PhD in the spotlight: Stefan F.* Ossmann

Polyamory – self-perception vs. media representation

Polyamory – understood as a consensual relationship between more than two people based on emotional love and intimate acts over a longer period of time – is on the rise. The topic appeared, academically and socially, in the mid-1990s. However, it was not until 2007 that it was listed for the first time in the Oxford dictionary, the same year that it was to be found by the spelling “Polyamorie” in German speaking media. Since it is a relatively new topic, the media representation plays an important role in its social perception, and this is exactly where my PhD comes in.

By the funds of the Austrian Science Fund FWF and the supervision of Prof. Franz X. Eder (Historian) and a.o. Prof. Dr. Fritz Hausjell (Communication scientist) I investigate similarities and/or differences of self-perception and media representation of polyamorous living people in the German-speaking area.

For the media representation I have analysed all 386 newspaper and magazine articles over one decade, from its first appearance in 2007 until 2017, that included the word polyamory in all its spelling variants (full survey). The data for the self-perception came from 33 narrative biographical interviews of overall 14 polycules (relationship clusters) living in the greater Viennese area. The analyses have been done along a qualitative content analyses according to Philip Mayring, the interpretation against the media framing theory, which simplified relates to the importance of media representation of new and yet unknown topics for the societal perception and public discourse.

To sum up the findings up by three sentences after one year of finance applications for the project, three years of empirical research and two years of writing it down: The media analysis corresponds with the aspect of love and live history and the (not)attribution of polyamory within an extended LGBTI-acronym. It differs with regards to social acceptance and the generation of knowledge, and has some parallels to the aspects and demands for legal recognition. And the lack of interest of poly recognition within religious institutions meets the media and the affected ones alike.

An extended summary as well as other information can be found on the project webpage; the monography will be finished and available soon. Promised! Really! (12.02.2021, Stefan F.* Ossmann)

ViDSS student Stefan F.* Ossmann is currently writing up his doctoral thesis about polyamory. He regularly engages in science-to-public initiatives. (© Helmut Lunghammer)