Matthias London

Encoding/Decoding Dominant Hegemonic Ideology in Online Coverage of the Georgian Rave Protests

Image Credit: Bassiani.

Encoding/Decoding Dominant Hegemonic Ideology in Online Coverage of the Georgian Rave Protests

On May 12, 2018, the Georgian parliament in Tbilisi became the scenery of a non-violent protest that was sparked by police raids on Bassiani and Café Gallery, two of the city’s most established nightclubs. Government officials initiated the raid in a quest to enforce the country’s drug laws by detaining drug dealers who they assumed to find in the two clubs. As an immediate response to the raids, the club audience occupied the square facing the parliament for two days in a dance protest they labeled ‘Raveolution.’ The demonstration caught the attention of reporters beyond the boundaries of the Georgian state and was reported in publications throughout a variety of Global North countries.

Following Hall’s (2006 [1980]) encoding/decoding model of communication, I will modestly attempt to illuminate aspects of Georgia’s dominant cultural order that are encoded into the online media coverage of the protest. Using a mixed methodology for content analysis, I examined ten articles published about the social movement1 to outline opposing standpoints by the involved actors that are represented discursively in the articles. The results suggest a binary in which ‘conservatives’ (religion, government, law & police, and nationalistic right-wing groups) represent the dominant ideological apparatus that oppresses ‘progressives’ (electronic dance music culture driving social change) vis-à-vis conflicting sociopolitical beliefs (neoliberal capitalism, drugs, LGBTQ+ rights, Soviet Union).

Regional Context – Georgia

Georgia is a country in the Southern Caucasus with a standing history of complex geopolitical struggles and a post-Soviet past in transition to (neo)liberal democracy. This transition had two critical moments manifested by two popular social movements and subsequent changes in governance. Both movements gave momentum to market-oriented reforms and the solidification of a neoliberal identity in politics and economics (Azer 2018).

To further complicate the struggle for symbolic power, the Georgian Orthodox Church & chauvinistic right-wing groups play a pivotal role in ideological identity construction. Although it appears simplistic to subsume the intricate relationship between nationalists, the church, the government and the region’s history under a singular dominant ideology, a study about human rights violations in Georgia throughout the last 30 years by Azer (2018) demonstrated that they do share a common tendency to hold values and beliefs that oppose those of the country’s youth. Concretely, as the analysis of the online publications will indicate, the harsh law enforcement of zero-tolerance drug policies and oppression of LGBTQ+ communities are salient examples that hint back to the dominant hegemonic ideology.

Methodology – Content Analysis & Encoding/Decoding Model

To identify relevant domains of the dominant cultural order in Georgia, I followed a three-step process consisting of (a) data collection employing purposeful sampling, (b) a quantitative text analysis to deduce tentative categories and (c) their qualitative rearrangement into codes using Hall’s (2006 [1980]) encoding/decoding model of communication. First, I searched the Google databank for the terms ‘Georgia Raveolution’ and ‘Georgia rave protest’ and selected ten articles from different online platforms after an initial screening for their thematic relevance. In the second step, I analyzed the selected articles quantitatively by mapping out frequently mentioned topics that became the tentative primary domains and categories. I coded a total of 1635 segments encompassing the nine categories religion (81), state, law & police (260), nationalist right-wing groups (31), Electronic Dance Music Culture (623), social change (243), neoliberal capitalism (71), drugs (179) LGBTQ+ (126), and the Soviet Union (21) including their sub-categories.

The third step requires a deeper look into Hall’s (2006 [1980]) encoding/deconding model. According to Hall, meaning is produced in a discursive process that operates within a language system relying on ‘codes’ as ‘symbolic vehicles’ (p. 163). In his four-stage communication model, he contends that the production of messages and their reception as mutually exclusive but linked moments in the cyclical production process of messages. Encoding happens at the moment of the message’s creation, in which the producer loads the practice with codes to yield a message (encoding), whereas the decoding happens in moments of its reception against the background of the recipient’s socio-economic and political background. In relying on Gramsci’s (1985 [1970]) concept of hegemony, Hall assumes that the dominant cultural order is constantly contested and requires the consent of the subordinated groups of society to reproduce itself. To manufacture this consent, media institutions produce messages that channel ideological codes in favor of the dominant cultural order through their professional codes. Although Hall emphasizes the importance of the active recipient and the plurality of positions from which they can decode the dominant point of view, my analysis focuses on the moment of encoding to discern the codes imprinted with the orders of social life, political power and dominant ideology.

Data Analysis & Interpretation

In predominantly analyzing online publications that are headquartered outside of Georgia, the selected articles represent a perspective that is relatively autonomous from the professional norms to which Georgian publications abide to. Rather than reproducing the prevailing dominant ideology in Georgia, they provide a lens that views the happenings through a western gaze and interprets them according to the standards of secularized neoliberal capitalism. More concretely, the oppressed dance community embraces Europe’s neoliberal capitalist norms and values, and the articles’ authors replicate an assessment from their perspective.

Therefore, from the angle of authors who naturalized neoliberal professional norms, the qualitative interpretation of the nine aforementioned categories lead to a rearrangement into the overarching domains of ‘conservatives, read: dominant hegemonic ideology’, ‘progressives, read: oppressed ideology’, and their ‘conflicting sociopolitical beliefs. The authors encode an ideology into their articles that designates religion, the state, law & government, and nationalist right-wing groups as the conservative ruling oppressors who subordinate the progressive young dance community down the spheres of drug laws, LGBTQ+ rights, neoliberal capitalist ideology, and the Soviet past.

The authors predominantly imprint discursive codes into their articles that empower the progressive youth and criticize the dominant hegemonic apparatus. For instance, of the 41 coded segments in the category ‘religion’, 14 come in a semantic context that connotates religion negatively whereas there are only two favorable mentions (and those come in a context in which the dance community re-appropriates religious symbols for self-justification). The authors often pair religion and right-wing groups in their discourse as a direct counterforce to the EDMC protesters, which hints to ideological proximity against the progressive values of the youth. The qualitative coding of the government, police, and the laws yields a similar ratio of negative connotations as religion and right-wing groups. They are represented discursively as a dreadful political system that deprives the youth of their basic human rights and thus complements the block of the domineering hegemonic block. The unification of the three categories under the singular domain of ‘conservatives’ becomes specifically clear when simultaneously illustrating the negatively connotated codes of the conservative domain with the coded segments of from the categories ‘drugs’ & ‘LGBTQ+’.

It is striking that the category ‘neoliberal capitalism’ falls under the domain of conflicting sociopolitical beliefs. ‘Progressive’ mainly stands for embracing aspects of Eurocentric modernity anchored in neoliberal politics. The authors present a perspective of the EDMC community that cherishes the normative ideals coming with such a system, specifically freedom, safety, equality, and tolerance. However, there appears to be a misconception on the side of the oppressed youth about what the implementation of neoliberal structures entails, as the government is increasingly implementing neoliberal politics (Azer 2018) yet starkly personified as backward. Moreover, modernity in a European sense embodies a secular technocratic government. In that sense, although religion and the government are represented discursively as a unified ideological block, the Georgian Orthodox Church likely opposes any politics that are implemented in Georgia from neoliberal Europe.

Conclusion

Using a mixed methodology of content analysis followed by an assessment with Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding model of communication, I attempted to demark a dominant hegemonic ideology from ten online articles about the Georgian rave protests. The authors of the articles view the protests from a perspective that takes neoliberal professional norms for granted. In that sense, they represent the standpoint of the ‘progressive’ protesters who demand the implementation of policies that allow for more individual freedom. The qualitative assessment of the articles with the encoding/decoding model yielded that these demands are uttered toward the dominant cultural block that comprises religious institutions, nationalistic right-wing groups just as the government, police, and the law. It is, however, questionable whether the fragments comprising the dominant hegemonic block share an ideological value system as cohesive as illustrated in the selected articles.

References

Azer, Binnatli. 2018. “The Study of Human Rights Violations and Political Situation in Georgia of the Last 30 Years.” Політичне Життя (3):10–14.
Gramsci, Antonio. 1985. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. 8. pr. New York: International Publ.
Hall, Stuart. 2006. “Encoding/Decoding.” Pp. 117–27 in Culture, Media, Language: Working Papers in Cultural Studies, 1972-79. London; [Birmingham: Routledge ; in association with the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham.\

Media Sources

Barclay, Bram. “How Techno Became the Sound of Protest in Georgia | Dazed.” Accessed July 7, 2020. https://www.dazeddigital.com/music/article/41340/1/inside-bassiani-tbilisi-georgia-techno-protests.
Bo, Hanna. “VICE – Is This Georgian Club the New Berghain?” Accessed July 7, 2020. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/j5xvqb/bassiani-nightclub-georgia-tbilisi-lgbt-new-berghain.
Bult, Inger. “The Rave Revolution – Tbilisi’s Story.” Monument, May 20, 2020. https://mnmt.no/magazine/2020/05/20/the-rave-revolution-tbilisis-story/.
Craft, Zachary. “Tblisi: We Dance Together – What It All Means – Monument May Tbilisi Protests.” Monument, September 16, 2018. https://mnmt.no/magazine/2018/09/16/we-dance-together-techno-protests-in-tbilisi/.
Flood, Alex. “Georgia’s Rave Revolution Is Charted in This New Documentary: Watch | DJMag.Com.” Accessed July 7, 2020. https://djmag.com/content/georgias-rave-revolution-charted-new-documentary-watch.
Lomsadze, Giorgi. “Small Gay Rights Rally Held in Tbilisi amid Fears of Violence | Eurasianet.” Accessed July 7, 2020. https://eurasianet.org/small-gay-rights-rally-held-in-tbilisi-amid-fears-of-violence.
Lynch, Will. “Tbilisi Club Community Stages Protest Rave at Parliament Of Georgia.” Resident Advisor. Accessed July 7, 2020. https://www.residentadvisor.net/news/41732.
OC Media. “Interior Minister Apologises over Tbilisi Nightclub Raids as Far-Right Groups Plan Daily Protests.” OC Media (blog), May 14, 2018. https://oc-media.org/interior-minister-apologises-over-tbilisi-nightclub-raids-as-far-right-groups-plan-daily-protests/.
Pertaia, Luka. “Making Sense of Georgia’s Raveolution.” Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Accessed July 7, 2020. https://iwpr.net/global-voices/making-sense-georgias-raveolution.
Ravens, Chal. “Bassiani: The Tbilisi Techno Mecca Shaking off Post-Soviet Repression.” The Guardian, January 22, 2019, sec. Music. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/jan/22/bassiani-tbilisi-techno-nightclub-georgia.

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