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Voices of outrage: online partisan media, user-generated news commentary, and the contested boundaries of American conservatism during the 2016 US presidential election

Kelly, Anthony Patrick (2020) Voices of outrage: online partisan media, user-generated news commentary, and the contested boundaries of American conservatism during the 2016 US presidential election. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004230


This thesis presents a qualitative account of what affective polarisation looks like at the level of online user-generated discourse. It examines how users of the American right-wing news and opinion website articulated partisan oppositions in the site’s below-the-line comment field during and after the 2016 US presidential election. To date, affective polarisation has been studied from a predominantly quantitative perspective that has focused largely on partisanship as a powerful form of social identity. This contributes to a growing recognition of the central role of partisan identity in the evaluation of politics by publics within the American two-party system. However, analyses of partisan identification in the US have also shown how negative affect towards opposing partisans has led some people to dislike the other party more than they like the one with which they identify. This establishes a pivotal relation between affective polarisation and so-called negative partisanship. At the same time, the election of Donald Trump as US president has led to a new interest in the content and articulation of American conservative identity, particularly as this relates to the role of hybrid partisan media in the production and negotiation of group boundaries. Against this backdrop, my thesis concentrates on the construction of self/other distinctions in partisan news commentary. It employs a conceptual framework which integrates constructionist thematic analysis with an articulation approach grounded in the work of Laclau and Mouffe. Articulation is here viewed as the ongoing struggle to “fix” meaning – including the meaning of society and identity – in ways that exclude other meanings. This highlights the essentially political dimensions of articulation as the mechanism via which the social is produced through discursive acts of opposition and exclusion. My analysis reveals how the boundaries of American conservatism are contested through the public performance of antagonism; how characterisations of political difference are performed with reference to the political and economic significance of hybrid partisan media; and how the use of partisan media is rhetorically related to broader historical processes of social, cultural, and political transformation via antagonistic imaginaries of American past, present, and future – processes which are claimed to threaten America’s survival as a manifestation of divine providence encoded in the US Constitution.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2020 Anthony Patrick Kelly
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JK Political institutions (United States)
T Technology > T Technology (General)
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Anstead, Nick and Couldry, Nick

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