Faculté des lettres

The discursive construction of presidentiability in televised presidential debates : analysis of the Spanish political field during the campaign for the 2008 general election

Screti, Francesco ; Duchêne, Alexandre (Dir.)

Thèse de doctorat : Université de Fribourg, 2016.

In this dissertation I analyze how presidentiability is discursively constructed in relation to the functioning of the Spanish contemporary political field. In particular I will analyze presidential debates as a privileged stage from which to observe the constitution, workings and representation of the political field, since they epitomize the fight between agents in changing the relations of... More

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    Summary
    In this dissertation I analyze how presidentiability is discursively constructed in relation to the functioning of the Spanish contemporary political field. In particular I will analyze presidential debates as a privileged stage from which to observe the constitution, workings and representation of the political field, since they epitomize the fight between agents in changing the relations of force existing within it. Debates homologically represent the structure of the political field and its internal struggles. Since political struggle is mainly conducted with words, and debates are (or are framed as) the main communicative events of electioneering, they comprise the central space for the discursive construction of presidentiability. The analysis will show that the discourse produced by the candidates is determined by the political field structure and expresses its dynamics: in particular, it will be seen that candidates spend much of their time on the front-stage of debates to implement their electoral strategies using moves and devices designed to increase their presidentiability and decrease that of their opponent. From my multidisciplinary theoretical standpoint, I link Bourdieu’s reflections on political field and capital(s), Rhetorical and Argumentative reflections on ethos and Goffman’s reflections on image or face for the purpose of subsuming them under the label of presidentiability: i.e. the capability of being president in accordance with certain attributes. These attributes are rationally considered as necessarily inherent in the president by a large majority of people from both parties (global attributes such as ability, coherence, sincerity, selflessness, etc.) or by the large majority of people from each party (local attributes as supportiveness, dialogue, optimism, etc. in the case of the Left and toughness, strictness, etc. for the Right). My discussion on the construction of presidentiability in debates can be conceived as a triangle whose surface is covered by discourse and whose sides are: 1) the topics of the debate in relation to which candidates are attacking each other; 2) the attributes of the presidentiable person that emerge as being relevant and 3) the discursive devices employed as well as the moves made by candidates in order to implement their electoral strategies. Within the debates, candidates manage presidentiability in relation to certain themes that are or have been constructed as contextually relevant for the Spanish electorate: the economy, immigration, terrorism and Catalan nationalism; their presidentiability rises or falls depending on their ability to present themselves with or without certain attributes constructed as relevant in relation to themes; they implement their strategies of presidentiability management by making discursive moves of dis/alignment and employing discursive devices such as metaphors, deixis, arguments, quotes, etc. The analysis deployed in this dissertation will show how a discourse generated in a certain political field and that expresses its dynamics works: essentially, it will shed light on the rules of the political game and the way candidates play it against the backdrop of contemporary Spanish society.