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Conference Information

Full Title: What Really Happened: Investigating Investigative Journalism

Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Start Date: 16-Jul-2017 - 21-Jul-2017
Contact: Daniel Perrin
Meeting Email: click here to access email
Meeting Description: Panel submitted by Daniel Perrin (Zurich University of Applied Sciences) & Alison Sealey, (University of Lancaster)

Approaching journalism and newswriting with a dominantly constructivist concept of reality, as often practiced by communication studies and cultural studies, results in an epistemological gap (Perrin, 2013, 45; Wright, 2011). Journalistic ethics are based on an ideal of separating facts from fiction and opinions. From a professional understanding, reality can and has to be known; finding out what really happened is the ultimate target of journalistic investigation.

In our panel, we focus on this epistemological gap and on theoretically sound and practically useful ways to overcome it. We apply, discuss, and compare a variety of research frameworks and underlying theories that allow for elaborated approaches to explaining reality - approaches that transgress boundaries between research paradigms as well as between academic and professional disciplines. An example of such a research framework and theory is Realist Social Theory (e.g., Carter & Sealey, 2009). RST clearly distinguishes between situated activity and various types of social structures the activity interacts with: flexible social structures, such as a newsroom’s storytelling patterns, and robust structures, such as the prior distribution of material resources (e.g. Archer, 1995; Layder, 1998). Whereas flexible structures can easily be changed by activity, robust structures cannot, at least not within manageable timeframes. In an RST view, journalists develop their practices towards an account of this multi-layered reality that is as adequate as possible. Besides RST, theories and research frameworks such as transdisciplinary action research and ethnography are presented and discussed at the panel.

In order to offer both the panelists and those attending the panel clear starting points for the discussion, all the presentations draw on the data from the same set of case studies in the context of investigative journalism. These cases are analyzed throughout the panel from different theoretical angles and within different research frameworks. Thus we aim to identify the frameworks’ explanatory power to explain the pragmatics of investigative journalism in general and, in particular, its strategies and practices to find out “what really happened”.


Archer, M. S. (1995). Realist social theory. The morphogenetic approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Carter, B., & Sealey, A. (2009). Reflexivity, realism and the process of casing. In D. Byrne & C. C. Ragin (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of case-based methods (pp. 69–83). London: Sage.
Layder, D. (1998). The reality of social domains: Implications for theory and method. In T. May & M. Williams (Eds.), Knowing the Social World (pp. 86–102). Buckingham: Open University Press.
Perrin, D. (2013). The linguistics of newswriting. Amsterdam, New York et al.: John Benjamins.
Wright, K. (2011). Reality without scare quotes. Developing the case for critical realism in journalism research. Journalism Studies, 12(2), 156–171. doi: 10.1080/1461670X.2010.509569
Linguistic Subfield: Pragmatics
LL Issue: 27.3188

This is a session of the following meeting:
15th International Pragmatics Conference

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