Social Media as Political Rhetorical Arena
Norway is among the countries in the world where the largest proportion of the population is active in social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The use of social media has also increased dramatically in Norwegian politics in recent years. Although their importance in election campaigns are not yet comparable to traditional mass media, social media’s importance as arena for political communication is rapidly increasing.
Social media has different boundaries and affordances than traditional mass media in terms of interactivity, uptake and identity. As a form of public sphere, often described as a networked public, the new social media are shaped by the blurring of public and private, the loss of common context, high degree of circulation and lesser control of the message. Social media is also in its essence formed by users’ content and participation. This emphasizes the participatory role of citizens as active rhetorical agents, but also increase the much-described complexity, fragmentation, and changeability of the contemporary public sphere.
The main objective of this project is to study how the medial functions of Twitter and Facebook influence rhetorical practice and reception, and thereby describe the characteristics of social media as a new arena for political rhetoric. This includes how active citizens discuss civic issues and express political identity in their everyday discourse. The main focus of the project is thus not formal or institutional political discourse, but the vernacular exchanges of everyday talk about political and civic issues.
RQ1: What characterizes social media as political rhetorical arena in a multi-party parliamentary system like Norway?
RQ2: How do active citizens engage in exchanges surrounding political and civic issues in social media? And how do they express political identity and values?
RQ2: What characterizes the rhetorical debate in social media, in terms of argumentation norms, style, salience of topics etc.?
Methodology: The research questions will be explored through a two-step method of analysis. The first step is semi-structured in-depth interviews (1 hr) with key informants from each medium. The second step is qualitative rhetorical analysis guided by insights from the interviews and the sample texts. Based on experiences from the study thus far, the informants will typically be political pundits, journalists, politicians, bloggers, academics and laymen from different sides of the political spectrum. The case studies will typically pursue rhetorical characteristics like the style of wit and humor in social media, the personal action frames of value issues, recursive argumentation strategies, etc.
“Rhetorical arena” is the central analytical concept in the dissertation. This is an attempt to bridge the concepts of rhetorical agency and rhetorical situations in a coherent analytical approach based on sociological structuration theory. The idea is that rhetorical arenas can be analyzed through adjusted concepts of modalities of structuration: perceived affordances, roles and relations, discursive schemes, and social norms.
Theory: The main theoretical framework of the dissertation is contemporary rhetorical theory, public sphere theory and deliberative theory, including more recent contributions addressing the challenges of the new media ecology.