Discursive and Narrative Tactics in Representations of the Labour Party

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Politics


This research addresses the role of language and narrative used in the presentation of the Labour Party and Momentum (by those groups themselves, in the press, and on social media) in the ongoing battle for control over the Labour Party, its internal democracy and its agenda, in the context of the increasing neoliberalism of late capitalism (Callaghan, 2000; Laclau and Mouffe, 2014). Neoliberalism constitutes actors on no less a stage than a global economy, where we exist not as human agents but as discrete units of "human capital" 'to be indefinitely increased' (Dardot and Laval, 2013, p.24). Neoliberal subjects are encouraged to act as though they were mini-enterprises, the totality of whose interactions are made transactional with every aspect of life rendered fungible in a system of social relations reduced to market interactions. Despite the popular media narrative, it is not evident from Labour manifestos and rhetoric that Corbynism represents a return to a pre-existing Labour left, its politics are more nuanced, shaped by a greater understanding of - and desire to represent - identity as constructed on a complex intersectional matrix of identities - gender, age, race, religion, sexuality - that shape the individual beyond the traditional narrative of class. To this extent we must understand Corbynism's policies and democratic ambitions (e.g. Momentum's representational policies as regards its National Coordinating Group) as a reaction to neoliberalism, as much as a politics that predates it. This research aims to examine the linguistic and narrative battles being fought by various groups in the British political landscape for control over the ways in which the Labour Party is understood. Further, it seeks to discover how the language and narratives employed by Labour can and do form part of a genuine counter-hegemonic ambition.

To this end I will approach four research questions:

1. What language games and narratives are at play in British media and politics surrounding the Labour Party, its policies and internal democracy? How are these presented to their audiences as "truth" and what identities are being made available for adoption by the readers of these texts?

2. What correlations and antagonisms exist between those 'regimes of truth' constructed by media around neoliberal politics and the ways in which groups within the Labour Party and Momentum construct their own identities and their anti-neoliberal politics?

3. What impact are common political narratives and discourses having on the ways in which groups within the Labour Party and Momentum present their positions to the public and construct their own identities internally?

4. How can an understanding of the impact of linguistic and narrative choice in the construction of intersectional identities of individual actors (and political identities of groups) be useful in challenging the current neoliberal hegemony?


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2220710 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 William Ralph Feltham