Politics, Civil Society and Participation: Media and Communications in a Transforming Environment

Title chapter: Rejuvenating the public sphere – The rhetorical arenas of social media
Author: Eirik Vatnoy
Keywords: rhetoric; political rhetoric; social media; structuration theory; network politics
Abstract: Social media has become a central research arena within political communication research. However, few qualitative studies have explored the nature of discourse in social media. In this chapter I argue that a rhetorical approach can give us a better understanding of the nature of political discourse in these arenas. By combining rhetorical theory with elements of Anthony Giddens’ structuration theory I suggest that the rhetorical arenas of social media can be understood as “social systems” surrounding issues, institutions, physical locations or media platforms in which rhetorical action is structured in a particular way. To illustrate the usefulness of this approach the chapter also presents some insights from a study of the Norwegian “Tweetocracy”, the well-established voices from the media, politics and academia using Twitter as an arena for public debate. The case study shows that the rhetorical arena-approach can open new understandings of particular public spheres within new media and give us a better understanding of what kind of activities people are engaged in on social media.
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