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What prevents or promotes listening? A relational content analysis of reciprocity in online political discussions

Katharina Esau, University of Dusseldorf

Tue 11 September 2018

11:00am - 12:00pm

The Dryzek Room, Building 22, University of Canberra


In recent years, governments have created non-conventional opportunities for participation in order to respond to a perceived crisis of democracy. Frequently, online tools are used to include large numbers of participants in deliberation processes. From the perspective of deliberative theories, analyzing, evaluating, and developing these participatory procedures requires the application of normative standards. While conceptualizations of deliberation vary in detail, most authors agree that deliberation is a demanding type of communication characterized by equality, rationality, reciprocity, and respect. Regarding structural equality or equality in terms of access, anyone affected should have the chance to participate regardless gender, ethnic, or social background. In the past, participation procedures repeatedly have fallen short in creating structural equality. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assume that once citizens find their way to a discursive space and speak, they at least then experience discursive equality in the form of listening. Against this normative background, “being listened to” can be considered one crucial outcome of successful deliberative procedures. However, most studies are focusing on discursive equality in terms of voice. In contrast to this, this presentation focuses on the distribution of listening in online political discussions and on factors that prevent or promote listening.

About the speaker

Katharina Esau is a PhD candidate in Communication Studies at the University of Düsseldorf and part of the NRW Graduate School for Online Participation and the Düsseldorf Institute for Internet and Democracy. Her research interests include digital democracy, online deliberation, online public sphere, and public opinion formation. Her PhD project deals with online deliberation processes created by state actors on the local and regional level of government. Combining relational content analysis and sequence analysis, she investigates the interrelations between argumentation, narration, expression of emotion, and humour and how these fundamental forms of communication foster or impede reciprocity, reflexivity and empathy in online discussions. The PhD project is supervised by Prof. Christiane Eilders. In Düsseldorf, Katharina lectures on democratic theory, public sphere theory, deliberation research, and deliberative design.

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