camp in Desperate Housewives’, in Janet McCabe and Kim Akass (eds.), Reading Desperate Housewives: Beyond the White Picket Fence, London, I.B. Tauris, p. 92.

[14] Di Gregorio, Luciano (2005), ‘Disconcerting Truths: Uncovering the Values in Desperate Housewives’, Screen Education, Vol. 43, p. 64.

[15] Self, David (1984), Television Drama: An Introduction, Hong Kong, Macmillan, p. 146.

[16] Ibid., p. 147.

[17] Baxter, Judith (2008), ‘Constructions of Active Womanhood and New Femininities: From a Feminist Linguistic Perspective, is Sex and the City a Modernist or Post-Modernist TV Text?’, Women and Language, Vol. 32, No. 1, p. 96.

[18] Lancioni, Judith (2006), ‘Murder and Mayhem on Wisteria Lane: A Study of Genre and Cultural Context in Desperate Housewives’, in Janet McCabe and Kim Akass (eds.), Reading Desperate Housewives: Beyond the White Picket Fence, London, I.B. Tauris, p. 141.

Baxter, Judith (2008), ‘Constructions of Active Womanhood and New Femininities: From a Feminist Linguistic Perspective, is Sex and the City a Modernist or Post-Modernist TV Text?’, Women and Language, Vol. 32, No. 1, p. 96 .