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Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


Media and socio-cultural communication

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Article published in the Irish Communications Review, Vol. 11, 2009.


FROM TIME TO TIME, notions take hold in society in such a way that they become reference ideas across diverse social sectors, and terms associated with these reference ideas proliferate in public discourses and media of various kinds. This is notably true for the ‘knowledge economy’ and ‘knowledge society’; these terms have largely displaced other terms to describe the particular character of advanced economies and societies in the early 21st century. Other terms have struggled to co-exist: ‘information society’ seems passé; ‘services society’, ‘audit society’ and ‘risk society’ are marginal or niche terms; ‘innovation society’ has had intermittent periods of prominence. The main purpose of this paper is to examine how ‘knowledge society’ and related terms have been adopted and adapted in media discourses. Much media work involves the processing of vocabulary, phrases and concepts that originate in restricted intellectual and cultural domains, making this language accessible to wider audiences. In this way, journalism can be said to be often intertextual or interdiscursive (Fairclough, 1995): depending on the subject matter, it may brings together the language of everyday with, say, the language of technology or economics. In some cases, the seams between these languages or discourses may be very visible; in other cases, they may disappear over time. Strong examples of the latter can be found in media coverage of the environment where terms originating in environmental science have been assimilated into the vernacular – climate change, global warming, carbon footprint, and so on. Marks of their assimilation are the use of these terms without attached explanations, their use in what we might call the natural language of journalism, and their use in contexts other than the formal reporting of developments in environmental science. Before engaging with the detail of how such discursive engagements have worked out in relation to ‘knowledge society’, it seems necessary first to sketch some of the history of this concept in academic and policy discourses. This brief examination will demonstrate that the concept emerged into wider usage with many qualifications and interrogations surrounding it. Against this background, it becomes interesting to see how media – in this case, Irish-published newspapers – take account of the uncertainties around the meaning of the phrase.



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