Community Conflict, Media Representation and Public Perception in Hong Kong: A Construal Level Theory Perspective

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project aims to advance a middle-range theory connecting three domains of symbolic social life in Hong Kong: 1) Types of community conflict, whose emergence, escalation and subsidence may be locally initiated or externally imposed, each entailing a set of conceptually distinct problems; 2) Media’s carefully crafted construction of social distance of a conflict event through such rhetoric devices as domesticating distant news, dwelling on emotional appeals, adopting episodic rather than thematic frames, and eliciting in-group exclusiveness; and 3) Audience psychological distance in responses to such messages, specifically in terms of high vs. low construal levels, perspective-taking, competence in counter-argument, and intention to act.

An overarching conceptual framework capable of weaving all three elements into an integrative whole is the Construal Level Theory (CLT). The explanatory power of CLT lies in its ability to connect three primary sources of variances: message stimulus, psychological distance, and associative responses. These fit seamlessly with our theoretical model of community conflict which can be seen both as an elaboration and an extension of CLT. Our main research question is: How do media’s manipulations of socio-psychological, temporal-spatial, and endogenousexogenous distance of conflict impinge on people’s perceptions of it. Our application of the theory goes beyond mere replication because by contextualizing construal levels to media’s representation of community conflict and its impact, we are able to gain a deeper, contextualized and more nuanced understanding of the theory’s potentials in explaining symbolic social life outside of the setting in which it was originally developed.

Another contribution of our research to the CLT literature is the addition of two dimensions: 1) prototypes of media clustered by ideological alliance (e.g., right-wing liberal, elitist, left-wing pro-establishment), market niche (e.g., mass-appeal, advertising-based, subsidized etc.), and technology (e.g., legacy vs. new media platforms); and 2) locality of conflict events, moving from local to national and further to international. Theoretical values of the added variance are self-evident and, given the propensity for street politics in Hong Kong, the model assumes immediate social relevance.

Our theoretical concerns necessitate an encompassing research design that runs the gamut of depth interviews of journalists, content analysis of media messages, and audience surveys. We will select conflict issues by their locus of initiation, media outlets representative of the pluralistic ideologies in Hong Kong, and a random sample of media users and apply complex statistical analyses to discern possible patterns.
StatusNot started
Effective start/end date1/01/2531/12/26


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