Using the bully pulpit: the construction of the 'war on terror' discourse in Australia

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Copyright: Gleeson, Kathleen
This thesis makes a contribution to knowledge by providing a detailed analysis of how Australian involvement in the US-led ‘war on terror’ was possible. Research of this kind has become more prolific, particularly with the birth of the field of studies known as Critical Terrorism Studies; however an in-depth study of the ‘war on terror’ discourse in Australia remains outstanding. The thesis seeks to redress this gap. The question being addressed in this thesis is divided into two interrelated parts. Firstly: how has Australia’s ‘war on terror’ discourse been shaped? And secondly: under what circumstances did challenges to the dominant discourse occur? In order to shed light on these questions the thesis uses a genealogical approach combined with the analysis of public discourse using the critical discourse analysis method. The language of then Prime Minister Howard will be the primary focus in this analysis, given that Australia’s involvement in the ‘war on terror’ was very much an elite-led project. Attention will also be paid to the language of key ministers, political opponents and other prominent actors. The voices of those who challenged the dominant discourse will also be subject to analysis in order to shed light on the ways in which discourses are destabilized. The focus of the study will be the time period 2001 until the end of the Howard Government in November 2007. In keeping with the genealogical method, however, consideration is also given to periods of Australia’s history deemed relevant to the discourse. The thesis has three key findings: that the ‘war on terror’ discourse was so dominant because Howard successfully invoked narratives of identity and sovereignty that resonated with his audience. Secondly, that despite this dominance many actors voiced dissent and did so most successfully when they capitalised on inconsistencies within the discourse. This in turn shows that normatively progressive change is possible in difficult circumstances. Finally, the thesis revealed that John Howard used the ‘war on terror’ discourse as a vehicle for the promotion of his reworked narrative of Australia.
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Gleeson, Kathleen
Burke, Anthony
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PhD Doctorate
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