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Sharing the digital public sphere? Facebook and the politics of immigration

Osborne-Carey, Cassian (2018) Sharing the digital public sphere? Facebook and the politics of immigration. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This project critically examines 'Sharing' on Facebook, that which is central to the operation of the site and has been celebrated as a democratic panacea. By exploring the spatial, deliberative and informational features of sharing I attempt to locate the effective operation of a heralded Digital Public Sphere. Drawing upon data gathered on the Facebook Pages of three major British political parties between January 2015 and May 2016, I examine the space, speech and news manifested by an assemblage of actors sharing immigration, a particularly contentious topic dominating recent British politics. Mapping the relations between platform, users, parties and media actors intertwined across the substance and form of the issue, I reveal how tension between the ideological and economic demands of the platform interacts with user desire and a wider political climate to directly scupper the progressive, deliberative ideals celebrated in the branding of sharing. Through formal and substantive analysis of the 'articulation' of immigration, I show how the platform becomes fertile ground for the growth of right-wing populism. However, by taking a relational approach I problematise the portrayal of social media as a Deus ex Machina that conveniently explains unforeseen political events. I argue that narratives rooted in technological determinism neglect the sociotechnical qualities of contemporary life, where human and non-human agency are entangled in the production of consequences that blur the online/offline divide. Taking up agonistic critiques of ‘post-democracy’, I draw from the data a context that reflects a crisis in democratic representation - one not determined by technological change but in constant creative and productive engagement with it. Bridging empirical data with social and political theory reveals why practice emerges in ways that challenge the idealised branding of connected publics, yet at the same time unsettle attempts to reductively assign responsibility for their perceived failures.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2018 Cassian Osborne-Carey
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Savage, Mike and Ali, Suki

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