Sim sala bim… the Gini coefficient!

Mats Ekström, professor in communication and media science at Gothenburg University, visited the Media and Communication research seminar in Lund last week. He presented his latest research on media talk and invited us in a Goffmanian manner directly into the actions in the empirical material of his. How exciting! (No irony here, Philip. It was really cool stuff!)

Mats is researching interviews. Journalists interviewing politicians. His theoretical eyeglasses are fitted with one lens Conversation Analysis (CA, as we say) and another lens Discourse Analysis (DA for the initiated). A great combination if you’re, like me, passionately interested in how the smallest particles of conversation reveal norms and rules of social life. The structures of power in the turn of a phrase.

One situation Mats presented I want to share with you. It was an interview by a famous radio-host with our former prime minister Göran Persson. The host of the show, Annika Lantz, is especially skilled at creating a cosy and warm atmosphere. Make people feel comfortable and ask awkward questions, so to speak.  And it was against that backdrop that she asked Göran Persson how it is possible that income disparity has been growing steadily despite the declared aims and goals of a socialdemocratic government.

What would you have whispered in Göran’s ear as his adviser?

Well, if the social democratic party is working for a more equal society, also income-wise, which we should assume, one answer suggests itself: Well, the problem is I, the Prime Minister of Sweden, can’t do anything about it. One could say: The national governments don’t have the power anymore to make a marked impact on the distribution of wealth in society. The power lies somewhere else, my dear fellow country-men and -women. Presumably, to make a long story short, it rests with ‘global capitalism’.

What do you think Göran answered? He can’t admit, of course, that governments have sold out long ago. So he told the interviewer that the divide grew until the year 2000 but since then, the social democratic party has worked hard to counteract this development. And here comes the ingeniousness: he explains to the listeners that this is called the G I N I  C O E F F I C I E N T.

We don’t understand this, says the interviewer.

Me neither, says Göran…

… and confirms by saying so that his answer does provide an explanation to the question in the first place. Sim sala bim! You avoid a tough question by mentioning something that puts you in the role of an expert – and a nice and humble expert, too.

GINI coefficientIn defence of Göran Persson: Mats, the researcher, claimed that he did give a more accurate answer later in the interview. It’s still remarkable as an example of clever PR.


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