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Prof. Ansgar Nünning Receives Honorary Doctorate Degree and “Takes a Knee”: The Emergence of a “Transnational Media Event”

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Photo: Niklas Björling/Stockholm University
On September 29th, Prof. Ansgar Nünning, founding director of the GCSC, received an honorary doctorate degree from Stockholm University. Former French international footballer Lilian Thuram and US-American Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Susan Faludi shared the honor with him. The decision of the three recipients to “take a knee” – replicating the gesture of US-American football players and other professional athletes to protest police brutality and racism – after having received their honorary degrees made international headlines. Media outlets such as yahoo.fr, France Info and the French Huffington Post covered the event, thus reaching countries all over the globe, from Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland to Chile, Nigeria and India.

As can be seen from the reach and wealth of the global feedback to the gesture, it thus became the centerpiece of a “transnational media event,” a concept that Prof Nünning himself has already extensively researched. But what are some of the defining features of such an event?

Prof. Ansgar Nünning Receives Honorary Doctorate Degree and "Takes a Knee"
Photo: Niklas Björling/Stockholm University
First, the place of the event being Stockholm – a world city of international prominence where very recently the Nobel prizes had also been awarded – where a carefully orchestrated occasion (the staging), such as the awarding of honorary doctorate degrees by a prominent university, will certainly be covered by a substantial number of media outlets. Further, the presence of a famous person at the event (the personalization) such as Lilian Thuram, a World Cup winner of international renown, making the event as such less abstract and more tangible for the public. Then, a singular image (the iconization), in this case the “taking the knee” of all three honorary doctorate recipients, which attracts the attention of the public and is transnationally comprehensible. Finally, the embedding of the image into an overarching narrative (the emplotment) helping to combine all the other elements into a coherent narrative, such as “protesting police brutality and racism” or “showing solidarity with those who take a stand against social injustice.”

All these elements combined made the ceremony a “transnational media event,” reflecting on and reinforcing a larger issue of current cultural and social relevance. The example of the ceremony also highlights how research into such “transnational media events” can lay bare the mechanisms and structures behind different mediated events and thus furthers our understanding of current media processes and systems.

 

The concept of the “transnational media event” has been researched at the GCSC for a number of years and in a variety of forms and focus areas. The concept was extensively investigated and scrutinized as part of the DFG-Graduiertenkolleg “Transnational Media Events from Early Modern Times to the Present” from 2003 until 2012. It is also currently researched by two of our doctoral researchers whose research deals with two different “royal” transnational media events. Christina Jordan’s PhD project focuses on Queen Elizabeth II's Golden and Diamond Jubilees, while Imke Polland researches the British Royal Weddings of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005 and of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011.