Amber Macintyre receives honorable mention at Political Studies Association Media and Politics Group conference

Amber Macintyre, a PhD student here at newpolcom, received an honorable mention for the James Thomas Memorial Prize, awarded by the Media and Politics Group of the Political Studies Association to the best paper presented by a PhD student at the Group's annual conference. The 2016 conference was held at the London School of Economics on December 12-13.  Amber's paper is titled "The culture of data: The help and hindrance of modern political philosophy".

Amber's research is funded by the Leverhulme Trust. In 2015, Royal Holloway was awarded over £1 million from the Trust to support a total of 15 PhD research projects on the theme of Freedom and the Rights of the Individual in the Digital Age.

Here is Amber's paper abstract:

The culture of data has provoked a sense of crisis since its initial popularisation in the 1960s. From the start, academics and civil rights groups, concerned with the impact of dataveillance on democratic rights, have called for urgent decisions to be made on ethical standards. Since then, data availability has grown in capacity and quality; individuals, organisations and government have greater dependence on technical expertise, resulting in a shift in power in the favour of data companies and data scientists. Despite this, and the ongoing criticism, ethical responsibilities have been neglected and a consistent code of ethics is yet to form.
In the last few years, and particularly after the Snowden revelations, more citizens are becoming concerned with the negative impacts of big data on democratic life while simultaneously becoming dependent on data for everyday living. The tension between technological progress and the need for an ethical code remains dichotomous and seemingly unsolvable. Foundational theories of modern political philosophy have both helped shape and explain democratic structures. In this research, these same theories are used to frame the analysis of big data literature so far. The findings are two-fold. Firstly, the seeming dichotomy between data practice and ethical concerns can be understood by considering theories of democracy. Secondly, new challenges of data doubles, machine learning and the ‘technocrats’ of data uncover drawbacks of these political theories.
 Dan Jackson, convenor of the PSA Media and Politics Group, congratulates Amber on her honorable mention.

Dan Jackson, convenor of the PSA Media and Politics Group, congratulates Amber on her honorable mention.

Memories, legacies and narratives: @newpolcom @ECREA2016Prague

The ECREA 6th European Communication Conference kicks off on 9 November in Prague, featuring keynotes from Peter Dahlgren, Sabina Mihelj, Joanna Zylinksa and Rasmum Kleis Nielsen. NewPolCom's Ben O'Loughlin is taking part in a panel on Saturday the 12th that brings together research on strategic narratives with historical research on memory in international politics. Panel details below. Do join if you are at ECREA!

Power and the contestation of the past: memories, legacies and strategic narratives in international perspective

Saturday 12 November 2016

11:00 – 12:30 Meeting Room 225

Panellists: Ben O’Loughlin (with Alister Miskimmon), Eric Sangar, Keren Tenenboim-Weinblatt, Aleksandra Krstic, and Judith Lohner.

With his seminal book on “The invention of tradition” the historian Eric Hobsbawm fundamentally changed the way in which scholars approach the past. Rather than being a sequence of objective events, history came to be understood as a social construction, emerging from narratives and interpretations generated by the stories told by people, official rituals of memorization and even the symbolic environment of artefacts and everyday objects. In the constructivist view, history is fluid, malleable and ambiguous and thus open to evaluative contestation and re-invention. Current conflicts and social transformations frequently trigger the search for meaning and explanation in historical events, thereby re-inventing how the past is understood. It can therefore be argued that the present shapes the past as much as the past shapes the course of present events.

Most of the existing research focuses on the role of collective memories in the formation of social and cultural identities. Less attention has been given to narratives of the past that utilize historical frames in order to achieve political goals. Moreover, we know very little about the role of frames of the past in international politics where different narratives intersect, compete and collide.

The papers of this panel aim to address these gaps by addressing the strategic role of history and collective memories in processes of power struggles and contested politics in the context of international relations and global developments. All studies presented in this panel focus on particular moments of rupture and discontinuity: Two papers (Krstic and Milojevic; Lohner, Banjac and Neverla) explore how the regime transition from authoritarianism to democracy is interpreted and contested in public discourses. Two other papers (Baden and Tenenboim-Weinblatt; Sangar) use sophisticated methodologies to investigate conflict discourses in different Western and non-Western contexts. And O’Loughlin and Miskimmon the role of strategic narratives in international negotiations. In all cases, the framing of the past played a crucial role in the dynamics and outcomes of the contestation. However, while there are clear indications that the mobilisation of the past perpetuates and intensifies conflict, there is evidence that the past can also serve as a force to broker consensus and reconciliation.

Another theme that runs through the five papers of this panel is the role of the media and journalism in constructing the past. In ongoing conflicts and social upheavals the media serve as a forum where narratives of the past are remediated and reinterpreted. Periods of social and political discontinuities therefore fundamentally challenge the position of journalism and journalists, forcing them to forge new professional identities between the legacies of the past and the changing realities of the present.

Taken together, this panel provides insights into the role of narratives of the past in contemporary conflicts and power struggles. The analysis of international conflicts and global ruptures helps to understand the ambivalent role of history frames as both a polarizing and a bridging force. Furthermore, the studies presented open up new avenues for future research in an emerging field.

Thanks to Katrin Voltmer and Davor Marco for organising this panel.

Ben will also be chair and discussant for the panel Performing Military Identities and Communities Through the Media. This features a fantastic line-up of researchers in the field of media and conflict: Katharine Millar, Sarah Maltby, Lisa Silvestri, Maria Hellman, and Katy Parry. Do join at 16:00 - 17:30 on Saturday 12th November at the venue Terrace 2.

Vaccari publishes article on the implications of online political mobilization

A new article by Cristian Vaccari on how mobilization messages received via email and social media may affect political participation has just been published in the high-impact journal Political Communication.

Based on unique survey data collected as part of a large comparative project funded by the Italian Ministry of Education, Dr Vaccari found that citizens who receive messages via email or social media inviting them to vote for a party or candidate are substantially more likely to engage in a variety of political activities besides voting, even after controlling for most known covariates of political participation and even after pre-processing the data to take into account self-selection biases in who receives online mobilization messages, and recalls receiving them.

The full abstract of the article, available here, reads as follows:

This study analyzes the relationship between online voter mobilization and political engagement in Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom during the 2014 European election campaign. Internet surveys of samples representatives of these countries’ populations with Internet access show that respondents who received an invitation to vote for a party or candidate via e-mail or social media engaged in a significantly higher number of political activities than those who did not. Moreover, the relationship between mobilization and engagement was stronger among those who followed the campaign less attentively, as well as in countries where overall levels of engagement with the campaign were lower (Germany and the United Kingdom) than where they were higher (Italy). These findings indicate that online mobilization may contribute to closing gaps in political engagement at both individual and aggregate levels, and thus suggest that digital media may contribute to reviving democratic citizenship.

The article is part of a special issue on "Digital Politics: Mobilization, Engagement, and Participation", co-edited by Karolina Koc-Michalska and Darren Lilleker.

Beyond Borders and Boundaries in Political Communication Research

As part of a series of regional events funded by the Media, Communication, and Cultural Studies Association’s (MeCCSA) Postgraduate Network, PhD candidates in the New Political Communication Unit will be hosting a half-day workshop discussing and debating the methodological challenges faced by researchers in the field of political communication.

Following on from previous regional events funded by the MeCCSA PGN on the theme of ‘Boundaries and Borders’, this event explores existing boundaries and borders within the growing field of political communication and poses the following questions:

·         What problems do we face as researchers?

·         What is being done currently to overcome these problems?

·         What can be done in the future to ensure our research remains relevant and robust?

The first half of the workshop comprises a masterclass with presentations from Gordon Cameron, Press Officer and Senior Researcher at the Greater London Authority, and Dr Jinghan Zeng, Lecturer in International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London. Mr Cameron and Dr Zeng will discuss their approaches to research in this field from both a professional and an academic perspective. The second half of the workshop will be led by presentations from current PhD candidates in the New Political Communication Unit: Declan McDowell-Naylor; Ellen Watts; and Amber Macintyre. A Q&A  session and discussion with this panel will take place, chaired by one of the event’s organisers.

The event runs from 14:00-18:00 on Wednesday 12th October. Tea and coffee will be provided and a wine reception will be held after the event in the Political and International Relations Department.

All members of staff and postgraduate students are welcome, please email Claudia.ferreira.2015@live.rhul.ac.uk to indicate your interest as numbers are limited.

Speaker Biographies

Gordon Cameron has been working in politics for the past 7 years.  After completing his Politics BA from Carleton University, he started working in politics by providing volunteer online communications support for different local candidates and charities in Ottawa, Canada. Following several years of working in the Canadian government he joined the New Political Communications MSc programme at Royal Holloway in 2010.

Since 2011 he has been working for the Greater London Authority and is now a Senior Researcher / Press Officer for the Conservative Group. Over that time he has led several City Hall projects such as improving mobile connectivity on the Tube, holding a Met Crime museum exhibition, improving flexible ticketing on London Transport, reducing the cost of drunkenness to London’s health services, and promoting tourism with technology.

Currently Gordon is working in the opposition group to the Mayor of London scrutinising the new administration’s delivery of campaign pledges.

Dr Jinghan Zeng is Lecturer in International Relations in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is also an Associate Fellow in the Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation at the University of Warwick and a Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy. He holds degrees from the University of Warwick (PhD, May 2012- April 2014) and the University of Pittsburgh (MA, 2009-2011).

His research and teaching interests lie in the field of Chinese politics and research methodology, with more specific interests in the study of China's authoritarian system, elite politics of contemporary China, and Chinese foreign policy. Jinghan is the author of The Chinese Communist Party's Capacity to Rule: Ideology, Legitimacy and Party Cohesion (Palgrave, 2015). His academic papers have appeared in International AffairsContemporary PoliticsJournal of Contemporary China, and Journal of Chinese Political Science. Before his academic career, he worked for the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs in New York City.

Declan McDowell-Naylor is a doctoral researcher based in the Department of Politics and International Relations, at Royal Holloway, University of London. His PhD project explores how issues of democracy and citizenship arise in the design and development of the ‘Internet of Things’. In particular, he focus on the processes of public engagement with the aim to challenge conventional understandings about democracy and the way in which citizens can engage with digital technology.

Ellen Watts is a PhD candidate in the New Political Communication Unit, co-supervised by Andrew Chadwick and Ben O'Loughlin. Ellen's research explores the interventions of celebrities in the political field, and citizen engagement with celebrity-led campaigns. At this workshop, she will discuss the challenges of studying online communities in an ethical way, in relation to a developing case study of 'Our Shared Shelf', a feminist book club and discussion forum founded by actor and UN Women Ambassador Emma Watson.

Amber Macintyre is currently undertaking research for a PhD on the culture of data within membership organisations. The research will focus on the unspoken contract the organisation forms with their members and how this impacts their use of data. This includes questions on how individuals in the organisation view the agency of their audience, perceive their role as experts and if they rely on the authority of big data. The research was inspired by her previous work on digital activism at Amnesty International and the tension between the risks and capabilities of digital technologies.