From social celebration to politics as usual : newspaper coverage of the Legislative opening in Ontario, 1900-2007
thesisposted on 2021-05-23, 16:23 authored by James Irvine Cairns
This dissertation analyzes twentieth century changes in the representation of political authority in Ontario. It does so by conducting narrative analysis and framing analysis of newspaper coverage of the ceremonial Opening of the Legislature. In contrast to standard political science approaches to this key civic ritual, the dissertation builds upon cultural theory that views news as central to the social construction of reality and addresses three research questions: In what ways has the meaning of the legislative opening been represented in mainstream Ontario newspapers? How have mass mediated processes of ritualization changed over time? And what do answers to the first two questions suggest about the development of popular conceptions of political legitimacy in Ontario? Textual analysis demonstrates that social knowledge about the legislative opening has changed significantly between 1900 and 2007. During the first half of the twentieth century, journalists approached and described the Opening of the Legislature as a Social Celebration: a popular festival at Queen's Park that was also a break from routine policy discourse and partisan battle. By contrast, by the 1970s coverage was organized around the Speech from the Throne. Increasingly aggressive journalistic tones and techniques represented the ritual as a performance of rationality--a special iteration of Politics as Usual. Once a celebration of social order centred around Ontario High Society, the legislative opening is now depicted as a debate among competing interests in Ontario society. While remaining critical of the emergent ritual of liberal-pluralism for its part in normalizing systems of inequality, the dissertation argues that changes in newspaper coverage both reflect and reinforce the rise of what Smith calls "electoral democracy", a conception of politics in which extra-parliamentary actors are legitimized as participants in government. At the level of scholarly practice, the study makes an original contribution to recent debates in media anthropology by using longitudinal textual analysis to study the ritualization of civic ritual; and shifts in news coverage are used to advocate further interdisciplinary studies of legislative politics in Canada.