Using Ecological Systems Approach to Analyze Minority Media Representations: Tracing Shifts in Sikh American News Discourses since 9-11


Media research continues to show the pervasive effects the media have on the representation of minorities (Alia, 2005). Bleich, Bloemraad, and Graauw (2015) share how the media communicates and depicts communities in particular ways that have an impact on both policy responses and audience perception. Our research specifically locates the representation of Sikhs post 9-11 in mainstream US news media. In adopting discourse tracing as a qualitative method, we pay attention to how ruptures and shifts both at the macro-level structures to micro-level movements reveal the formations of discourse post 9-11 about Sikhs.

The ruptures and shifts were analyzed through an Ecological Systems Approach. Developed by Bronfenbenner (1994), Ecological Systems Approach help us develop insight into how different interactions across multiple levels (micro, meso, exo, macro, and chrono systems) impacts the individual. The interrelatedness of the micro to the macro complexifies our understandings of how communication systems reveal differences, disparities, and inequities. The very theorizing of interactions that take place across these ecological systems can contribute to insight on macro-level structures and in its influence across systems and vice versa.

Our study analyzed all (n=2330) news stories about Sikh Americans from 2001 to present published in three top newspapers in the US (USA today, The Washington Post and The New York). Discourse tracing, a relatively novel qualitative approach, is used to analyze the ebbs and flows of discursive formations of minorities in the news. This approach is particularly helpful to understand moments of ruptures, which refers to significant shifts in micro and macro systems. The one dimensional narrativizing of Sikh representations amid ruptures that function to impact multiple ecological levels have structured how the American media reports Sikhs in the news. Building on existing research on media framing, we discuss minorities in relation to ruptures (shifts) as systems, impacting how mediatizing practices inform representations of minorities in the media.

Our findings revealed the racialized representations of Sikhs for selective visibilities in the news cycles. Sikhs remained hypervisible in the news media in relation to hate crimes, everyday violence, and experiences of bias in news frames discussing Sikhs as central to the story or as subjects of anti-Islamic violence. At the micro-level system we see Sikhs discussed in relation to interpersonal violence. The navigation of the Sikh figure in American news reporting conveys Sikhs as minorities for consumption in the production of media visibilities. At the meso-level system, we see Sikhs discussed in relation to Sikh corporeality and everyday navigation. At the exo-system, erasures of a complex representation of Sikh corporeality remains limited in a dialectical relationship to hyper-visibilities with state-level surveilling of how the Sikh body is assembled for the consumption of fear. The gendered media narratives of the Sikh body, erase other assemblies of the Sikh body. At the macro-level, the manufacturing of ideologies of exclusion in geopolitical discussions in relation to the Sikh figure once again centers in relation to the function of the corporeality of the Sikh figure.