An ubiquitous ingredient on tables everywhere, the popularity of chicken has increased around the world (van Bueren, Lammerts van Bueren, & van der Zijpp, 2014); and parallel to the rise in production to meet this demand, there seems to have been an increase in the contestation of chicken meat production.
Indeed, there is evidence of public criticism regarding the environmental impact of chicken meat production, as well as concerns regarding animal welfare and food safety (Sørensen, Edwards, Noordhuizen, & Gunnarsson, 2006, p. 493). The broiler industry has been contested for its abuse of antibiotics, saturation of chicken meat with water, animal cruelty, increased risk of foodborne illnesses due to intensive farming, and even the deforestation in Latin America to provide chicken feed (van Bueren et al., 2014).
However, in spite of these assertions of public criticism reflecting increased environmental, socio-economic and ethical concerns; there has not been a systematic analysis of this public debate that would allow us to assess the validity of these assumptions of increased problematization and contestation of broiler production. This project analyses the long-term shifts in the discussion around chicken meat production in, through and by the media, by focusing on the coverage of chicken meat production in major circulation newspapers in the United Kingdom from 1985 to 2016. Moreover, by using framing as a theoretical and analytical tool to analyse these shifts in public debate, this article seeks to embed these shifts in framing and meaning in broader discussions of media power.
It is their privileged role in this construction of shared meaning that lies at the heart of most understandings of media power. Whether it is conceptualized as the concentration of symbolic power in media institutions (Couldry, 2001), the privileged access they enjoy to the sources and symbolic resources that help structure our knowledge about the world and our place in and engagement with it (Freedman, 2014), or the direct control over the means of media production that underpin the media’s representational power (Couldry & Curran, 2003); the media exercise their power in and through the social construction of shared meaning (Couldry, 2003). Moreover, through meaning-making, the media can influence the perceptions, cognitions, interpretations and actions of audiences, in order to secure consent for their own power and authority; thereby naturalizing and institutionalizing the inequalities that underlie that power.
We argue that framing is a useful and pertinent theoretical and analytical tool to analyse how the media exercise power in and through the social construction of meaning and contestation around chicken meat production. Incorporating insights from both the constructive-interpretive and the critical paradigms (D'angelo, 2002) or theoretical perspectives (J. Matthes, 2011), this investigation builds on an understanding of framing that highlights the inherently political dimension of framing as a meaning-making process. Carragee and Roefs (2004, pp. 216-217) argue that “adequate conceptualizations of the framing process highlight how framing involves the social construction of meaning. Because the distribution of economic, political, and cultural resources shapes frame sponsorship and framing contests, studying the construction of reality through framing necessarily involves an examination of power”. Such an understanding of framing offers a theoretical concept that can be operationalized in empirical research about meaning-making processes; thus providing us with the analytical tools to investigate how the media exercise power in and through the social construction of meaning.
We are looking for students who are interested in critical media studies and questions of media power, the exercise of power by the media, public debates around mass animal production in general and chicken meat production in particular.