New Political Communication Unit announces major new ESRC-funded research project: Political violence in the new media ecology

New Political Communication Unit researchers Ben O'Loughlin and Akil Awan, along with colleague Andrew Hoskins at the University of Warwick, are set to begin work on a new Economic and Social Research Council funded project investigating the impact of new media on the new security environment in the post-9/11 age: Legitimising the discourses of radicalisation: Political violence in the new media ecology.

The two-year project, funded by a grant of £291,000, will treat the idea of 'legitimacy' as central to the development of and support for radicalising views and terrorist acts. This includes the ways in which these are represented in the news media and the apparent ease and speed with which those that espouse and carry out political violence can attract global media attention, and thus 'access' to audiences and the potential to influence policy-makers. These trends have been considerably accelerated with the advent of so-called 'new media', and particularly the Internet, which cheaply and effectively facilitates the organisation of groups and 'networks'. This is particularly the case with 'Web 2.0' which is the 'second generation' of internet services such as social networking sites that enable online collaboration and sharing among users.

The research will investigate the nature of radicalising discourses in Web 2.0 and how these and acts of political violence broadcast on the web are supported and 'legitimated'. This includes exploring how the acts themselves and explanations for them on the web are 'picked up' and represented in the mainstream television news media, through the journalistic and editorial uses of words, phrases, graphics, images, videos and so on. We will look at how interpretations of this term 'radicalisation' are shaped by news representations through investigating audience responses, understandings and misunderstandings.

The researchers will use and develop the latest methodologies and conceptual approaches to media research. Mapping and analysing communications across Web 2.0 and mainstream media, across languages, and across social contexts, presents difficult challenges, and the research will draw on research networks inside and outside of academia to utilise cutting edge analytical techniques in the field.

This research emerges out of a previous project: Shifting Securities: News Cultures Before and Beyond the 2003 Iraq War. Shifting Securities identified a 'growing securitisation of everyday life' in Britain where there is a great deal of mistrust and suspicion between policymakers, journalists, and citizens/news audiences, amplified through media coverage of security issues and events. Key to this are debates about the 'legitimacy' of the different groups involved and particularly concerning the aims and prosecution of the 'War on Terror'. The research will be of interest to policymakers, media organisations, academic researchers and civil society organisations. The project website will be launched in September 2007. Preliminary findings will be made available in July 2008, and a closing conference will be held in autumn 2009.