Austerity in everyday talk. An analysis of three online 'third spaces'

This source preferred by Dan Jackson

Authors: Graham, T., Jackson, D. and Wright, S.

Start date: 25 June 2013

This paper examines how the global economic crisis is negotiated in online everyday talk. We argue that at the heart of civic culture should be a talkative electorate and the internet affords citizens the communicative space necessary to rehearse, debate and elaborate the pressing political and societal issues of the day. Indeed, social media are increasingly used by local and practice-based communities in defining their own problems and constructing their own political meanings. We argue that a greater understanding of political talk that occurs in these spaces is significant because of its links with other expressions of political engagement.

We ask whether and how the economic crisis disrupted the flows of everyday conversation, and examine the dynamics of these exchanges in the context of wider questions of citizenship, identity and political mobilization. More specifically, the way people make sense of the economic crisis provides a revealing backdrop to examining the tension between consumer culture and civic culture in contemporary society: - whether the economic crisis provoked genuine reassessment of the capitalist system; - whether it mobilized people in ‘non-political’ forums into political action; - where any such political action was directed; - and what evidence of ‘community’ exists in the online forums through the responses to the economic crisis.

Our study is interested in how talk about the economic crisis is embedded in everyday life, and what this tells us about the dynamics of civic culture in the UK. This allows us to ask: what are the triggers for discussion of the economy? How does such talk respond to political events, political communication and media coverage of the economy? Do citizens make connections between their lived experiences and public policy, and if so, how? What role do ‘super participants’ (Graham and Wright, 2013) play in shaping discussion on the economy?

To capture everyday political talk amongst citizens requires us to move beyond the now widely analysed spaces of formal politics, such as MPs blogs and political discussion forums. Instead, we will take forward a new agenda for online deliberation (Wright, 2012a) and focus on online ‘third spaces’: formally non-political online discussion spaces where political talk emerges (Wright, 2012b).

To study political talk in third spaces, we use a longitudinal case study research design. Drawing on data from qualitative and quantitative content analyses, we analyse three popular, general interest UK-based forums over the course of three years (2010-2013): (7.7m posts), (40.7m) and (14.1m). As communities are urged by the UK Government to work together to make their lives better, as implied by the ‘Big Society’ concept, understanding how political talk emerges and develops in these spaces becomes crucial to understanding civic culture.

The paper will present some of the key findings from this study, which will be considered in light of the on-going debates surrounding the nature of political engagement in the UK, and the role of the media and political communications in fostering a democratic culture. We will, therefore, address some of the main themes of the conference and of this section.

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