::Research and Projects
Our research agenda
- Comparative and international political communication: the Internet's impact on political mobilization, campaigning and identity; the complex interactions among older and newer media logics; the relationship between media, war, new security challenges and conflict; audience reception studies in the context of the proliferation of media; the dynamic between citizens’ changing uses of media and a transforming news environment; citizen journalism; technology and mobilities.
- Communication and comparative governance: e-democracy and the changing interface between representative institutions, public bureaucracies and citizens; changing organizational practices shaped by new patterns of communication.
- Comparative and international communication policy: Internet and new media governance and regulation; privacy, surveillance and security, the political economy of newer media; cultural diversity policy; digital divide and development issues.
In addition to our ongoing individual research the members of the Unit are currently engaged in a number of collaborative and funded projects. Below is a selection of completed and ongoing projects. For more granular detail please visit our blog archive and our events and talks archive.
The Hybrid Media System
Chadwick, A. (2013, Publishing August) The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power (Oxford University Press). 272pp.
Cover Description: The diffusion and rapid evolution of new communication technologies has reshaped media and politics. But who are the new power players? Written by a leading scholar in the field, The Hybrid Media System is a sweeping and compelling new theory of how political communication now works.
Politics is increasingly defined by organizations, groups, and individuals who are best able to blend older and newer media logics, in what Andrew Chadwick terms a hybrid system. Power is wielded by those who create, tap, and steer information flows to suit their goals and in ways that modify, enable, and disable the power of others, across and between a range of older and newer media.
Chadwick examines news making in all of its contemporary “professional” and “amateur” forms, parties and election campaigns, activist movements, and government communication. He presents compelling illustrations of the hybrid media system in flow, from American presidential campaigns to WikiLeaks, from live prime ministerial debates to hotly-contested political scandals, from the daily practices of journalists, campaign workers, and bloggers to the struggles of new activist organizations. This wide-ranging book maps the emerging balance of power between older and newer media technologies, genres, norms, behaviors, and organizational forms.
Political communication has entered a new era. This book reveals how the clash of older and newer media logics causes chaos and disintegration but also surprising new patterns of order and integration.
Further work associated with this project:
Chadwick, A. (2011) 'The Political Information Cycle in a Hybrid News System: the British Prime Minister and the "Bullygate" Affair' The International Journal of Press/Politics 16 (1), pp. 3-29.
Chadwick, A. (2011) 'Britain’s First Live Televised Party Leaders' Debate: From the News Cycle to the Political Information Cycle' Parliamentary Affairs 64 (1), pp. 24-44.
Chadwick, A. and Stanyer, J. (2011) 'The Changing News Media Environment' in Heffernan, R., Cowley, P. and Hay, C. (eds) Developments in British Politics 9 (Palgrave-Macmillan), pp. 215-237.
Chadwick, A. (2011) 'The Hybrid Media System' Presentation to the European Consortium for Political Research General Conference, Reykjavik, Iceland, August 25–27.
The BBC, Twitter and the 2012 Olympics: Bringing London to the World and the World to London?
The 2012 Olympics were a chance for the BBC to ‘bring the world to London and London to the world’. Part of the BBC’s remit is to promote a ‘global conversation’ by widening user participation, creating dialogue that overcomes national, religious and ethnic divisions, and even cultivates a sense of global citizenship. To assess whether it achieved these goals, the NPCU is working with the BBC and the ESRC’s Centre for Research on Socio Cultural Change (CRESC) to analyse how Arabic, Russian, Persian and English-speaking audiences responded to the Olympics and the BBC’s coverage of it. The multilingual research team is starting from Big Datasets of Tweets to narrow down to key events around which issues of nationalism and religion came into play. There was no shortage of such events that got people talking, for instance female athletes in Islamic dress, accusations of doping against Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen, and the embrace of US wrestler Jordan Burroughs and his Iranian counterpart Sadegh Goudarzi. The Opening and Closing Ceremonies meanwhile offered numerous opportunities for global audiences to think about London and Britain; whether this was with affection, contempt or sheer post-colonial ambivalence remains to be seen.
The project also marks an important point in thinking about measuring the performance of global media. The BBC must prove the ‘value’ of its services to many masters, from the licence-paying individual with their particular tastes and the non-license-paying overseas user comparing the BBC to their national media to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office official who may see the BBC as part of UK public diplomacy to sway audiences around the world. At the same time, the advent of Big Data means there appear to be new ways to measure the BBC’s ‘effects’ and ‘influence’ but how robust these are is debatable. And finally, is a valuable ‘global conversation’ one where political learning takes place, where prejudices are worn away over time, or is connection itself an intrinsic good? The project allows us to address classic political questions about the nature of public spheres, communication and deliberation, as well as the commercial imperatives of reach, relationships and branding.
The project is led by Marie Gillespie of The Open University, Rob Procter of Manchester University, and Ben O’Loughlin at Royal Holloway. The NPCU PhD students Billur Aslan and James Dennis are part of the multilingual research team. We are grateful to Jemma Ahmed and Emily Mould at BBC Worldwide for their cooperation and insights. Findings will be published in due course.
Monitoring of Complex Information Infrastructure by Mining External Signals
From October 2009 Dr Ben O’Loughlin in collaboration with Linguamatics Ltd will conduct a 12-month pilot investigation of the use of blogs and Twitter as a way of monitoring information infrastructures for early warnings of problems. The project is funded by the Technology Strategy Board. The research is the latest in a series of NPCU grant-funded projects that develop methodologies to explore online behaviour and its consequences for politics and society.
The goal of the project is to show that analysis of external chatter can provide early warning in near real time concerning economic or security problems. Automatic analysis of formal channels (e.g. customer surveys and user feedback forms) using Natural Language Processing (NLP) has been successfully used by large organisations to identify issues reported with products and services. Informal online sources of information, such as blogs and twitter, give the potential for greater coverage of issues in near-real time. We will take NLP technology already proven in life science research and apply it to blogs and twitter for monitoring of digital services. Weak signals gathered from large numbers of users can suggest problems which do not show up as single point failures. We will also see if it is possible to catch cases where a rumour of a problem may exacerbate or even cause the problem itself.
Relatively unsophisticated techniques of word counting have proved successful in categorising user comments. In this project we will combine these techniques with use of deeper language processing, as used successfully in text mining academic journals for drug discovery, to give early warning of potential infrastructure problems. We will look at the role of rumours, both in exacerbating issues and in suggesting potential information leakage.
Linguamatics are a text-mining company based in Cambridge, UK. Lawrence Ampofo, a PhD student in the department, will be a Research Assistant on the project. For more information contact Ben.OLoughlin@rhul.ac.uk
Oxford Studies in Digital Politics: A New Book Series from Oxford University Press (Series Editor: Andrew Chadwick)
Media, War and Conflict
The Journal of Information Technology and Politics
Andrew Chadwick was a founding Associate Editor (2006-2009) of this new journal and now serves on its Senior Editorial Board. The JITP is published by Routledge, and is affiliated with the organized section on Information Technology & Politics of the American Political Science Association. The senior and full international editorial boards currently consist of over 100 researchers in the field. The journal's current editor-in-chief is Michael Xenos at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The Journal of Information Technology & Politics (JITP) seeks high-quality manuscripts on the challenges and opportunities presented by information technology in politics and government. The primary objectives of the journal are to:
- promote a better understanding of how evolving information technologies interact with political and governmental processes and outcomes at many levels
- encourage the development of governmental and political processes that employ IT in novel and interesting ways, and
- foster the development of new information technology tools and theories that can capture, analyze, and report on these developments
War and Media Network (WAM)
The War and Media Network recognises the intersection between war and media as an important area of research. The aim of the War and Media Network is to establish productive dialogue between academics and practitioners interested in this area. Ben O'Loughlin participates in regular WAM-sponsored events.
With the explosion of comments, posts, articles and conversations available on digital media platforms today, private and public sector organisations recognise this immense volume of data may yield valuable intelligence. In branding and retail, consumer relationships, attitudes and tastes can be assessed in unprecedented detail. So too for politics: the opinions, attitudes and responses to political events of ordinary people can be monitored and analysed using online methodologies. Participatory media allow for ongoing engagement with ‘targets’ online in order to shape offline behaviour. Consequently, the imperative to accurately evaluate digital media and measure complex metrics such as influence, trust and reputation online becomes ever greater. Researchers at the NPCU are investigating the possibilities offered by these technologies - often labelled web metrics - and the practical and ethical dilemmas that accompany them. Click here for more information.
International Working Group on Online Consultation and Public Policymaking
The NSF-funded International Working Group on Online Consultation and Public Policy Making (IWG) was a three-year (2007-2009) research effort focusing on (a) how to evaluate the policy and other social impacts of online citizen consultation initiatives aimed at influencing actual government decision making, and (b) how the optimal design of such initiatives is affected by cultural, social, legal, and institutional contexts. Its sub-groups considered the impacts of online consultations on government agencies and policy makers, the impacts of online consultations on public participants and civil society organizations, the relationship between the design of consultation and the kinds of impacts identified, and the ways in which legal, political and institutional context shape prospects for success. US participation in four international working groups was supported by $280,000, through a grant of $1,000,000 to the Center for Technology in Government at the State University of New York at Albany, from the National Science Foundation’s Digital Research Program (PI, Sharon Dawes, SUNY-Albany).
You can read more about the project here.
The project's outputs included a series of four conferences (at Harvard University, Ohio State University, the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC, and at Sciences Po, Paris), a special issue of the journal I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society, and an extensive edited volume to be published by MIT Press in late 2011. Andrew Chadwick contributed a paper to the I/S special issue and the edited volume.
The Handbook of Internet Politics
Consisting of over 30 specially commissioned chapters featuring over 50 authors, this major field-building project is co-edited by Andrew Chadwick, Director of the New Political Communication Unit and Philip N. Howard, Professor of Communication, University of Washington. Published by Routledge, it is divided into four sections: Institutions, Behavior, Identities, and Law and Policy, the Handbook is:
- A prestige reference work providing a thematically organized overview of the whole subject area of Internet politics and policy, broadly defined.
- A survey of the state of the art including emerging and cutting edge areas.
- A synthesis of important work and a means of punctuating the development of a scholarly field.
- A means of providing linkages to established theories of media and politics, political communication, governance, deliberative democracy and social movements.
- Made up of a strong cast of international scholars; a mix of big names, rising stars and more junior academics drawn from the US, the UK, Europe and beyond.
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 investigates 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. The project examines how interpretations of this term 'radicalisation' are shaped by news representations through investigating audience responses, understandings and misunderstandings.
The research uses and develops 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 draws 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.
Politics: Web 2.0: An International Conference
A major conference held in April 2008, still the biggest of its kind ever held in Europe and a major agenda setting event that continues to shape developments and scholarly and practitioner networks in the field. Were you there or do you know someone who was there? For details and the archive, click here. See also the special double issue of the Journal of Information Technology and Politics featuring papers from the conference, edited by Andrew Chadwick.
MPs and their Blogs
In 2007, Dr Mary Francoli, then Leverhulme Visiting Fellow in the New Political Communication Unit under a project grant won by Andrew Chadwick, and Stephen Ward, then of the Oxford Internet Institute, studied the development of MPs' blogging in the UK and Canada. The project traced the growth and prevalence of MPs' blogging, the scope and objectives of such blogs, and assessed their democratic significance. The comparative nature of the study helped to answer questions regarding institutional and systemic features which help shape the blogosphere. A combination of qualitative and quantitative methods were employed, including interviews with MPs in both Canada in the UK, content analysis of MPs’ blogs, as well as the use of domain statistics tools which helped identify the networks which include such blogs.
Conclusions show blogging to be a minority interest among political representatives, with approximately 38 MPs blogging in the UK as of 2007 and 8 in Canada. Interestingly, the UK saw expansion during 2005/06, at the same time the Canadian blog scene has withered as a result of strict party discipline. Only a small minority of blogs show potential for democratic debate or conversation; many are not interactive and those that are receive little to no comments.
An early version of the study was presented at the UK Political Studies Association conference in Bath, April 2007 and the paper was published in the journal Information Polity. Dr Francoli is now an Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University.
Shifting Securities: News Cultures Before and Beyond the Iraq War
Ben O'Loughlin and Akil N. Awan were researchers on this ESRC-funded project, part of the first wave of the major New Security Challenges Programme led by Professor Stuart Croft.