What's Big Brother got to do with it? Talking politics online
Literature and research on political deliberation has grown expeditiously over the past ten years, in particular, net-public sphere research has gained much interest. Talking politics online has been studied in a variety of ways. However, most net-public sphere studies have focused solely on political discussion forums, such as Usenet newsgroups, newsmedia discussion forums, and government-sponsored forums, and have neglected an array of other forum genres. If net-public sphere research is to move ‘beyond the first phase’, it must begin to widen its scope of analysis by taking a more inclusive approach in selecting the discursive spaces it analyses. This study takes a step in that direction by analysing and comparing how participants talk politics in political and non-political spaces, in particular, within the Big Brother, Wife Swap, and Guardian online discussion forums. Drawing from Habermas’ theory of communicative action in particular and deliberative democratic theory and deliberation literature in general, a set of normative conditions of the process of deliberation was constructed. A coding scheme was created and a content analysis was conducted. The coding scheme was developed as a means of operationalising the various variables of deliberation with the unit and context unit of analysis representing both a single post and the thread in which it’s situated. Thus, the focus was placed on the participants’ comments, as they are externalised in or can be externalised from the postings. The aim of the scheme, then, is two-fold: to analyse and assess the deliberativeness of the discussion threads; and to identify how the political emerges in non-political spaces. Regarding the latter, particular attention was paid to the postings surrounding a political exchange as to identify the factors and/or conditions that contributed to the emergence or departure of the political. Approximately 9796 postings within 418 threads – taken from a period of one month – were coded and analysed for this study.