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The political field and public relations : Competing discourses in New Zealand’s first MMP election

This thesis uses Norman Fairclough’s model of critical discourse analysis to analyse the campaign discourse of each of the five main political parties that contested the New Zealand general election in 1996. The parties were: The National Party, the New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand First, Act and The Alliance. The election itself was of historic importance because it was the first to be held in New Zealand under an electoral system of proportional representation. The theoretical framework of the thesis combines Bourdieu’s theory of the political field and Bobbio’s concept of the universe of political discourse. This framework facilitates an analysis of political campaign discourse within the context of a struggle for representative and symbolic power in the political field. Critical discourse analysis focuses on the campaign texts as a product of the social and discourse practices of the political professionals vying for that power. It underscores the ideological functions of language, as well as the role of communication professionals, in (re)constructing political discourse. The thesis also raises concerns about the professionalisation of discourse construction in the context of the public sphere. Because of the introduction of proportional representation, competition within the political field was intensified. This fact, combined with an evident dissatisfaction with politics and politicians by voters in New Zealand civil society, resulted in a wider range of stances, based primarily upon ideological differences, being adopted than under the previous first-past-the-post system. Political parties were not, therefore, able to cluster in the neutral centre of the political field in line with international trends of campaign modernisation and the associated formation of catch-all parties. Increased competition in the political field resulted in greater importance being placed on party identification and differentiation, as each party sought to discursively position itself as representative of a range of issues of concern in civil society. The ways in which the parties not only discursively positioned themselves in the political field but repositioned their opponents have practical significance for the fields of public relations, organisation communication and marketing. A post script to the thesis looks at the use made of World Wide Web sites by New Zealand political parties in 1996. It discusses their potential for the revitalisation of the public sphere. It also surmises that public relations practitioners and political marketers, when they realise the potential, will transform the sites in order to provide entertainment formats which target voters as consumers of political discourse.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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