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Title: Understanding large scale public political conversation online in austerity Britain through an iterative, quali-quanti investigation
Author: Birchall, Christopher Timothy
ISNI:       0000 0004 5921 250X
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2016
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This study investigated online public political conversation in the UK. Drawing on theories of deliberative democracy, it emphasised the importance of inter-ideological discussion between citizens in the formation of informed opinion and preferences, focussing on the potential of the internet to facilitate this through large scale, ideologically diverse conversations. A multivariate analysis investigated the roles of interface design, institutional linkage and participant community dynamics in the formation of online political conversation. The investigation of conversation from across the internet required a very large scale approach, situating the study within the big data paradigm. However, it also required deeper understanding of human communication, gained through more qualitative analysis. Therefore the study utilised a novel, iterative, quali-quanti approach featuring initial, large scale quantitative analysis – involving bespoke software to automate the collection and analysis of conversation data – that was used to direct further iterations of increasingly smaller scale and qualitative analysis. Reflections on the successful application of the methodology are significant in themselves, but the study also generated novel observations of online public political conversation. The findings illustrated participatory spaces as unique online niches, each with specific communities and goals, and described how participant agency allows citizens to contribute according to various democratic models. For example, an action-oriented approach existed in policy related spaces, in which participants sought only to express a preference, rather than engage in discussion. In more discursive spaces, non-political social bonds between participants were seen to be particularly important in the facilitation of civil, productive, inter-ideological debate and certain participatory roles were important in facilitating these bonds. The design of spaces exerted a significant, but not determining effect on conversation, being used to present conversation in particular ways. However, certain features, notably active facilitation, helped to shape conversation through enabling some of the important community roles to be performed.
Supervisor: Coleman, Stephen Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available