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An analysis of the relevance of deliberative democracy, agonistic pluralism, and pluralist group theory in explaining Twitter activity during the Scottish independence referendum 2014.

Smith, Paul

Authors

Paul Smith



Contributors

Peter McLaverty
Supervisor

Elizabeth Tait
Supervisor

Iain MacLeod
Supervisor

Abstract

This thesis is predominantly focused upon the relevance of deliberative democracy and agonistic pluralism in helping us to understand and analyse the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, as it played out on Twitter. In doing so, it advances theoretical political communication research into social media platforms, which often focuses upon the possibilities of deliberative democracy, whilst agonistic pluralism tends to be used in opposition to deliberative theory. Aspects of liberalism and communitarianism are also used in the empirical study as an aid to this comparison, by applying a model taken from Deen G. Freelon (2010). Uniquely, in addition to activist groups, journalists and MSPs are focused upon as key stakeholders in the democratic communication process. The thesis is qualitative, with a critical theory research philosophy which focuses upon pluralism as a theory which contextualises power relations in the democratic process, underpins the vital role of media plurality in liberal democracies, and is a forerunner of agonistic theory. Methodologically, the empirical study combines an 18 month period of Twitter observation with intensive interviews (conducted with individuals from the three aforementioned stakeholder groups) in line with accepted norms of critical theory research. The empirical study makes an original contribution to knowledge by presenting rich descriptions of exemplars of three different strands of political communication taken from Freelon’s model, which could be operationalised by quantitative scholars in future studies. The empirical results suggest that whilst deliberation was negligible during the campaign, there are a number of coding schemes that when tailored to the appropriate platform are capable of capturing online deliberation. However, the process of recognising certain requisite components of deliberative exchanges is particularly challenging from remote settings. Agonistic pluralism was found to be somewhat representative of the online debate, though lacking regarding essential components of Chantal Mouffe’s version of the theory in the areas of agonistic respect and conflictual consensus. The study, therefore, concludes that a new strand of agonistic pluralism would complement existing models of political communication, and core components of such a model are discussed. The thesis has a secondary focus which asks how pluralist group theory aids our understanding of Twitter-based activism during the referendum campaign. In this regard, the study concludes that pluralist group theory is indeed still relevant in the modern day, whilst social media platforms such as Twitter are perhaps redefining traditional notions of political interest groups.

Thesis Type Thesis
Institution Citation SMITH, P. 2018. An analysis of the relevance of deliberative democracy, agonistic pluralism, and pluralist group theory in explaining Twitter activity during the Scottish independence referendum 2014. Robert Gordon University [online], PhD thesis. Available from: https://openair.rgu.ac.uk
Keywords Social media and politics; Political communications; Group theory; Democracy; Deliberative democracy; Scotland

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Copyright: the author and Robert Gordon University





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