Social Media and Affective Publics

Project: Teaching

Project participants


The focus of the course is on affective publics (following the definition of Papacharissi, 2015, who largely builds on Massumi's work) that take on hybrid forms of expression and whose affective dimension is formed through and simultaneously informed by online forms of engagement, information dissemination, reporting, belonging, and civic participation.

The course includes a mixture of theory and practice. In the theoretical part we are going to read and discuss texts on the core topics that are essential for the study of contentious expression online, these include:

- contentious politics and contentious publicness
- connective and collective logics of action
- digital platforms as political actors
- affect, affective publics
- news and storytelling practices

Selected texts work closely with case studies showcasing democratic as well as antidemocratic potentials of digitally mediated affective publics, such as online campaigns during the Arab Spring, and Q-Anon. In class we will aim to correlate the readings with the case studies, which then will translate into student projects where students will be asked to select a case study to work with.

The practical part of the course will focus on the acquisition of the following skills:

- identifying forms of contentious expression online
- working with empirical evidence: collection, sorting criteria
- building your research archive
- content analysis
- writing skills

Potential questions for the seminar include: What kinds of public formations of civic engagement do online platforms support? How do networked platforms support affective processes? How is affect, in the sense of potential for action or inaction, built up with technological aid and particular platform affordances? How are these publics mobilized or immobilized through their information and communication practices?

Main points of critique will consider the implications of social media platforms as political actors, as affective intensity "can both reflexively drive forward and entrap in constantly regenerated feedback loops" (Papacharissi, 2015). Specific points of critique may include the monopolization of contentious expression in commercially driven spaces, privacy concerns, radicalizatios, and limitations of algorithmic organization culture.

For more details please take a look at the "Agenda" section in the course menu (the exact colloqium might be subject to chage, it's here to give you an approxiamte idea of topics we are going to tackle).

The general learning goal of this seminar includes developing analytical vocabulary and empirical tools to research online contentious movements, as well as get acquainted with the most important theoretical concepts that capture their affective and organizing dimension. The course deploys a variety of methods with distinct learning objectives:

- Understand core terms of the seminar and their relation to the case studies based on the readings provided
- Apply the terminology in groups discussions, develop ability to describe forms of contentious group expression online
- Learn how to approach analysis of these forms of expression, develop ability to analyze them and work with empirical evidence, including developing methods and practical approaches (selection criteria, transparency, storing, and collecting). Additionally, learn to analyze and identify forms of organization and expression of contentious group expression, their means of building collectives, claim-making, and the way digital tools and infrastructures facilitate or limit it.
- Learn how to evaluate the evidence collected based on the terminology and analytical categories developed in the course of empirical and seminar work, as well as evaluate findings and observations through the critical lens
- Craft arguments about the case studies that add to and engage with the existing conversations

The practical component will consist of group work in which students will be able to work with an online affective public case study of their choice that may relate to, but are not limited by, topics such as environmental activism, political activism, conspiracy groups, hacktivists, DIY groups, 4chan-ers, etc. The outcomes of the group work will be presented by student groups during an allocated session. A group report will constitute part of the final grade.
- The written examination will consist of a group report and individual reports on the presented case studies that will include more in-depth analysis connected to theoretical concepts discussed during the seminar.

Additionally, students are be expected to read texts in preparations for each session.