Et case-baseret systemteoretisk studie af den politiske konflikt

Publikation: Ph.d. afhandling/ kandidat/ diplomKandidatspecialeFormidling


Title: A case-based system theoretical analysis of the political conflict
Disagreements are common in daily life as well as in the political sphere. But when disagreement relates to a perceived wrongdoing by a politician, minister or party, the disagreement can transform and cross into public life as a political crisis, raising the stakes for anyone involved. Such a crisis must be handled by the relevant stakeholders, or it might grow into a full scale political conflict.
This paper analyses how political conflicts arise and develop. The paper employs a system theoretical framework, in the sense that all social life is understood to consist of communication, and crises are understood to be communicational events within social life. This theoretical framework emphasizes that crises must be observed as such to exist, and that they should be understood as temporary systems within social life, existing only as long as they are maintained as themes through communicational contribution.
A political conflict arises when a public figure or group in the political sphere is observed to be a risk. That might be a minister, a politician or a political party, observed to be a risk to Danish interest, to the electoral success of a party or the re-election of a whole government. Risks are assessments of future losses and how these losses relate to a specific system. The concept of risk is closely related to the concept of trust, because trusting someone is the same as allowing the possibility of a betrayal of trust in the future.
The mass media are integral to political conflicts, because their selection between information and non-information is the medium that transmits a crisis through social life. How a specific media relate to a specific political conflict, is a question of the criteria of selection the individual media employ, but some media will be involved in any political conflict. By selecting between information and non-information, the mass media represent a public meaning, used by politicians to reflect laws, opinions and so forth in. This public meaning has no impact in itself, but if it is related to a function system of communication, for instance the legal (illegal/legal behaviour), economic (more or less economic support for campaigning) or political system (more or less votes), the public meaning might be said to have consequences in the form of political conflicts.
This paper employs a case-centric methodological approach. This approach is inspired by the System Theory of Niklas Luhmann, in which the rise and development of a conflict can only be understood through its context. Though it is not without relevance to observe the pragmatics of a conflict – how politicians try to explain and handle it – it is not possible to deduce from such observations alone, why a tactic failed or succeeded. Such knowledge requires more than a comparison of how a tactic worked in other contexts.
The case employed by this paper, is the political conflict that arose in Denmark, when the Danish minister of foreign affairs at the time, Lene Espersen, chose not to attend the Arctic 5 summit on the 29th of March 2010. This choice led to vocal criticism, based on the fact that the minister chose to continue her vacation, instead of meeting with colleagues from USA, Russia and more at the Arctic 5 summit. At first the crisis was a matter of Lene Espersen and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs allegedly not giving priority to the Arctic 5-cooperation. Lene Espersen explained her cancellation with coinciding calenders, because she had inherited the ministry from Per Stig Møller only a few weeks before the summit. She explained that she had chosen to prioritize her family. This explanation might be understood as a mixing of political and private communication codes, because you would not expect a minister to take political decisions in respect of her family, and as such it did not suffice to prevent the crisis from escalating into a conflict. Instead the explanation made it opaque why Lene Espersen chose to become Minister of Foreign Affairs in the first place. The conflict developed when Dansk Folkeparti (The Danish People’s Party) – the parliamentary basis of the Danish government – criticised the leaders of the government for not being dedicated and humble, as a direct result of the lacking salience of Lene Espersen’s explanation. Lene Espersen chose to deny the allegations made by Dansk Folkeparti , while the news stories in the mass media related how both Lene Espersen’s political backing and the Danish voters in general, agreed on the criticism. This process might be understood as a loss of trust on behalf of Lene Espersen. To her political allies, Lene Espersen became a risk, due to the negative impact of the story on polls of her party, Det Konservative Folkeparti (The Conservative People’s Party). The question of whether Lene Espersen should or should not have been at the meeting in Canada, had become a communicational theme and thus transformed the disagreement into a system in itself, a political conflict. Lene Espersen and the conservatives changed their tactics two months after the event, instead apologizing for not being at the meeting. Yet because the apology was not observed to be delivered in a sincere manner – especially because of the time it took Lene Espersen to acknowledge that her cancellation was a mistake – and because the apology came in relation to a string of bad polls, the apology did not end the political conflict. Instead the theme was maintained through communication contributions observing that Lene Espersen did not really appear to have learned her lesson.
This paper aims to contribute to the understanding of the specific case it employs, and also to contribute to the wider literature, by providing a set of analytical tools through which political conflicts can be observed.
  • Dinesen, Anne Marie, Vejleder, Ekstern person
StatusIkke-udgivet - 2012


  • kommunikation
  • Medier, kommunikation og sprog