Internet and politics research, what next?

Just back from the European Consortium for Political Research conference in Reykjavik, where the internet and politics standing group, through the good offices of Anastasia Kavada and Andrea Calderaro, offered a string of interesting papers and generated good discussions. The incredibly industrious Axel Bruns live-blogged many of the presentations here.

Looking at the good quality of work on theorizing “connective action”, new forms of political communication mixing “old” and “new” media, and ten-year attempts to map out closely the changing (and variable) impact of new media use on various forms of political participation, it is clear we’ve come a long way in our understanding of the connections between internet and politics.

Some areas that I, on the basis of what I saw at this conference and what I’ve seen at others over the summer (IAMCR, ICA), think would merit more attention from researchers in the future are then—

  • The use of new ICTs by political actors beyond electoral parties and social movements—a bit of work has been done on various forms of interest groups, but this is a wide open field, and one that deserves much more scrutiny than it has received so far (my friend Dave Karpf has a book forthcoming on this, focused on the U.S., comparative work would make a great supplement to it).
  • The implications that new ICTs have for political practice and participation outside of electoral campaigns and social movement mobilization—we have a growing body of solid, cross-country work on campaigns etc, but less work has been done on how candidates, citizens, and organizes use internet tools in “peacetime”, so to speak.
  •  The ICTs themselves—there is a bit of a tendency to (and my own paper, co-authored with Cristian Vaccari, is an example of this) to focus on publicly manifest tools like campaign websites, social media, and perhaps email communications. This is important. But there is a whole other side to be examined, which is the story of the adoption of tools, of development, innovation, of trials and errors as political actors try to leverage the potential of tools that have to be mastered in practice and aren’t necessarily “just there” but have to be furnished first. (As it happens, another friend, Daniel Kreiss, has a book forthcoming on this—again, comparative work would be a great complement to his work on the Democratic Party in the U.S.)
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