AR: Whose voice is heard in online deliberation?

DeliberationSome quick notes on Steffen Albrecht‘s paper “Whose voice is heard in online deliberation? – A study of participation and representation in political debates on the Internet.” (Information, Communication & Society, Vol. 9. No 1., February 2006)

Albrecht discusses topics such as political activism online (does the net actually spread activism?; not really, though it provides new forms for it), the situational advantage of the digerati, and hypotheses about the lack of social cues (unreliability vs the levelling out effect). The paper then approaches the main problem through a case study carried out in Hamburg in November 2002.

But what’s most important is not really the answer to the question in the title – the point is that the answer is quite vague, and it is most useful if we look at it as an incentive to ask further questions. As the main concluding point, Albrecht proposes a new theoretical model to conduct research into online deliberation; in the model, four sets of factors are considered to determine who participates (participation) and what is communicated (representation) in instances of online deliberation.

Said sets of factors are:

(1) determinants of political participation (economic background, education, age, political interest…)

(2) determinants of internet usage (ec. background, education, age, gender, online skills [computer literacy]…)

(3) mediationg factors (cultural practices of technology use, communication’s embeddedness in political context, the usability of particular web services)

–> these three help to establish who participates, and

(4) properties of large-scale communication (news factors [=”factors that determine the chances of a news item appearing in varios news media”], economy of attention, rhetorical forms etc.)

–> this determines (in my view, rather influences than determines) what is communicated; but of course the “what” and the “who” are not independent of each other.

I definitely like this holistic approach.

Photo: Peter J. Bury – flickr*.

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