ProjectThe negotiation of the sayable in political discourses. An analysis of public debate in parliament, mass media,…

Basic data

The negotiation of the sayable in political discourses. An analysis of public debate in parliament, mass media, and civil society
01/01/2024 to 31/12/2026
Abstract / short description:
The project examines how normative boundaries of the sayable have changed in political discourses of the German public sphere from 1980 to the present. The need for this research arises from the fact that two directly opposing diagnoses of crisis have been formulated in the political and scholarly debate of recent years. Some authors speak, especially in the context of the rise of right-wing populist parties, of a constant expansion of what can be said and of an increasing normalization of hate-speech, which is considered a threat to liberal democracy. Taking the opposite position, other authors criticize an ever further narrowing of the boundaries of the sayable: According to them, statements that had been part of the mainstream are now being marginalized as anti-democratic, which is itself said to pose a threat to democracy. Although these debates are being conducted with great urgency, there is a lack of systematic empirical long-term studies that could determine the extent to which the respective diagnoses are appropriate, what changes in sayability have occurred, and how they are to be evaluated in terms of quality of democracy – this is particularly true for the German case.

To close this research gap, the proposed project undertakes such a long-term investigation based on the Discourse Historical Approach (DHA). The project will be pursued in three subprojects, each devoted to one public arena: Subproject I investigates the changes in the governmental-institutional arena using the example of debates in the German Bundestag from 1980 to the present. Subproject II explores the changes in sayability in the mass media arena by analyzing Sunday evening talk shows on German television from 1990 to the present. Subproject III aims at the sphere of civil society, which is examined using the example of the Katholikentag and the Kirchentag from 1980 to the present. All three subprojects first analyze the drawing of boundaries with regard to racism in the fields of migration and integration; second, they include explicit negotiations about freedom of speech and its boundaries; and third, they identify additional topics on which the negotiation of sayability is particularly conflictual in each arena.

By examining three spheres that are particularly relevant for the formation of public opinion and political will and that are interlinked with each other, the project promises to be the first to provide a systematic empirical assessment of the long-term change in normative boundaries of sayability in the German public sphere.
politische Diskursforschung
public sphere
political discourse
limits of speech
free speech

Involved staff


Catholic Seminary
Faculty of Catholic Theology

Local organizational units

Institute of Political Science
Department of Social Sciences
Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences


Bonn, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

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