ECPR General Conference
Charles University in Prague, Prague
7 - 10 September 2016

A Swig of Discourse against the 'Dryness of the Tongue'. The Discursive Construction of Austerity in Germany

European Politics
Political Economy
Political Psychology
Tim Griebel
Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Tim Griebel
Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg


This paper examines the discursive construction of austerity in Germany from a Cultural Political Economy perspective that is enriched by the Logics-of-Critical-Explanation-Approach. Based on a corpus linguistic critical realist discourse analysis it is argued that austerity as well as the processes leading to the Euro crisis are not just the result of economic logics. They are also the product of discursive struggles backed up by fantasmatic logics. Although social reality cannot be reduced to discursive constructions it is essential not to give in to the old Greek meaning of austerity as the dryness of the tongue but to take a swig of discourse.
The analysis shows that Germany’s official stance on austerity is based on neoliberalism rather than pro-Europeanism. This tendency cannot be reduced to discursive articulations but stands in a dialectical relationship to both the political economy of the largest economy and creditor state in the EU and the ideological fantasy of neoliberalism. Concerning the economic logics, the intensification of Germany’s export dependence has also led to an imbrication Germany’s finance capital with global and Eurozone crises because German banks have been central in financing countries with current account deficits. Austerity serves as a mechanism to ensure that indebted European countries pay their debts and from Frommian perspective as a mode of having instead of being and of national narcissism instead of European solidarity. Although this thinking is contradictory because Germany only got rich precisely because other countries were not doing the same at the same time this contradiction is masked by the ideological fantasy of neoliberalism that both includes the ideals of choice, competition, growth, and high returns as well as its threat through excessive public deficits and regulation.
But discourses are never stable, they are sites of intensive struggle. Within the fight for discursive hegemony media play an important role as arenas of public struggle. They both serve as mediator and creator of social constructions of reality. Because the idea of austerity does not belong to the political right alone but is also an issue for the left it is worth looking at eventual commonalities and differences between these two discourse coalitions. This is done by contrasting the meaning giving efforts on the edges of the editorial left-right schema for nationwide newspapers in Germany. Therefore, Die Welt at the edge of the right side and the tageszeitung (taz) at the edge of the left side were selected. Quantitative tools of Corpus Linguistics (keyword and collocation analyses) are used to discover regularities at the linguistic surface of social reality while the qualitative critical realist part of the discourse analysis connects these linguistic regularities to economic and fatasmatic logics beyond the linguistic surface. The analysis shows that in comparison to Die Welt the left-wing taz articulates a critique of neoliberalism and searches for an alternative future for Europe based on solidarity.
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