Sociology 211

September 13, 2004


Today – short discussion of how media frames issues and then complete the introduction to the course.


Framing and media


If you tackle the media part of the project or just observe the media during the semester, consider how the media treat issues dealing with ethnicity.  Fleras and Kunz discuss this as “framing” of ethnic issues, when they are reported in the media.  In Canada today, it is unlikely that public personalities or the media will be overtly racist in saying that members of a particular group are inferior, less intelligent, or not suitable for Canada.  Such statements were not uncommon fifty years ago, but the language associated with and treatment of ethnic minorities has changed in Canada, so most people have learned to not be overtly racist in their statements.  Examples from None is too many by I. Abella and H. Troper, 1986.


At the same time, the thrust of the Fleras and Kunz book is that there is a more subtle racism expressed in media reporting of ethnic issues.  While we will deal with this in more detail through the semester, Fleras and Kunz argue that the way the media reports and handles ethnic issues, that is the framing of these issues, means that the “mainstream media have proven complicit in fortifying the cultural hierarchy and moral authority at the heart of an existing social order.”  (Fleras and Kunz, p. vii).  They argue that the media does not challenge the existing social order, but generally accepts stereotypes supporting existing status and power differences in Canadian society.  Some of these could be the superiority and dominance of whiteness and European based culture over people of colour and non-European cultures.  But Fleras and Kunz argue that this is not always explicit in approaches taken by the media, so it is necessary to carefully consider what the media report and how they analyze the issues.  This is what they mean by “framing the issue.”


Among the aspects to consider are the following.

·        Over- or under-reporting.  Minorities may be over or under-reported, depending on issue.

·        Media over- or under-representation of minorities in employment and in public view.

·        Setting or context used to report such issues.  Association of issue with ethnic group.  For example, crime often associated with members of a particular group. 

·        Language used to report.  Subtle use of words and images that are seemingly objective but cast a unwarranted negative view about some and an unwarranted, overly positive view about others.

·        Representative of situation as a whole or selective in reporting.

·        Diversity – members of each ethnic group are diverse among themselves, but stereotypes implying a sameness among members of the group may be reported.

·        Selectivity of coverage – not everything can be covered.  Is the selection of issues that are covered in the media an overall balance of all possible issues?  Unlikely that it is, since it would be difficult to cover all issues in the media.  Consider which issues are selected for coverage or, in the case of issues not selected, why these issues were not selected.

·        Setting agendas (p. xiii).  Media can have a powerful effect by choosing to cover a particular issue, while ignoring others.  Issues covered by the media become part of the public agenda while issues not covered may be ignored.

·        Constructing reality.  Each of us has contact with only a small part of society and social interaction.  Much of what we are aware of and are able to understand about society is pieced together from what we read, hear, or see in the media.  As a result, the media is a powerful force for reflecting reality, and as a way of constructing what is the reality.  While members of the media may not attempt to construct an inaccurate or unrepresentative reality, they may do so. 


These are some of the issues to consider when examining the media.  Do media examine issues through a prism of whiteness, racializing others, or dividing the world into an “us” and a “them” (Fleras and Kunz, p. xiii).  In the latter case, who is us and who is them?  It is difficult to consider and obtain a good grasp of all these issues of framing, but is important to attempt understand them in order to analyze the media and other aspects of public discourse around ethnicity and ethnic relations.




A.  Ethnicity – an overview.  Did this on Friday.


B.  Why study ethnicity and multiculturalism?


These were not major topics of sociology historically – more emphasis was placed on social class, social cohesion, and power by the founders and practitioners of sociology, such as Marx, Weber, and Durkheim.  Throughout much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuryies, it was assumed that there were strong integrative or assimilative forces in any society, producing a similarity of culture among all members of the society.  While sociologists recognized that people would be divided by income, status, and power, in a liberal, democratic society, there was an assumption of equality and sameness with respect to culture.  Sociologists were impressed by the forces of modernization, capitalism, and industrialization, and sociological analysis pointed toward these as strong homogenizing forces.  Sociological analysis pointed toward a disappearance of separate cultures, ways of life, and languages within each country.


In earlier social systems, people lived in local settings, with limited transportation and communication.  People from each small region differed in culture and traditions – going across Europe or Asia, a traveller might have encountered hundreds of groups and ways of life that today we would consider to constitute different ethnic groups.  But with the growth of cities, industry expanded, communication among groups increased and people were on the move.  New nations were founded, such as France, Italy, and Germany, with uniform laws, government, and legal systems across the country.  Each of these countries developed a national language, so that communication across the whole country became possible.  Schools and the print media developed a common culture across each country, so that cultural differences among small “ethnic” groups were eliminated.  The people of France became French, the people of Italy became Italians, and so on.  In the United States, which received people from many European lands, immigrants relatively quickly learned to speak English and assimilated into the mainstream.  Immigrants lost their language and culture and, regardless of country of origin, became English-speaking Americans, so that we often consider the United States to have a distinctive and powerful culture of its own.  Given this setting, it might initially seem that ethnicity is a thing of the past, that we should spend time analyzing income and class differences, male-female inequalities, regional differences in economic opportunities, and so on.


Canada might seem a bit of an exception to this trend, with two major groups of immigrants (English and French), and aboriginal groups who have retained their identity, culture, and language.  But the same trends have operated in Canada, at least producing a set of English-speaking Canadians with a common culture, regardless of which European country they immigrated from. 


But ethnic differences and diversity have persisted, and analysis of the issues connected with such diversity have come to the fore in sociology and other social sciences.  Ethnic and cultural differences cannot be ignored in Canada in this new century.  The trend in much of the rest of the world is the same in that many societies are, or have become, multicultural.  The relationships among those of different ethnicity has become a major part of social relationships among people.


Some factors


1.  Multi-ethnic reality.  Isajiw (p. 11) begins his “Introduction” by outlining the multiethnic character of most countries.  Many countries today do not have a single dominant or majority ethnic group, but include people from a wide variety of cultures and origins.  And many of these groups are of considerable size.  Where there is a majority or dominant ethnic or cultural group, the other groups are often referred to as minority groups. 


Isajiw states that the Census of Canada lists 113 different ethnicities, presumably there are many more with only a few individuals, so the latter are not listed.  In Canada, the largest groups are English and French, perhaps about thirty per cent of the population is in each group, with others of European background being the majority of the remainder.  Fleras and Kunz (p. xiii) state that about one-half of the population is of non-British, non-French background, so no one group is dominant in the same sense as earlier in Canadian history. 


2.  Immigration.  In Canada and many European countries, an additional factor is changes in immigration patterns.  While there was much migration in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, within Europe the population movements were other Europeans moving between countries or within countries.  Apart from the slave trade, whereby Africans came to the Americas, most of the immigration to North and South America was from Europe.  So in terms of numbers, and culture, the population of North America is primarily European in origin. 


During the middle part of the twentieth century, immigration was minimal.  From 1930 through 1960, as a result of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the war of the 1940s, and the rebuilding of Europe after the war in the 1950s, there was limited immigration to North America.  This undoubtedly added to the view that ethnic differences were on the decline and, for the most part, ignored.  In the United States, the civil rights movement was a movement with the aim of integration of African-Americans into the mainstream of society. 


In recent years, migration from Asia and Africa to North America and Europe has become much more common.  In Canada, commentators often say the population of Canada has become more diverse than in earlier periods.  Certainly the range of countries of origin of immigrants has expanded, and there are more people of colour, or visible minorities, than earlier periods.  In the early twentieth century, potential immigrants from much of Africa or Asia were not permitted to come to Canada or entry requirements were made extremely difficult.  This did not begin to change until the 1960s, and it has only been in the last twenty years that Asian immigration has expanded much;  immigration from Africa is still very limited.  Western Europe has gone through a similar change, although with more immigrants from the Middle East and Africa than from Asia. 


Whether there is more diversity in Canada today than on the Prairies one hundred years ago, is not entirely clear.  In the early twentieth century, cities like Winnipeg and Regina had a multiplicity of languages and people from many European regions.  Today there is a longer list of countries of origin, but perhaps a large part of the difference is the perceived difference in the new immigrants.  The new immigrants from Asia and Africa may look different, but perhaps the diversity is no greater than before.  But so long as the perception is that diversity is greater, then the reality is that ethnicity is perceived as an important aspect of contemporary society and this may be associated with greater stress and potential conflict in ethnic social relations.  Presumably this is what multiculturalism attempts to address.


3.  Identity and recognition.  While the texts do not emphasize this in the introductions, the last fifty years have seen a wide variety of ways that individuals and groups have become more aware of their exclusion from the mainstream.  Groups have expressed their demands for inclusion and equal or equitable treatment in the economic, political, and social arenas.  The language of human rights, participation, citizenship, inclusion, recognition, identity, nationhood, self-determination, and equality has become widely used.  It has not only been ethnic groups that have expressed these ideas, but other groupings such as women, gays, and lesbians who have used this language.  


As people of different backgrounds have been discriminated against or have not been able to participate fully in society, the members of these groups have become more aware of their experiences and social situation.  This has led in different directions – some members of some of these groups have used to ideas of equality and equitable treatment to push for inclusion in the mainstream of society.  Others have asserted their separate identities, and argued that their rights include being treated as equals with the majority or dominant groups in society.  Programs to make the labour force more inclusive and representative of the population as a whole are one result of the former.  Examples of the latter are the Quebecois separatist movement and aboriginal self-government. 


In both cases though, members of the ethnic groups have become more aware of their identity, and have used the language of rights and equality, and the political arena, to assert their requests or demands.  In each case, there is a desire for recognition as equals and treatment as equals.  Political strategies differ among groups, but the aim of members of each group is to heighten awareness of the situation, demand recognition of the problems the group has encountered, assert the identity of the group, and make political and economic changes to improve the situation of the group. 


In terms of the definition of ethnicity discussed earlier, this has sometimes had the effect of defining the ethnic boundaries more clearly (Isajiw, pp. 19-20).  That is, members of the population as a whole have become more aware of the ethnic group at the same time as members of the ethnic group have become more aware of their identity.  Again, multiculturalism is presumably a way in which this can be accommodated, so members of different ethnic groups can express their identity, receive respect and recognition, all groups can live together, and each group can find a place in society.  In a multicultural approach, there are a number of ways of resolving these issues, with one key aspect being equitable treatment by those of other ethnic groups and members of society generally.


4.  Conflicts and media.  Sometimes the accommodative process breaks down, so the boundaries among groups are associated with suspicion, tension, and overt conflict.  With different ethnic groups, there will always be some competition over the scarce resources of society.  But this will often be resolved in a peaceful manner, perhaps with some political, economic, or social conflict.  At other times, the peaceful route breaks down and the hostility is associated with physical violence or war.  Isajiw (pp. 11-12) notes that many of the wars and situations of physical violence have an ethnic aspect to them – Rwanda, Northern Ireland, Israel and Palestine, former Yugoslavia, Chechnya.  In urban areas, while physical violence has often had an economic aspect, it is often the ethnic differences that become the focus of the media. 


This is one aspect of the media worth considering – whether the focus on such conflicts is overemphasized or misplaced.   Undoubtedly the situation differs from case to case, but it often appears that the media ignores issues until physical violence or attacks on property occur.  While the grievance of the group may be a result of their having been or continuing to be treated inequitably, the media often ignores this inequitable treatment so long as the group is quiet and accepts its treatment.  It is when the individuals decide to challenge the status quo, and this erupts into violence, that the media focus on the issue.  Since the individuals are often part of an ethnic group, or appear to be part of such, the media may portray the conflict as an ethnic conflict.  It may be this, in part, but the media may misrepresent the situation, thus lending tacit support to the dominant power relations, where the disadvantaged members of a society are blamed for the problems.


5.  Globalization.  Isajiw (pp. 12-13) identifies globalization as a major phenomenon in increasing awareness of cultural diversity, perhaps even being responsible for increased diversity.   The arguments Isajiw presents about globalization are important to consider, in that if these forces of globalization did not exist, there would be little contact between people of different cultures.  That is, we would still all be localized with little geographic mobility or communication. 


On the other hand, the globalization is a process that has existed for a long time, and it has its ebbs and flows, sometimes with more globalization and sometimes with less.  The late nineteenth and early twentieth century was a time of massive globalization, with much movement of capital, goods and services, and people.  Another problem with arguing that globalization is the major source of increased awareness of ethnic diversity is that some argue that global forces produce similar cultures across the globe, wiping out particular languages and cultures, creating a single global culture in which all are involved.  This is expressed as the macdonaldization of society, the multinationalization of business, or the influence of the Disney culture.  The thrust of these forces appears to be to make people similar to each other, with the English language dominant and North American culture dominating around the world.


Isajiw’s arguments are useful though.  There are three parts to his argument that globalization has resulted from multinational corporations, trade agreements, and international organizations.  These are as follows.


·        Multinational corporations must deal with a variety of cultures, languages, and customs as they establish businesses in countries around the world.  This has the possibility of making people in these corporations more aware of cultural and language diversity.  In many cases the corporate leaders are sensitive to at least some parts of the different cultures and establish means of adapting to the cultures of the country in which they operate.  There is a management thrust termed “managing diversity” so that some managers are trained to be sensitive to this.  Abu-Laban and Gabriel, in their book Selling Diversity deal with some aspects of this.  At other times though, managers may impose a single, corporate culture, so this international character to operations cuts both ways. 


·        A second aspect of multinationalization or internationalization is that corporations produce change in culture and traditions among employees in other countries.  Isajiw notes how this produces ethnic diversity in these countries, by dividing the “globalized” sectors of the economy and society from the more traditional sectors.


·        The third aspect mentioned by Isajiw is international migration.  We will deal with the history and statistics of immigration later in the semester.  There is little doubt though that the increased contact created by globalization has led to increased potential for migration. 


·        A fourth aspect that Isajiw mentions but does not discuss much is improvements in communication and transportation.  These have been dramatic in the last twenty years, especially with innovations in telecommunication, electronic communication, and air travel.  Once the privilege of only a small minority, these have now become common ways of communicating instantly around the world.  Air travel, while expensive, is often within the budget of middle or working class individuals and families.  This increases the possibility for quick and multiple moves, with individuals able to divide time and home base between different countries.  This means the very nature of immigration has changed somewhat, with the possibility of multiple citizenship and allegiances.


In summary, globalization is connected to interest in and concern about ethnicity and ethnic relations.  However, it is necessary to examine the specific effects of different aspects of globalization on ethnic diversity.  Some aspects of globalization lead in the direction of greater cultural uniformity and reduction of ethnic diversity.  Other aspects are associated with increased ethnic diversity, or at least the appearance of such an increase.


6.  Other factors


a.  Diversity.  One of the changes that contemporary societies have undergone is that there is greater diversity generally, not just in ethnicity.  Unlike the small scale, localized, traditional social groupings of much earlier society, the norm today is diversity.  In issues of morality, sexuality, political views, religions, family types, life courses, peer groups, and life styles, there is a wide range of possibilities that are considered generally acceptable.  Most of us are unlikely to actively oppose the choices of others, even those choices and lifestyles that we may consider unusual or objectionable.  In North America, we generally have an attitude of tolerance or coexistence, so long as individuals live within the law and do not attempt to do too much to impose their views and ways of life on others.   Some of this tolerance toward difference and understanding that different individuals may adopt quite different ways of living than my own, has undoubtedly led toward greater tolerance or acceptance of ethnic difference. 


At the same time, there are forces toward uniformity – some of the globalizing forces.  So there is always a mixture of influences that proceed in opposite directions – influences toward sameness and influences toward difference.  During the semester, think about what some of these are and how they play themselves out in contemporary social relations. 


b.  Changes in majority social views.  The emphasis on human rights and equality in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of Canada and the emphasis on citizenship has led in the same direction.  The revulsion against genocide and the treatment of minorities, especially the treatment Jews in Europe, and against more recent ethnic hositilities, has undoubtedly helped us be more accepting of difference.  Certainly the overt racism and outright discrimination that existed in the nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth century is no longer the norm – much of this is illegal and not acceptable to Canadians generally. 



Abella, Irving and Harold Troper.  1986.  None is too many, Toronto, Lester and Orpen Dennys.

Abu-Laban, Yasmeen and Christina Gabriel, Selling diversity: immigration, multiculturalism, employment equity, and globalization.  FC104 A28 2002


Next day – read Isajiw, pp. 17-47.  Introduction to ethnicity and ethnic relations.


Last edited September 18, 2004