‘Reality’, ‘truth’, and the democratic imagination in journalistic reporting on antiracist, queer, and feminist activism in Poland

Reality’, ‘truth’, and the democratic imagination in journalistic reporting on antiracist, queer, and feminist activism in Poland

Kinga Polynczuk-Alenius
Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences
Commentary by Roberto Kulpa, Edinburgh Napier University

May 8, 2024, 5 pm (CEST)

Warsaw, Nowy Świat 72, room 161

Online participation possible (ask at publicrelations@ifispan.edu.pl)

In this talk, I map the epistemic landscape of Polish journalism by teasing out the various visions of ‘reality’ – understood as bare facts about contingent events – and ‘truth’ – approached as an interpretation of such facts – on which different media outlets operate. To do so, I analyse the coverage of three cases of minoritised activism: (1) an effort by Afro-Poles against racist language, (2) the Stop Bzdurom collective’s activities on behalf of queer youth, and (3) the Women’s Strike mobilisation in the aftermath of a near-total ban on abortion. By foregrounding the experiences and experiential knowledge of minoritised groups, these struggles challenge certain unproblematised assumptions about race, racism, sex, and gender in the Polish society, thereby prompting journalistic questions about the ‘reality’ of events and the ‘truth’ of experiences. In so doing, minoritised activism also illuminates the shortcomings of democracy in Poland insofar as the current sociopolitical arrangements do not advance a universal inclusion and equal participation for all.

Empirically, the talk draws on an ongoing qualitative analysis of a very large corpus of articles, published by a range of politically entrenched outlets – divided into the pro-Civic Platform ‘liberal’ faction (Polityka, NaTemat.pl, TVN 24, TOK FM, and Gazeta Wyborcza) and the pro-Law and Justice ‘identity media’ camp (Do Rzeczy, WPolityce.pl, TVP Info, Polskie Radio 24, and Gazeta Polska Codziennie) – and two ostensibly non-aligned media (OKO.press and Krytyka Polityczna). The preliminary results show that ‘liberal’ journalism relies on the ‘empirical’ vision of reality that can be perceived, evidenced, and verified, and the ‘hegemonic’ notion of truth that takes the majority experience as a reference point. ‘Identity journalism’, meanwhile, subscribes to the ‘transcendent’ perspective on reality as unchangeable and independent of human experience and perception, and, therefore, graspable only via ‘ideological’ truth that comports with the already held beliefs. Finally, the ‘non-aligned’ journalism follows the ‘experiential’ conception of reality as accessible via personal experiences and validated via an ‘intersubjective’ truth that emerges at an intersection of different people’s perceptions.

I conclude by considering how each epistemic configuration contributes, or not, to the cultivation of ‘democratic imagination’, conceptualised as perspective-taking geared towards advancing the democratic values of universal inclusion, equality, pluralism, and openness to diversity. 

Kinga Połyńczuk-Alenius is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie PASIFIC Cofund Fellow and Assistant Professor at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IFiS PAN). She is a media and communication scholar and her work on racism, migration, and right-wing journalism has been published in journals such as European Journal of CommunicationJournalism, and Nations and Nationalism. Połyńczuk-Alenius received her doctoral degree from the University of Helsinki (Finland) in 2018. Prior to joining IFiS PAN, she was a Core Fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies.

Roberto Kulpa (discussant) is Lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University, an expert in the interdisciplinary gender and sexuality studies, combined with social and epistemic geopolitics, particularly focused on regional dynamics between Western and Central-Eastern Europe. He is an author of numerous publications in this field. Currently, he is co-Investigator on the EU Horizon Europe project RESIST https://theresistproject.eu/ responsible for the Polish case study.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 847639 and from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education

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