In 2016, I participated in a Conference/book project on Radicalism and The Civil Sphere organised by the Yale Center for Cultural Sociology and The Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society, and Rule of Law (CISRUL) at the University of Aberdeen. Within this project, I coauthored a chapter for the forthcoming Breaching the Civil Law (Cambridge U. Press), along with Karoline Andrea Ihlebæk (Oslo University) – “Restaging a Vital Centre within Radicalized Civil Societies: The Media, Performativity and the Charlie Hebdo Attack.”
In this chapter, we investigate the media’s performance via different European newspapers in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack. We argue that the media can function as a “vital centre” in which solidarity is represented on the basis of civil/journalistic values. The media offered different responses to the attack and its consequences, in accordance with journalistic culture, media ideology and a specific national context. However, we show that the majority of the stories constructed make it possible to observe common patterns of meaning that point to the same media or journalistic “enunciator.” In Austin’s terms, we understand an “enunciator” to be an “actor” capable of performing a vital centre as a response to radical acts within democratic fragmented societies. Our argument is that, when it reports radical events, civil journalism can act as if a vital centre already exists, even if, and insofar as, its very existence is largely a question that is subject to debate – as it was in the wake of such events as the Charlie Hebdo attack.