Base, Superstructure and the Irish Property Crash—Towards a Crisis Theory of Communications

  • Henry Silke Dublin City University
Keywords: Crisis Theory, Communications, Ideology, Marx, Irish Financial Crisis, Economic Journalism,


Since the onset of the “great recession” there have been key debates around various aspects of crisis theory, most notably around the areas of the rate of profit (Brenner 2009; Kliman 2012), under-consumption/overproduction (Clarke 1990a, 442–467) and fiancialisation (Duménil and Lévy 2004). This paper maintains that communications and the media are key though non-deterministic elements of the contemporary market system, and proposes a move towards a crisis theory of communications. This research reflects the Marxist concept of base and superstructure, beyond a perceived notion of economic determinism, but rather as a dialectical relationship between various superstructures, in this case the state and the media, and the economic base including the various aspects of class power inherent within. The mass media, advertising, and ICT play an increasingly important role in both market systems and capitalist crises. This role directly impinges on the dissemination of information to market actors as well as the reflexive and dialectical nature of the processes by which actors respond to market information. Further, the media serve as an ideological apparatus, resource or arena, which acts to naturalise the market through what this research describes as a market orientated framing mechanism (Preston and Silke 2011b). Peter Thompson (2003; 2013, 208–227) contends that communication is an integral and reflexive part of the contemporary market system. As he puts it, there is a complex relationship between the producers and distributors of economic information, and those who use that information to make decisions about investment and trade. Many studies point to the convergence of flows of information such as those on 24-hour news channels, business channels and Internet blogs and sites with market activity itself. For Wayne Hope, (2010, 649–669) information broadcast on such media by bankers, stockbrokers and traders themselves tends to be self-serving and inevitably leads to “a real time feedback loop that proliferates then contributes to the growth and collapse of speculative bubbles” [ibid, 665]). Finally, we must note how the mass media also play a pervasive and important role in the commodification process through advertising and indeed comprises a part of the circulation of capital itself (Garnham 1979, 122–146; Fuchs 2009b, 369–402; Fuchs 2009a). This paper, by way of example, looks at three key moments in the Irish economic crisis and briefly looks at their treatment by sections of the press: The Irish property market on the run up to the 2007 general election on the cusp of the Irish crash, the blanket bank guarantee of 2008, where the state effectively guaranteed the debts of the entire Irish banking system in its totality, and finally the introduction of the National Asset Management Agency, a state sponsored bad bank aimed at cleaning up the (then) private banking industry. The paper uses these examples to consider the role of the media and its relationship to both the markets and political policy.

Author Biography

Henry Silke, Dublin City University
Researcher, School of Communications, Dublin City University