Experiential Knowledge as Discourse: Authority and Parrhesia in News Media Risk Communication

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis offers a new examination of risk communication which synthesises the risk society and governmentality approaches. While there are established traditions of research which integrate elements of risk society and governmentality theories of risk communication in the media, few have focussed on both active audiences and authority. This thesis uses a model of ‘parrhesia’, a consideration of rhetorical speech where judgements of truth are related to the position of the speaker, as used by Michel Foucault, to examine experiential forms of information in the news.
By using case studies of television news stories, this thesis develops an examination of both content and narrative structure to put forward a theoretical position which demonstrates the authority of experiential knowledge in risk communication. Once the case studies were complete, a questionnaire was used to examine the viewing preferences of general audience members. The data collected was then triangulated with semi-structured interviews that examined the respondents’ understanding of risk communication via these media sources.
This research finds that news stories present risk information through narrative and experiences of non-experts. The interviews reveal that this is a preference shared by the audience. Therefore, television news audiences express a preference for narrative-based, experiential risk information over risk information presented as expert knowledge.
Contemporary media such as online news sources and social media represent a new mode of news delivery that allows for risk communication to occur in a highly curated and personalised news environment. Rather than viewing online news use as indicative of a new type of news consumption, I argue that it is an extension of the type of risk communication found in pre-digital, television news audiences.
I conclude that audiences invest authority in risk information communicated through those they see as experiential proxies, including the “everyday” demands of reflexive modernity. This is explained through a synthesis of “risk society” and governmentality as a form of governmentality where, through the theoretical lens of parrhesia, experiential knowledge becomes discourse. Reflexive discourse is in demand by reflexive, self-disciplining risk information consumers who are distrusting of experts and navigating contested knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • O'Carroll, John, Principal Supervisor
  • Lee, Murray, Principal Supervisor, External person
Award date01 Mar 2017
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2017


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