New Modes of Shaping Social Change?
Edited by Regine Paul, Marc Mölders, Alfons Bora, Michael Huber and Peter Münte
Chapter 7: Shaping pressure: on the regulatory effects of publicity
Although regulation theory has been frequently criticized for overemphasizing the role of the state and legal instruments in shaping society, it has also accounted early for the relevance of “social pressures”. Several scholars even conclude that this kind of pressure may outweigh the effectiveness of state instruments. This view is shared in newer systems theoretical approaches, which claim that, while direct intervention is impossible, irritation remains an option. Irritation shows when idiosyncratic addressees stop executing their usual problem solving routine. Still, it is up to them how to proceed. Despite different axiomatic starting points, regulation and systems theory would agree that dissemination of scandalizing revelations was the basic mechanism to prevent misconduct. However, this view may be better suited to describe the events of a century ago. Do these hundred years, which include the diffusion of national and worldwide broadcasting culminating with the internet, really make no significant difference with regard how decrying messages appear on relevant screens in a hardly ignorable, and thus pressurizing, way? This chapter’s answer is ambivalent. What has actually changed (and what has remained the same) is examined with reference to one of today’s most successful successors of the early muckrakers: ProPublica. It shows that applying pressure is hard work calling for an elaborated irritation design. Relying on a wide diffusion is not considered an option. Rather, it is deemed crucial to find sites – sometimes very small ones in terms of circulation figures – where the assumed targets can consider a relevant means of orientation. Applying, or rather, shaping pressure appears as an organizable task whose impact is not left to chance.
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