Identity, Discourse, and the Media: The Case of the Kurds

Jaffer Sheyholislami (jaffer_sheyholislami@carleton.ca)
School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University
August, 2008
 
Dr. Jaffer Sheyholislami is currently (fall 2009) Assistant Professor at the School of Linguistics and Language Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. His current research areas include Critical Discourse Analysis, Identity, Language in/of Media, and Language Planning.
 

Abstract

This dissertation focuses on the interrelationships between national identities, discourses, and communication technologies in the context of Kurdish people. Informed by the interdisciplinary approach of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), the study investigates the ways Kurds use satellite television and the Internet to reproduce, construct, disseminate and articulate discursive and semiotic constructions of their identities. The television data consists of approximately 168 hours of Kurdistan Television (KTV) broadcasting, from August 6 to 12, 2005. The Internet data was accumulated over a decade of observation of Kurdish online activities and sources such as web directories, websites, chat-rooms, weblogs, forums and social networking tools (e.g. YouTube). The data are enriched by email interviews and personal communication with television viewers and Internet users and also by drawing on various media outlets reporting on the discourse practices and socio-cultural aspects of the media under investigation. The data are analyzed, interpreted and explained at three levels. At the discourse practice level, the types of television programs and internet constituents used for the practices of identity construction are mapped. At the textual analysis level, multimodal and micro analyses of verbal language, images and music are carried out. At the socio-cultural level, findings from the other levels of analysis are explained in light of the historical and political contexts that bear upon the discursive formation of Kurdish identities.

The findings reveal that KTV’s discourse practices are carried out within the ideological framework and political interests of its owner, Kurdistan Democratic Party, an organization that aspires to regional autonomy for Iraqi Kurdistan as opposed to establishment of Greater Kurdistan. Representations of pan-Kurdism are often subtle on KTV. The Internet, on the other hand, provides alternative communicative spaces for explicit and overt construction and reproduction of a cross-border and pan-Kurdish identity. Although there is not one single Kurdish identity, it can be said that within the last decade or so, Kurds from many places have started to learn more about themselves and their “Others” than they had ever known. In recent years, various socio-political developments, from the US led war in Iraq and Turkey’s bid for membership in the European Union to the expansion of Kurdish diasporas, have transformed Kurdish communities. In addition, new communication technologies have enabled Kurds to begin overcoming the geographical and political barriers that have kept them apart and fragmented. As a result, since the mid-1990s, alongside several regional Kurdish identities, a pan or cross-border Kurdish identity has been strengthening. It is suggested that the implications of this development can be significant for Kurds and the entire region.

The findings also lend themselves to making more general observations. Far from being agents of only homogenizing the world, satellite television and the Internet have enabled non-state actors and marginalized minorities to reify both their regional and cross-border identities in multimodal discourses. The research has also suggested that the nation-state ideology which primarily conceives of a national identity as culturally and linguistically homogenous may no longer be tenable. Finally, the study calls for further investigation into the practices of identity formation as mediated by the discourses of new communication technologies in more local contexts.
  •  Announcements
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Current Issue
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Thesis Abstracts
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo

We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

SSHRC LOGO