Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Agonistic democracy and the narrative of distempered elites: An analysis of citizen discourse on political message forums
by Castillo, Jeanette, Ph.D., Indiana University, 2008, 270; 3331358
Abstract (Summary)

Navigating the tension between liberalism and democracy that characterizes our political system requires an agonistic approach to political conflict. The agonistic approach recognizes opponents as adversaries rather than enemies, as discussed by Chantal Mouffe and by Robert Ivie and disagreement as productive rather than obstructive, shedding the idealized and frequently unobtainable goal of consensus. In this interpretive study, the discourse of politically interested citizens participating in partisan online "rhetorical" communities was examined for evidence of Mouffe's agonistic pluralism. Two popular and parallel message forums were chosen as the subjects of the study, and a composite sample was drawn in January 2008. FreeRepublic.com, a conservative forum, and the liberal message forum DemocraticUnderground.com represent two active communities with strong ideological identities that transcend party affiliation. Analysis of link sources and topics provided information about what these online citizens were discussing, and where they turned for information about political actors and events. The narrative analysis invoked Kenneth Burke's dramatistic frames of acceptance and rejection in order to provide a framework for the investigation. The study identified a narrative of the citizen-protagonist that was shared between the two communities. A more robust rhetorical ecosystem existed at Democratic Underground, as they often applied Burke's "comic corrective" to points of conflict and took a more egalitarian approach to who could speak and when. The participants at Free Republic were more likely to assign motivations that precluded the agonistic frame. Ultimately, these emergent communities created environments that manifested the centrifugal and centripetal forces of democracy and liberalism, respectively. They also shed light on some of the pitfalls of rituals of "virtual vengeance." These rituals can be empowering, affirming the "rationality of outrage," but veer into something akin to Nietzsche's "slave morality" when judgment is passed without the presentation of forensic evidence regarding motivation. Finally, the study argues that investigations of what online citizens actually do to constitute their political identities provide a well-rounded picture of political culture, which, according to Doris Graber may be more important than factors such as "citizen wisdom and media excellence" but is undoubtedly a reflection of both.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Bucy, Erik, Ivie, Robert
Commitee: Deuze, Mark, Grabe, Maria E.
School: Indiana University
Department: Mass Communications/Telecommunications
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 69/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: American studies, Political science, Mass communications
Keywords: Citizen discourse, Computer, Democracy, Discourse, Internet, New media, Political, Political message forums, Politics
Publication Number: 3331358
ISBN: 9780549893257
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