Youth Protests in France and in the United States: The Role of the Media in Defining Civic Engagement.
In terms of civic engagement, France is in many ways a counter-point to the United States. Although citizens in both countries participated actively in the late 1960s and 1970s – the civil right movements in the U.S. and May 68 in France – new generations of Americans seem to have lost their civic engagement, while new generations in France are increasingly participating in the country’s civic life. These differences are partly due to the fact that the American civic scene is dominated by intermediary organizations – which often leave young people out of the equation – while civic engagement in France has often been associated with ‘protest’ and marked by a long divide between the state and the streets. But the media also seem to play a key role in defining civic engagement and the levels of participation in both countries. The literature suggests that U.S. media hinder citizens’ participation in political protests, as U.S. corporate media tend to marginalize dissenting voices to protect the status quo (Schiller, 1976; 1989; Gitlin, 1980; Schudson, 1995). On the other hand, the less commercial French media are supposed to encourage participation in protests, with more sympathetic coverage of citizen dissent and increased opportunities for democratic political debate and social change (Benson and Hallin, 2007). In my dissertation project, I would like to assess the soundness of this assumption. To what extent are the media in both countries defining levels of participation in the public sphere and providing opportunities for social change? Content and textual analyses of news about protests have already been the focus of numerous studies in the U.S. and in France. But very few studies have looked at this issue comparatively and cross-nationally. Similarly, these analyses were mainly concerned with the news texts, and did not venture to ask protesters what their relationship to the media was and whether they felt their message was being heard. And while most of these analyses were successful at showing the impact of the media on levels of political participation, they have paid little attention to the outcomes and consequences of these social movements. I wish to analyze the coverage of these student protests through content and textual analyses of news articles and television reports. I hope to find out whether the media played a role in encouraging participation, and also whether they were successful at initiating a rational-critical debate in the public sphere, eventually empowering young people to make positive changes in society. These analyses will be complemented by interviews of students, who were involved in these protests, and some others, who were not, in order to understand students’ protest culture (or lack thereof) in both countries. Also, provided that student protests occur at the time of my dissertation research, I would like to do an ethnographic observation of ongoing demonstrations.