Language, Culture and the Interpretation of "Victim": An Analysis of "Innocent Victim" in Media, 2000-2002

Michael Coyle, Arizona State University
Julie Horney, University at Albany

Taking a discourse analysis theoretical perspective that is equidistant from a positivistic structural approach and a postmodernist strict textual approach, this paper looks at the use of the phrase "innocent victim" in media. The paper is based on a study of major US newspapers through the LEXIS-NEXIS database and involves a comparative analysis of the usage of "victim" (300 times daily on average) and "innocent victim" (10 times daily on average) from March 2000 to March 2002. The analysis examines the context of usage for each term arguing for interpretations based on meanings people attach to situations rather than on causal factors or variables. Additionally, the comparative analysis explores how the usage of "victim" and alternatively "innocent victim" displays the ways in which their meaning is socially created. Finally, in the context of my research, I examine Max Weber's notion of the Protestant Ethos, (a) as a theory of human action denoting an interpretive and interactive process, and (b) for its usefulness in locating the meaning of responsibility and the assignment of guilt and innocence.

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Updated 05/20/2006