My doctoral research explored the role of online partisan media in contemporary American politics, with an empirical focus on “below-the-line” commentary on a conservative news and opinion website during the 2016 US presidential election. I situated my approach in terms of the ongoing debate regarding the nature and extent of polarisation in American political life, which in recent years has seen a move away from a model of polarisation based on voters’ policy preferences (i.e., ideological polarisation) to one which takes into account people’s attitudes towards opposing partisans (i.e., affective polarisation).
Whilst identity is central to the concept of affective polarisation, most approaches to the phenomenon have thus far been primarily quantitative in nature. My PhD thesis provided a qualitative account of affective polarisation by drawing on Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory. This framework presents antagonism as a fundamental condition of the political, whilst viewing identities as shifting, relational, and contingent formations that are constituted and reconstituted through contact with competing discourses. I integrated this approach with the critical study of digital media by looking at how the boundaries of American conservative identities are negotiated and contested by audiences in user-generated news commentary through the frequently antagonistic characterisation of political opponents.
My doctoral research was supported by a National University of Ireland Travelling Studentship in Media and Communications. See here for an overview of my research in which I discuss the role of online partisan media in contemporary American right-wing politics. Read my thesis here.