Research Question: In what ways and under what conditions does political communication via digital platforms lead to increased and enhanced levels of engagement on the part of citizens?
Rationale: A wealth of studies have explored online political communication since the early 1990s, parallel to this research significant interest has been given to how digital technologies offer pathways to participation. We have learned from a range of studies that there are indications that digital technologies, and particular the spaces that permit social interaction, may facilitate forms of political engagement and lead to greater citizen mobilisation and participation in some forms of civic life from the very local to the supranational. While political participation on social media have been dismissed by some as lacking meaning, others propose that political participation should not be understood as a one-dimensional but as a multidimensional activity encompassing a range of activities. These activities include those that take place in the domain referred to as the ‘electronic republic’ or ‘digital agora’ where opinions can be expressed, understandings gained, alliances built and influence exerted vertically and, potentially, horizontally so realising the democratic ideals of collective participatory and semi-deliberative decision-making.
There is much evidence that the conditions for and circumstances of political participation are adapting, however research shows a politics of disconnection with and re-alignment from electoral politics. Online tools can enhance learning, build communities or groups of online advocates, and facilitate a range of forms of engagement and participation but seldom, the notable exception being Barack Obama in 2008, are those tools utilised to their full potential by parties or individuals who seek votes or gain election to the chambers or loci of power. Rather we find that controlled or faux interactivity is the norm with little opportunity for influence and visitors required to work for the political actor or organisation rather than work with them.
This special issue will explore the nexus between the use of the digital environment by political actors and organisations and the extent that their colonisation of the social web enhances engagement and participation. Articles will be theoretically driven analyses of empirical data and should focus on key questions arising from studies to date. For example: To what extent and under what conditions do political actors mobilize citizens and does this facilitate the emergence of new participation patterns? Does the social communication facilitated by digital technology create the conditions for new patterns of engagement with political actors and organisations or does their use for political communication just replicate longstanding paradigms? To what extent to we find political communication, political platforms or policy to be co-created and how can the forms of participation which lead to co-creation be understood, defined and measured?
Our aim is to explore whether use of the Internet, particularly the features associated with the second digital wave of social media, which allow access to both pluralist and polarized information, but also facilitates interaction with texts, artefacts, is likely to enhance engagement with electoral politics or increase patterns of disconnection in this realm of politics while increasing greater engagement with non-electoral, issue politics. We will extend academic understanding of existing theoretical and empirical debates on the future of representative democracy in order to develop new understandings, applications and developments of theory to aid us to explain how the all-pervasive use of digital technology impacts upon democratic processes. Theoretical approaches that would seem appropriate are those surrounding theories of democracy and representation; public sphere approaches as well as theories concerning the cognitive and behavioural dimensions of political participation.
Darren G. Lilleker, Bournemouth University, UK
Karolina Koc-Michalska, Audencia Nantes School of Management, France
10 April 2015 launch for the general call for papers
1 November deadline for submission of full papers
All submissions should be submitted via the journal’s website. All submissions will be reviewed.