The Production of Political Ideas in Digitally Networked Movements

Project leader

Funding source

Swedish Research Council - Vetenskapsrådet (VR)

Project Details

Funding: 5008000 SEK


This project addresses a pivotal condition of democratic society: the capacity to generate and organise political ideas. How do loose-knit and internally diverse networks handle the democratic challenge of ideas, and what is the role of communication technology in their ability to do so? The project examines large-scale technology-enabled movements as political organisations: their capacity to articulate new ideas, develop coherent agendas and communicate with the broader polity. It asks two empirical questions about how they work and what comes out of them: (1) Under what conditions are broad and dispersed movements able to (a) produce novel issues and frames using social networking technologies, and (b) achieve agreement among often distant participants on agendas and actions? (2) Under what conditions do the ideational outputs of such movements disseminate in broader media and public spheres? The project analyses three technology-enabled movements in Europe and the U.S. facing distinct organisational challenges with respect to scale of mobilization, arenas of political engagement, and diversity of political concerns among participants. (The movements respectively concern: local economy; national representative democracy; transnational digital privacy.) The project combines conventional and digital methods (content and hyperlink analysis of websites; social media analysis leveraging tools based on algorithmic and natural language processing) to trace how movements filter, prioritise and promote core ideas through sharing them on public social networks such as Twitter. It applies similar methods to study what is selected for broader circulation by national news media and broader debate on Twitter. The period of analysis stretches over 2011-2019, with intense monitoring in selected periods. (The project itself will be undertaken 2016-2019.) The project makes two key contributions. (1) It applies a communication perspective on collective action to develop theoretical models and methods for understanding political organisation and the role of technology in late modern democracies; (2) It generates empirical knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses of technology-enabled networks from a comparative and longitudinal perspective. The two points shed light on a key area of change in the civic life of developed democracies: popular engagement and the crucial capacity to produce public ideas in the digital age.

External Partners

Last updated on 2017-27-07 at 13:08