Constructive zapping

Watching television as a hybrid practice of citizenship
What is the role of television in the formation of citizenship? How do discourses of citizenship shape this function of television? And how are these discourses used and combined in everyday life by viewers/citizens? These are the core questions in this thesis. I argue that popular and political culture, news and entertainment programmes, rationality and empathy, the universal and the particular1 should be valued equally. In the hybrid practices of citizenship in late-modern societies, these elements are all significant. This conclusion derives from a re-evaluation of theory by talking to viewers/citizens.

In the first chapter, I provide the platform for further discussion by sketching the modern discourse of television. The firm belief in an absolute reality, and rationality as the most important human quality, are the two pillars upon which this discourse is constructed. Television can - by providing us with ‘reality in the raw’ – inform us, and we – as citizens – can use this information to shape our worldview and opinions. This demonstrates that realism works as a foundation for involvement and citizenship. By emphasizing the importance of reality and rationality, a hierarchy of thinking is formed. Fiction and emotion are looked at with great scepticism. They are certainly not seen as contributing to citizenship. Moreover, they are often viewed as dangers to the democratic project. I refer to this specific modern discourse of citizenship with the term ‘Universal citizenship’. The second chapter is the start of my inventory taking of the post-modern discourse by problematizing the term reality. Using the work of Baudrillard and Eco I start questioning the notion of the absolute truth. By doing so, it becomes apparent that concepts may be understood in different ways; that meaning is discursive. Theory of Stuart Hall on identity sheds light on the personal reception of news. Shifting from news to entertainment, the last part of chapter 2 explores the experience of realism in watching drama series. Here the strength and worth of emotion becomes explicitly

A term in which I want to capture the specific and the personal.


clear. From this chapter I derive with a post-modern concept of realism and identity and a starting revaluation of empathy. Elaborating on the issue of the personal and post-modern identity, the third chapter begins addressing the link between these concepts and involvement with entertainment programmes. Subsequently, I move from involvement to citizenship primarily drawing on theory on cultural citizenship, and the work of Martha Nussbaum – showing that fiction can not only evoke personal emotion and involvement, but also a broader sense of empathy, and compassion for the other. I call this form of citizenship ‘Particular citizenship’. In the closing section of chapter 3 I show the potential of popular culture in this context, considering it’s nearness and empathic realism. In the final chapter the modern and the post-modern discourse are intertwined, interrogating how Universal and Particular citizenship are used in the practice of talking about television. Here I will explore how these two discourses co-exist, even though theoretically they seem to rule each other out. Touching upon the HabermasFoucault discussion I show the reciprocal critiques between the discourses. Then I expand the understanding of the link between realism and involvement, by analysing how television viewers apply both discourses. Approaching my conclusion, the idea of hybridity is introduced. I argue that this concept is a good articulation of the working of citizenship discourses, and the role of television in the formation of citizenship, in late-modern daily life. Television can be understood as a hybrid practice of citizenship.