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Abstract

The article discusses qualitative research on the mundane civic practices of some Czechs, with a specific focus on the role of new media. It works with a context-oriented approach in order to avoid media-centrism. Our research is focussed on the ways in which civic practices are structured by immediate and wider social and political contexts and how they are experienced by post-socialist citizens from villages and large cities. The role of new media and the place of civic practices in everyday life is analysed with respect to these contexts. The research based on semi-structured in-depth interviews with 22 politically and publicly active citizens indicates that Czechs experience a similar crisis in relation to institutional politics as their counterparts in long established democracies and it reveals telltale differences between the social spaces of villages and cities both in participatory practices and in civic uses of new media. However, the study does not indicate a radical, new media-driven transformation of citizenship, rather it suggests subtle shifts in practices and a pragmatic mixing of face-to-face communication and traditional media (print, public address systems, noticeboards) with new communication technologies.
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PARTICIPATION OR NEW MEDIA USE FIRST?
RECONSIDERING THE ROLE OF NEW MEDIA
IN CIVIC PRACTICES
IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC
Jakub Macek :: Alena Macková :: Johana Kotišová
IZVORNI ZNANSTVENI RAD / UDK 316.774:316437.1, 308437.1 / PRIMLJENO: 30.12.2014.
ABSTRACT The article discusses qualitative research on the mundane civic practices of some Czechs, with
a specic focus on the role of new media. It works with a context-oriented approach in order to avoid
media-centrism. Our research is focussed on the ways in which civic practices are structured by immediate
and wider social and political contexts and how they are experienced by post-socialist citizens from villages
and large cities. The role of new media and the place of civic practices in everyday life is analysed with
respect to these contexts. The research based on semi-structured in-depth interviews with 22 politically
and publicly active citizens indicates that Czechs experience a similar crisis in relation to institutional
politics as their counterparts in long established democracies and it reveals tell-tale dierences between
the social spaces of villages and cities both in participatory practices and in civic uses of new media.
However, the study does not indicate a radical, new media-driven transformation of citizenship, rather it
suggests subtle shifts in practices and a pragmatic mixing of face-to-face communication and traditional
media (print, public address systems, noticeboards) with new communication technologies.
KEY WORDS
civic practices, diffused audience, new media, traditional media, czech republic
Authors note
Jakub Macek :: Masaryk University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Brno, Czech Republic ::
jakub.macek@gmail.com
Alena Macková :: Masaryk University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Brno, Czech Republic ::
aja.mackova@gmail.com
Johana Kotišová :: Masaryk University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Brno, Czech Republic ::
j.kotisova@gmail.com
The authors acknowledge the support of the VITOVIN project (CZ.1.07/2.3.00/20.0184), which
is co-nanced by the European Social Fund and the state budget of the Czech Republic. The
work on the article was also funded from Jakub Macek’s grant “New and old media in everyday
life: media audiences at the time of transforming media uses” (Czech Science Foundation,
13-15684P); Johana Kotišová’s contribution to the article was supported through the project
“Proměna veřejné a politické participace v kontextu měnících se mediálních technologií a
praxí” [“Transformation of Public and Political Participation in the Context of Changing Media
Technologies and Practices”] and Alena Macková’s through the project Aktuální problémy
politologického výzkumu“ [“Recent problems in political science research”], both nanced by
Masaryk University (MUNI/A/0903/2013; MUNI/A/1342/2014).
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INTRODUCTION
The “new” Czech democracy has in the 25 years of its development eectively caught
up with Western democracies in terms of discontent with politics, distrust of political
institutions and media and a continual decline in political participation (Linek, 2013). In
general, these developments can be framed as a crisis of legitimacy of institutionalized
politics and since the 1990s it has been expected that new digital and networked
media will play a role in resolving this crisis (see Dahlberg, 2011; Macek, 2013a).
It is apparent that such a general impact of new media is illusory and that the logic of a
straightforward and readily available “technical x” is, as Kevin Robins and Frank Webster
(1989) argued already over two decades ago, just an ospring of the seductive modern
meta-narration of universal and instrumentally rational progress. Existing mostly
quantitative
1
research on the topic has become more nuanced (compared particularly
to the 1990s when the inuence of new media on politics was understood in a more
straightforward manner) and addressed questions such as: What role do new media play
in political participation? Do they broaden the repertoire of participatory practices? What
are the dierences and relationship between online and traditional participation? (see
Tang and Lee, 2013; Gil de Zúñiga et al., 2012; Gil de Zúñiga et al., 2010; Gil de Zúñiga
and Valenzuela, 2010; Zhang et al., 2010) However, answers to these questions are hardly
satisfying yet. Why?
Firstly, the eld is inconsistent in conceptualizations of basic terminology. Lincoln
Dahlbergs remark that democracy or e-democracy is “often talked about as though
there was a general consensus about what it is” (Dahlberg, 2011: 855) is plausible even
in relation to participation. Nico Carpentier (2011) and Peter Dahlgren (2011) note that
the term participation is usually treated in an open, vague way, while Maria Bakardjieva
stresses that political participation is dominantly researched and theorized in relation to
institutionalized politics although civic practices should actually be studied also in the
context of mundane everyday life and the private sphere (Bakardjieva, 2009). Secondly,
as we have already argued elsewhere, existing research on the phenomena related to
new media tends to be media-centric, understanding new media as a central, specic
focus (cf. Macek, 2013a: 67–94, 95–106). However, this understandable reduction could be
misleading. When holding a hammer, everything seems to be a nail; when focusing on
new media, everything seems to be related to new media. Therefore, civic practices – the
particular agencies of citizens related to public and political issues
2
should be the main
character in the story. And related uses of new media should be analysed with respect to
immediate and broader contexts surrounding and structuring civic practices (Bakardjieva,
2009; Bentivegna, 2006; Dahlgren, 2011, 2013; Macek, 2013a; Macková and Macek, 2014).
1
There are, of course, also some qualitative studies on new media and politics, see Huang et al., 2014; Nilsson and Carlsson,
2014; Warren et al., 2014; Bakardjieva, 2009.
2
 Public issues are here understood as issues located beyond the private sphere, as issues related to events and relations in
the public space. The practices then, as we show below, vary from seemingly non-political collective (public) activities such as
organizing concerts for local children or attending a beekeepers’ club to (explicitly political) activities such as participating
in local municipal politics or in elections.
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Dahlgren (2011, 2013), Carpentier (2011) and Bakardjieva (2009) address the problem
within a theoretical frame and a context-oriented approach underlines the necessity of
an ongoing and careful reconsideration of actual participatory agency. We take up this
challenge and confront our theoretically informed understanding with the lived and
contextualized experiences of 22 politically or publicly active Czech citizens: we decided
to ask them in qualitative interviews about (1) how they relate to politics and to the
public sphere in general, (2) what they actually do or do not do in relation to public and
political issues and how they conceive their activities and (3) how and why they use media
in this regard. Moreover, our previous research on city-based online activism suggested
that uses of new media for political participation in cities are probably inuenced by the
specic characteristics of urban social relationships (Macková and Macek, 2014). Therefore
we decided to take a closer look at (4) whether and how the activities and related uses of
media dier in rural and urban environments and what they have in common. The rst
two questions explore the role of the broader contexts of national politics and of links
between how citizens see and experience the political and public spheres and how they
experience and understand their own particular civic practices. The third question then
takes into account communication technologies and the fourth one the role of rural and
urban social contexts.
BEYOND A MEDIA-CENTRIC LOGIC,
TOWARDS GREATER COMPLEXITY
Although our ambition is to understand how our interviewees engage in actual civic
practices and hence we build on their understanding of what constitutes these practices
and on the local and national contexts, it is necessary to clarify our conceptual apparatus.
When talking about new media and participatory agency, Carpentier makes a conceptual
distinction among access (to technologies), interaction (about public and political topics)
and participation (see Carpentier, 2011: 28–30). For our purposes and also in line with
the ndings of our previous research (Macková and Macek, 2014) we have modied this
typology. We decided to distinguish between access (as a contextual condition for uses
of media) and agency. And since access was one of the sampling criteria, we focus only on
agency here.
Furthermore, in relation to agency we have made a distinction between communicative
practices of reception and interaction and conative practices of engagement and
participation. The reception of mediated contents and information (produced both by
individual actors and professional media) and interaction with others (including both
mediated and face-to-face communication) are essential conditions for engagement
(as an expression of interest, as taking part in events, community, associations, clubs
etc.) and participation (Carpentier, 2011) denition practices aiming at co-deciding,
participation in decision-making processes). These four (Weberian ideal-typical) forms
of politically and publicly oriented practices we refer to them by the umbrella term
civic practices – enable us to work even with interviewees’ subtle understandings of their
engagement with public and political issues. The distinctive focus on the communicative
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practices of reception and interaction enables us to concentrate on reception and
interaction as practices conditioning engagement and participation and linking civic
practices in general to media uses. In addition, the distinction between engagement and
participation helps us to tell apart participation in events and decision making on these
(or at least aiming to do so).
When approaching new media and civic practices we knowingly avoid the simplistic
media-centric logic with new media conceived as a more or less central or even primary
source of current social and political change. As Scott Wright suggests: “The revolutionary
potential [of technology] lies [...] in how technologies are designed, exploited and adopted
(or not) by humans in particular social and political contexts.” (2011: 246) Therefore
we focus on immediate, everyday contexts directly surrounding and structuring civic
practices (including the private sphere, work, social ties) as well as on the broader political,
social and economic contexts of the locality and of the nation state.
With the former we specically focus on forms of locality and forms of local
relationships, as research question 4 indicates. We are, in other words, interested in how
community–based local contexts typical of villages (though possibly existing in cities as
well) dier from urban contexts in shaping civic practices and uses of new media. In this
regard, we understand “the village” and “the city” as ideal-typical constructs (see below).
Last but not least, it is worth stressing that our approach does not neglect technology
as a formative material and symbolic force structuring agency or shaping larger contexts.
On the contrary, it does explicitly explore the role of media (as technologies and texts)
in relation to civic practices and to broader contexts. This approach appears to be useful
specically in a situation when changes in the studied phenomena are in many aspects
subtle, contradictory and more colourful and dicult to track than originally expected
as with political practices (Dahlgren, 2013; Bakardjieva, 2009) – and when understanding
media as a central problem could jeopardize more nuanced interpretations of the
transformation of the political (Wright, 2011). Therefore, we take into account that the
political sphere is constantly changing both in terms of institutionalized politics but also
in its perceptions by citizens. Also, we are aware that civic practices keep transforming
and that the term covers a wide range of specic practices (cf. Ester and Vinken, 2003;
Lievrouw, 2011) and nally that the aordances of new media play a role in these changes
as they meet particular needs and structure particular practices and can set up new
contexts for interaction and power relations.
METHODS
We have focused on broadly conceived expressions of civic practices in cities, on the
one hand, and small towns and villages on the other and the role that various media play
in these practices. We expected that these practices could dier according to constraints
and opportunities that particular social spaces (e.g. social ties and involved collective
identities) oer.
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We worked with a qualitative research design based on broadly conceived semi-
structured interviews with 22 interviewees, aged 1560 years (mean age for villages
and small towns was 32, for cities 25)
3
. The interviews were collected in April 2014 in 22
distinct places across the country; eleven interviewees live in bigger Czech cities (over
100 thousand inhabitants)
4
, one in a mid-size town with 37 thousand people, two in
small towns (15 and 6 thousand inhabitants), one in a bigger village with 3 thousand
people and seven in small villages with fewer than a thousand inhabitants. The sample
was homogenous in terms of interviewees’ social status and media skills all of them
could be characterized as middle class, routine users of traditional and new media.
Our choice of the sample was intentionally limited to people who proclaimed some
kind of political or public engagement, participation in local politics, local cultural and
community events or associations, volunteering, etc. Our interviewees include university
and secondary school students engaged in volunteering (working with homeless people,
active at school assembly, doing theatre etc.), teachers, two mayors of small villages
(209 and 586 inhabitants), a former teacher and a current deputy mayor in a town with
37 thousand people, a former journalist, a businesswoman restoring a chapel in a small
village, a woman working at a youth centre, a citizen journalist from a big city, a communal
politician and sacristan from a small town and a designer, a freelancer and a MA student
working for NGOs.
The analytical process actually began already during the work on the research
design and the interview guide (see Arksey and Knight, 1999) while reecting on our
previous empirical and theoretical work on the topic. The main part of the analysis then
started with a systematic reading of the interviews and with an initial comparison of a
few selected interviews conducted in large cities and smaller settlements when we
established categories that appeared to be identical or symmetrical for cities as well
as towns and villages. We understood dierences in categories or in actual interview
contents as an analytical opportunity to understand the dierences between the two
types of settlements and interviewees living in them. Finally, before writing this article,
we identied the categories central for the analysis while the remaining categories were
treated as contextual.
Our research is inevitably limited due to sampling and the constraints of qualitative
research design. The article addresses a very specic segment of the Czech population
due to our intention to interview politically and publicly active individuals of middle-class
origin. Moreover, the division of the sample into inhabitants of “the village” and the city”
creates a strong dichotomy revealing the specics of opposite types of social spaces.
However, despite the inclusion of three interviewees from smaller towns, the study
does not address more complicated situations in towns where the social characteristics
of villages and cities overlap. In line with the logic of qualitative research, we note that
our ndings should be interpreted as evidence-based theoretical suggestions, not as
authoritative generalizations. Hence, data collection and analysis were as parts of a
3
 The interviews were – under the authors’ supervision – conducted by MA students at Masaryk University specifically trained
for this purpose. The duration of the interviews varied between 60 and 120 minutes.
4
 Namely in Prague (the country’s capital city), Brno (a regional administrative centre) and Zlín (a regional administrative
centre).
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broader research project intended as a pilot study preceding a quantitative survey of
the Czech population conducted in December 2014 (Macková and Macek, 2015; Macek
et al., 2015).
SMELL THE CRISIS: DISENCHANTED CITIZENS
AND PARTICIPATION AS DUTY
When talking about the political and public spheres in general, our interviewees
are disenchanted, dissatised with the way national institutionalized politics developed
following the Velvet Revolution of 1989. They express an increasing distrust and decreasing
interest in democratic institutions, they consider politics cynical, unable to deal with
problems. In other words, our interviewees have experienced a similar crisis of trust in the
political as documented in other democratic countries (Dahlgren, 2013).
We have identied four dimensions of this crisis in our interviews. Firstly, our
interviewees are sceptical about the possibility of a fully functioning democracy. They
characterize the external ecacy (responsiveness) of the political system as very low and
they are not convinced about the meaningfulness and eciency of standard democratic
tools. At the same time, they perceive national politics as alienated, evil, corrupt and
dicult to inuence. Hence participation (as co-deciding) is experienced as distant and
pointless. Secondly, in relation to the reception of political news, interviewees talk about
the failure of traditional media. The nature of national politics and politicians’ media-
discursive (rhetorical) strategies discourage our interviewees from actively watching and
reading media coverage of national politics. Moreover, our interviewees are critical of
media as such: they think that national media have lost their independence, have become
politicized and corrupted, and therefore they often talk about nding information “on
their own” (in face-to-face interactions, on social networking sites – SNSs).
Thirdly, our interviewees perceive others’ apathy and lack of concern as well as
politicians’ obscurantism. They believe that apathy leads to corruption and polarization of
society. And politicians’ obscurantism is seen as preventing citizens from knowing what
really is going on in national politics and how it aects them. The perceived apathy is
not limited to national politics. Our interviewees see apathy as permeating the whole
public sphere. A student talks about her secondary school student council as being not “a
seedbed of democracy” but “a seedbed of indierence” (Student, female, 17). Where does
this apathy come from? Some interviewees linked it to political elites’ obscurantism, some
to the communist past when people “were passive”. The second reason is particularly
interesting as it can be understood as a distinct feature of the Czech post-socialist
political culture interviewees see the communist past as a historical burden, a source
of passivity. And I think its still connected to the past because everyone’s just waiting
that something’s going to happen,” suggested a 31-year-old designer living in a large
city. That someone instead of them... that someone’s going to give them something.”
(Designer, male, 31) Importantly, our interviewees repeatedly stress that the problem
is not just historical or systemic, in particular those from small places think that in the
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local context “it’s more about people”. However, the implicit link to the communist past
is ubiquitous. Fourthly, despite discontent with institutionalized politics, our interviewees
considered participation as a norm and a duty: it is right and necessary to participate,
even in national politics, and apathy is a sign of others’ irresponsibility, in the words of an
interviewee “it’s maybe sad when someone politically active says he hates politics totally.
On the other hand, it [politics] is a necessity. It bothers me that people are so indierent
about politics. [...] It’s about Czech people’s lack of responsibility.(Sales representative,
male, 24) The sense of an obligation to contribute to the system, is as a crucial motivation
for democratic agency (Amnå, 2010; Dahlgren, 2011) specically manifested in relation
to elections. Most of our interviewees vote regularly (at least in national elections),
considering it their civic duty, as some put it. Fullling this duty is at the same time
understood as a legitimization of ensuing discontent: When I need to complain about
something later, I have the right to do so.” (Volunteering student, female, 22)
In these four dimensions we can see an interesting tension between the negation of
institutionalized politics as awed and the normative sense of duty that suggests a denial
of apathy. In some cases the negation of current politics results in a careful labelling of
one’s engagement and participation as “non-political” or as “accidental. In other cases, it
results in a conviction that politics should and could be changed – from below.
I believe in a revolution, in that bottom-up change, [...] when people change, when they start to think
dierently, politics will t to that somehow. So it doesn’t make sense to change politics... and hope that
people start to think dierently afterwards. (Working student, male, 24)
And, importantly, this sense of duty seems to get stronger and the sense of
disconnection weaker as we move from the national to local contexts, this can be
explained by the more binding loyalty to particular people and relationships in the local
context, in other words, the duty to the imagined community of the nation is weaker than
that to actually lived local communities.
RENAISSANCE OF THE LOCAL? BETWEEN “CITY” AND “VILLAGE”
The ndings discussed so far show that distrust in national politics is more obvious
when compared to interviewees’ attitudes to local issues (in urban and rural settings). The
low external ecacy related to disappointment with national politics is accompanied by
higher external as well as internal ecacy in local politics. The interviewees characterize
local politics as closer and within reach in terms of their own inuence and also in terms
of the responsiveness of the political. Any “change for the better” is more meaningful and
likely at the local level because politicians and active citizens are able to know and meet
each other.
Nevertheless, here we encounter the notorious and at the same time ideal typical
distinction between the village and urban spaces. To put it simply, the interviewees
met our expectations based on the classical Tönniesian duality of Gemeinschaft and
Gesellschaft “community” and “civil society(Tönnies, 2001). The city as Gesellschaft is
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characterized by its physically and socially dispersed space a space fragmented into a
number of particular places that overlap with points of social encounters and networks of
social ties. As such the city could be seen as a matrix of diverse civic practices. Diversity
could be productive but it can also come at a price. The networked social topology and
the missing “centre of gravity” of the single core community easily make urban civic
practices as dispersed and fragmented as the social space itself. Moreover, the distance
between citizens and their local representatives is inevitably greater in a city than in
community-based towns and villages. Hence engagement and participation could
be experienced as less ecient in cities. In contrast, the everyday social space of our
interviewees living in villages is centred on Gemeinschaft, around local communities
rmly situated in a relatively delineated physical and relational space. The communities
are based on the personal knowledge of others and on various interpersonal ties. When
talking about their civic practices, our interviewees inevitably talk about their relatives,
friends and neighbours. They are directly grounded in local politics and public issues and
things are perceived as done by certain people for certain people, not by distant elite for
an imagined community (cf. Anderson, 1991).
It is not surprising that our interviewees dierences in civic practices and related
uses of media copy the dierences between these two types of spaces. Opportunities
and limitations oered by social spaces evidently call for dierent engagement and
participation as well as reception and interaction practices. Typically, interviewees from
villages and small towns found practices related to the maintenance and reproduction
of the local community and its collective self crucial, these involved engagement
or participation in organizing cultural events that are usually closely and personally
connected to local municipalities and public institutions (libraries, schools, youth
centres etc.). Furthermore, we can reasonably argue that both spaces call for distinct
theoretical approaches, “the village” – as reconstructed in or interviews – corresponds to
a communitarian view of citizenship where community holds ontological primacy over
the individual” (Bakardjieva, 2009: 92). In contrast to that, “the city” – with its fragmented
social space, where NGOs play a crucial role and where a wider range of topics and issues
is addressed corresponds to a republican view of citizenship which “does not discount
individual interests and group or community belonging, but places the public as a political
community at a higher level of signicance” (ibid.: 93).
CASUALLY ACTIVE: THREE TYPES OF SUBACTIVISM
It is worth stating that our interviewees’ practices share some general characteristics
that question the simple distinction of village versus city and that show that despite
structural dierences both spaces have a lot in common. We have arrived at an open-
ended typology of our interviewees’ engagement and participation that takes distinct
motivations for these practices into account along with the broader context of the crisis
of the political as well as the role of a sense duty to participate in public and political
issues. The typology helps us answer the initial question about actual civic practices in our
interviewees’ lived, contextualized experience.
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In general, we do not merely mean “regular” i.e. organized, institutionalized and
explicit – activism here. Indeed, some of our interviewees were involved in NGOs or
local institutions, however, we also took into account “implicit forms of engagement
and participation. In this respect the interviewees’ publicly and politically oriented
practices should be seen (1) as responses to the needs or expectations of a community
or immediate social peers, (2) as responses to the experience of a dysfunctional system,
i.e. institutionalized politics, (3) as deeply intertwined with interviewees’ everyday private
lives and last but not least (4) as contingent and occasional, disconnected from an explicit
ambition to “change the world, often experienced in contrast with “regular activism
or politics. The rst two points suggest that conclusions formulated in relation to other
national contexts also apply in the Czech case. Dahlgren repeatedly argues that people
dissatised with national politics look for alternative political paths, such as alternative
politics or activism, or tend to focus on topics or politics they can actually change (Dahlgren,
2005, 2013, Lievrouw, 2011). Points 3 and 4 prompted us to employ Bakardjieva’s concept
of subactivism as a kind of politics that unfolds at the level of subjective experience and
is submerged in the ow of everyday life(Bakardjieva, 2009: 92). This concept based
on Ulrich Beck’s (1996) notion of subpolitics – enables us to identify one of the sources of
political agency in mundane practices and relationships in the private sphere.
Some practices described by our interviewees suggest a blurry line between
subactivism and “regular activism: the contexts of private life and public sphere get
inseparably mixed (cf. Papacharissi, 2010). Therefore, in the following we use (sub)activism
to highlight that we nd both subactivism and activism (i.e. subpolitical and political
phenomena) in our interviews and these often merge. As we have identied three distinct
sources of motivations for civic practices – sources related to individual skills, social peers
and the construction of individual biographies – we talk about (sub)activism on demand,
biographic (sub)activism and peer-motivated (sub)activism.
In our sample (sub)activism on demand tended to be more typical of the urban context
it is practiced by actors oering their specic expert skills (in computer graphics, cultural
production, PR and marketing, accountancy, video editing etc.) to “regularactivists, NGOs
or other civic organizations. (Sub)activism on demand diers from “regularactivism in
its topical randomness it is driven by the interviewee’s sense of duty to do the “right
things” and by her or his willingness to apply particular skills but is not guided by an
intentional and systematic focus on a specic topic. Moreover, (sub)activism on demand
mostly merges with interviewees’ everyday work routines particular tasks or contracts
are simply conceived as part of their job agendas.
Interviewees practicing biographic (sub)activism become engaged or eventually
begin participating based on life trajectory choices. Engagement and participation are
consequent to such choices as they result from interviewees’ individual tactical struggles
– in line with Michel De Certeau’s (1984) distinction between tactics and strategies – with
formative contextual conditions. Becoming a teacher or a local clerk could thus signify an
“inevitable” engagement in local public events or a participatory struggle with conditions
of a school or an oce, on the one hand, and the state, on the other.
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Peer-motivated (sub)activism emerges both in urban and rural spaces as a response
to a friends or a relative’s suggestion. It is typically conceived of as more accidental and
less intentionally activist or political than other types of (sub)activism since interviewees
understand it as a favour. For example in this case of cooperation with the Green Party:
“I was shooting a video for the Green Party by chance. [...] I did it cause my friend asked
me. And he just like [...] I did it simply for him. Rather than for the party.” (Working student,
male, 24) Although social ties and others’ expectations are an important source of
motivation for engagement and participation in general (Dahlgren, 2011; Macek, 2013b)
play a central role in this type of (sub)activism. Furthermore, peer-motivated (sub)activism
illustrates Bakardjieva’s (2009: 97) argument that ties with family members, friends and
neighbours involved in politics or activism could mobilize and at the same time they blur
the private / public distinction.
Communication technologies play a role in all three types of (sub)activism – as routine
interaction and production tools used in line with interviewees’ other work and life
routines, as specic tools employed for more complex online practices and – last but not
least – as environments structuring their experiences of time and space.
NEW MEDIA AND “DIFFUSED PARTICIPATION”
Along with contingency, we emphasize another important feature of (sub)activism: its
specic position in the temporal and situational structures of our interviewees’ everyday
lives. For them it is often impossible to separate public and political practices from private
aspects of their lives, work / studies, leisure and hobbies. In other words, theirs is diused
participation” building on Nicholas Abercrombie and Brian Longhurst’s (1998) notion of
a diused audience” being a (sub)activist is a permanent experience and therefore it
should be treated as one of the formative axes of our interviewees’ everyday lives. As an
undergraduate student helping in an NGO with PR and marketing puts it: “Leisure time...
mostly in the evenings... I had it, but hmm... hard to specify.” (Volunteering student,
female, 22) Similarly illustrative are words of a middle-aged citizen journalist: “And work is
merging with leisure time too because its about stu I’m interested in and I’d like to write
and shoot about it.” (Journalist, male, 38)
New media aordances play a signicant role here mobile and networked
communication technologies enable actors to blur or even break down explicit physical
boundaries between recently separated situations as well as between private and public
spatiotemporalities. According to Shanyang Zhao’s (2006) phenomenological explanation,
new media set up a new spatiotemporal zone of “there and now” broadening the spatially
settled “world within reach” of “here and now”. New media make it possible to be constantly
available to others and therefore to merge contexts of previously discrete social encounters.
They create, in Sherry Turkle’s (2011) words, a “life mixin which actors balancing on
the edge between physically experienced situations and interaction interfaces of their
smartphones, laptops and other objects – perform multiple roles all the time.
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Our interviewees experience this when talking about their (sub)activist practices
mainly in relation to the use of mobile phones and social media. Interviewees from cities
use social media broadly for receiving and redistributing contents, for interaction with
friends and colleagues, to express political opinions and for work-related tasks – and thus
they mix all these particular practices. They obviously take an instrumental advantage of
this mix the mediated permanent contact with others bridges the physical fragmentation
of the social space. However, some tend to reect on media use critically and see it as a
source of disintegration of time, potential precarization (permanent availability could
mean permanent availability for work, cf. Standing, 2011: 108), information overload and
colonization of privacy by other contexts: So I got there [on the smartphone] emails, as
many people do, right? So we’re complete idiots, right? That we let work penetrate into our
pockets.” (Designer, male, 31) “Its a terrible mix ‘cause my Facebook is split in a stupid way
when its half personal stu [...] and its half about work [...].” (Working student, male, 24)
Nevertheless, it would be probably misleading to blame new media for having an
exclusive and destructive impact on the division between private and public. Rather,
they amplify the tendency to mix private and public that is implicit in (sub)activism itself.
Some interviewees from villages – who do not use social media in their engagement and
participation at all or as actively as interviewees from cities – resist the perceived “threats
of social media passively: I’m there [on Facebook], not using it,” as one of the interviewees
noted (Working student, male, 24). Nevertheless, due to the contingencies of the village
community space (sub)activism remains diused and permanent even in these cases.
People in the local “here and nowcommunity are “within reach” as much as are their
urban counterparts reconstituting the sense of “us” through interactions in the online
“there and nowzone. In other words, (sub)activism itself challenges the boundaries of
private and public contexts.
SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES AND PUBLIC NOTICEBOARDS
And what about other roles that media play in civic agency? We have uncovered a
wide range of reception and interaction practices employing both new and traditional
media within the three types of (sub)activism discussed. The practices are mostly based
on the creation and recirculation of contents that are perceived as political, activist or
simply publicly relevant. At the same time the practices range from clearly subpolitical,
non-systematic individual acts to systematic and even collectively organized tactics
from forwarding an email from one’s favourite NGO, recommending an article or sharing
a petition or an event on Facebook, ad-hoc spreading of information about an upcoming
demonstration to the systematic distribution of information about a project among
friends, creating and administering a local blog on culture and politics in the village or
running a satirical website mocking local representatives online. Indeed, face-to-face
interactions along with media – old and new – play a crucial role here. It is particularly in
cities that SNSs (and dominantly Facebook) became tools of and arenas for these practices.
However, as one of our interviewees who works as a citizen journalist suggests, using
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Facebook, blogging or publishing online can be seen as substitutes for or extensions of
older “material” practices:
When something intrigued me, I was underlining and cutting it out [from newspapers] and showing it to
other people thinking it was good for them to read it. [...] But I often talk with political scientists and other
experts [...] and then I mediate the information to other people. Recently, I was talking about it to people
around the pub table, now I mediate it to readers, so there is no... I don’t see any substantial change.
(Journalist, male, 38)
The role and importance of SNSs as tools of engagement and participation in cities
and villages dier clearly. All our interviewees followed a wide range of particular paths
to reception and interaction, gathering knowledge and information, persuading others
about organizations, projects and planned events. However, we can argue that SNSs play
a dominant (even though not exclusive) role in the (sub)activism of our interviewees who
live in cities.
Although our study has limits due to the use of a qualitative method and sample size,
we can formulate yet another generalization that could serve as a hypothesis: While in
the “republican” cities included in our sample we have encountered a more colourful
range of topics, in the “communitarian” villages we saw a more diverse and selective
use of specic communication channels: interviewees from villages quite reexively
stratied their choices of channels by particular topics or according to recipients’ personal
knowledge. In communitarian” villages the interaction component of political and public
agency seems to be more balanced between face-to-face interaction, email, SNSs and
information websites, phone and physicalmedia. Yet physicalmedia namely local
and municipal print publications, public announcement systems and public notice boards
play a crucial role in spreading information within rural communities covered in our
study. While some of the interviewees from villages consider Facebook useful in relation
to local youth and children, older community members are commonly addressed via
print media (municipal papers, leaets) distributed around the place or pinned to local
noticeboards serving as a Facebook wall for the elderly”: “Well, we use Facebook a lot
[...]. When we put it on our [Facebook] wall, you can see more children when we put it
just on the municipal noticeboard on the square. [Laughing.] Obviously, children stick to
Facebook, so we have to too.” (Worker at a youth centre, female, 36) Nevertheless, face-
to-face communication remains central for interviewees from villages as it emphasizes
the communitarian character of the “personal and conservative” village that makes their
home distinct from the “impersonal and modern” city.
It was somehow nice how these people communicated with each other in the past. When people isolate
themselves in their homes, living anonymously, not knowing each other, then it’s like in a city and I don’t
like it. [...] It’s denitely better [here] than in a city. People communicate with each other and they prefer
personal communication, not mediated one or something similarly modern. We even planned to send
news as text messages but people didn’t want it. They said: print it, announce it as a public announcement,
but no text messages. (Mayor of a small village, female, 45)
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CONCLUSIONS
Employing a context-oriented perspective results in a rich and at the same time
realistic image of the role of new media in civic practices. Our research indicates that even
in cases when new media are routinely used as tools of reception and interaction, they
are not necessarily central to citizens’ political and public practices nevertheless, an
understanding of citizens’ practices can uncover much about the role of new media as
well as of more traditional communication channels and practices in civic engagement
and participation.
Our analysis suggests that active Czech post-socialist citizens do not principally dier
from their counterparts living in other national contexts (Bakardjieva, 2009, Dahlgren, 2013).
Engagement and participation are structured both by the way interviewees perceive the
political and public in general and by their immediate social contexts. Our interviewees’
relation to the political is characterized by a tension between a normative sense of duty
and the experience of national politics as dysfunctional. At the same time, politically and
publicly oriented activities, described above as (sub)activism, are predominantly aimed
at local issues, deeply ingrained in interviewees’ everyday lives and oriented towards
their peers and the broader local collectivity. Actual civic practices can be seen as a result
of a combination of a duty-motivated reaction to national politics and the immediate
contexts of our interviewees’ everyday lives. We suggest that these immediate contexts
in particular peer pressure, individual biographic trajectory and structural dierences
between the communitarian space of “the villageand the socially dispersed space of “the
city” – can amplify or silence the proactive potential of the individual sense of civic duty.
New media are not irrelevant to this story. Firstly, in the urban space they help
to substitute for the lack of direct social interaction typical of physical communities.
Secondly, they disperse (sub)activism into everyday routines as they enable to be “always
on” and thus blur the spatial and temporal structures of everyday routines. And thirdly,
they are pragmatically used as routine tools of reception and interaction, i.e. of practices
conditioning engagement and participation as collective phenomena. Nevertheless, new
media practices are not isolated from traditional communication practices such as face-
to-face interaction, traditional media and local physical media and particularly in the rural,
communitarian context, new media do not seem to be the driving force of engagement
and participation.
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ŠTO JE NA PRVOM MJESTU  KORTENJE
NOVIH MEDIJA ILI GRAĐANSKA
PARTICIPACIJA KROZ NOVE MEDIJE?
PREISPITIVANJE ULOGE NOVIH MEDIJA
U GRAĐANSKIM PRAKSAMA U ČEŠKOJ
Jakub Macek :: Alena Macková :: Johana Kotišová
SAŽETAK U članku predstavljamo kvalitativno istraživanje svakodnevne građanske prakse dijela Čeha,
s posebnim naglaskom na ulogu novih medija. Temi smo pristupili tako da smo se orijentirali na sadržaj,
a ne na medije. U fokusu našeg istraživanja jesu načini na koje su građanske prakse strukturirane u užem
i širem društvenom i političkom kontekstu te kako te kontekste doživljavaju postsocijalistički građani
iz sela i velikih gradova. Uzimajući u obzir navedene kontekste, analizirali smo ulogu novih medija i
građanske prakse u svakodnevnom životu. Istraživanje se temelji na polustrukturiranim dubinskim
intervjuima s 22 politički i javno aktivna građanina, a pokazalo je da se Česi suočavaju sa sličnom krizom
u institucionalnoj politici kao što je to slučaj i u starijim demokracijama. Istraživanje je također otkrilo
razlike u načinu informiranja između sela i gradova, kako u participacijskim praksama tako i u načinima
kako građani koriste nove medije. Međutim, istraživanje nije dokazalo da su novi mediji radikalno
transformirali građanstvo, već je pokazalo da je došlo do suptilnih pomaka u praksi i do pragmatičnog
miješanja komunikacije licem u lice i tradicionalnih medija (tiskani mediji, sustavi razglasa, oglasne ploče)
s novim komunikacijskim tehnologijama.
KLJUČNE RIJI
građanske prakse, raspršene publike, novi mediji, tradicionalni mediji, Češka
Bilješka o autorima
Jakub Macek :: Sveučilište Masaryk, Fakultet društvenih znanosti, Brno, Češka ::
jakub.macek@gmail.com
Alena Macková :: Sveučilište Masaryk, Fakultet društvenih znanosti, Brno, Češka ::
aja.mackova@gmail.com
Johana Kotišová :: Sveučilište Masaryk, Fakultet društvenih znanosti, Brno, Češka ::
j.kotisova@gmail.com
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... The Democracy Machine's aggregation of information about participants' civic engagement in multiple settings would enable participants to integrate and reflect on the full range of their participatory activities. In current conditions of Embracing Digital Democracy-8 " diffused participation " (Macek et al. 2015, 77), such integration and reflection may help participants to develop their civic consciousness or identity (Lange and Onken 2013;Youniss 2011). ...
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Recent advances in online civic engagement tools have created a digital civic space replete with opportunities to craft and critique laws and rules or evaluate candidates, ballot measures, and policy ideas. These civic spaces, however, remain largely disconnected from one another, such that tremendous energy dissipates from each civic portal. Long-term feedback loops also remain rare. We propose addressing these limitations by building an integrative online commons that links together the best existing tools by making them components in a larger “Democracy Machine.” Drawing on gamification principles, this integrative platform would provide incentives for drawing new people into the civic sphere, encouraging more sustained and deliberative engagement, and feedback back to government and citizen alike to improve how the public interfaces with the public sector. After describing this proposed platform, we consider the most challenging problems it faces and how to address them.
... A tedy aktérem, který dokáže svou performancí zaujmout. Ilustrativní je v tomto ohledu výzkum mé sestry a kolegyně Aleny Mackové, která se dlouhodobě věnuje způsobům, jimiž čeští celostátní politici využívají online sociální sítě při interakci se svými voliči (Macková 2015 ). Zde se vůle k performanci – anebo naopak její absence, spojená s neochotou otevírat v sociálních médiích svůj privátní prostor sebe-performativnímu stylu komunikace očekávanému ostatními uživateli – projevuje velmi zřetelně jako motivační faktor pro používání online sociálních sítí. ...
Book
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This book presents the research findings from a three-year project entitled “New and Old Media in Everyday Life: Media audiences in the time of transformational media usage”. Utilizing qualitative and quantitative insights and drawing upon Anthony Giddens’ Theory of Structuration, the author identifies four primary dimensions to the evolving transformation of current Czech media audiences: (1) the dematerialization of media content linked with the increased fragmentation of media-related practices as well as transforming relations between audiences and media producers, (2) the increasing mediatization of everyday life and social interactions, (3) notable shifts in audiences' attitude towards shared public and political spheres and (4) a spatiotemporal transformation of everyday life. Kniha shrnuje zjištění autorova tříletého výzkumného projektu "Nová a stará média v každodenním životě: mediální publika v čase proměny mediálních praxí". V návaznosti na kvalitativní a kvantitativní šetření a s oporou v Giddensově teorii strukturace se věnuje čtyřem základním dimenzím transformace současných českých mediálních publik: (1) dematerializaci mediálních obsahů a s ní související fragmentaci mediálních praxí a změně vztahů mezi členy mediálních publik a producenty mediálních obsahů, (2) sílící mediatizaci každodennosti a sociálních interakcí, (3) proměnám ve vztahu členů publika ke sdílenému veřejnému a politickému prostoru a (4) časoprostorové proměně každodenního života.
Book
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The field of political communication has faced important changes in recent decades. According to Professor Jay G. Blumler (2013), these changes suggest that in the last few years we have found ourselves on the threshold of a ‘fourth age of political communication’, the crucial feature of which is the massive spread of new technologies into all conceivable spheres of public and private life. From the viewpoint of political science, this transformation is very relevant simply because it is connected with the following question: Do (and if so, how do they) socio-technical changes in communication translate into political change, altering political behaviour, political communication and the very experience of the political? The aim of this book, based in the discipline of political communication, is to present a comprehensive, empirically grounded picture of how the new media are used for political communication in the Czech Republic. The aim is not just to establish how politicians communicate using these new technologies, but also to capture how these technologies are used politically by citizens themselves. If the new media are to serve as an important instrument of political communication, they must be understood as such by both groups – and the study of political communication must examine both the ‘supply’ and the ‘demand’ sides (Xenos et al. 2015). The supply side means how new media are used in campaigning and communication. The other – demand – side is the potential impact of this communication on how such technologies are used by citizens for their political purposes. In five chapters the book introduces the reader to recent changes in the fields of political communication and new media; presents the key issues emerging from the expansion of these technologies in society; and examines the present state of knowledge both abroad and, more importantly, at home. It focuses on a period when there has been a massive growth in people’s use of social networking sites (SNS) for obtaining information about current affairs, while politicians and parties have used these same sites to get their electoral messages across. The book, which grew out of the author’s PhD thesis, shows how Czech politicians and people alike used SNS in general and Facebook in particular before and after the 2013 elections to the Chamber of Deputies (the lower chamber of the Czech parliament). The introductory chapter briefly presents the aims of the book and the issues of change in communication. These changes cannot be considered as either complete or monolithic. The sample survey ‘Media, everyday life, participation’ (2014), on which this study partly relies, has shown that in late 2014 the internet was used by 78% of the Czech adult population, Facebook by 38% and Twitter by less than 5%. Worldwide, these two SNS have, over the last couple of years, unleashed a second massive wave of interest in political communication and the new media. (The earlier wave was connected with the rise of the internet itself, and was not seriously studied in the country – Czech academics only started to focus on this field in earnest between the 2010 and the 2013 elections to the Chamber of Deputies; e.g. Macková et al. 2013; Štětka et al. 2014.) Between 2010 and 2013, Czechs engaged in the social media experienced there the first serious political campaigns, a growth of civic activism and political satire, but it was largely the 2013 presidential election and Karel Schwarzenberg’s campaign that attracted significant scholarly and popular attention to the role of the social media in political communication, participation and electoral decision-making. Since then, the importance of these technologies has not decreased in Czech political communication. On the contrary: to varying degrees, the social media have been adopted as communication channels by Czech politicians and parties, and their presence on and use of SNS have themselves become media topics and information sources for journalists. Yet these same sites also provide space for countless civic initiatives, campaigns, organisations and groups. Last but not least, many citizens spend a considerable amount of their time on social networking sites, acquiring information of various sorts. This, of course, does not mean that SNS have become a purely political space; rather it is to illustrate that they are indispensable for the study of political communication. Chapter 2, Political communication and the new media, introduces the reader to the self-contained field of political communication, its key issues and the role of the social media in the discipline. As a branch of scholarship that was first established in the USA, political communication continues to be overwhelmingly linked with American academe (despite its growth in many countries in Europe and elsewhere) and is informed by media studies and political science (Křeček 2013; Moy et al. 2012), though it also draws on other disciplines including sociology and social psychology. The present book, which operates within the thematic and conceptual field of political communication, is therefore grounded in these disciplines. The topics studied under the heading of political communication have their roots in the ‘mother’ disciplines out of which political communication evolved. Generally speaking, scholars of political communication are interested in the relationship between the media and politics; they have focused on the new media for more than two decades now. The new media pose a formidable challenge: their functioning is so different from that of traditional media that they call into question the classic models and theories of the media (Bennett and Iyengar 2008). Some of the questions posed by academics are as follows: How does contemporary political communication differ from that which was typical of the period prior to the rise of the new media, and what does contemporary political communication look like? What consequences does the growth of new media (and the political communication connected with them) have for the various actors involved in communication processes and for politics as such? Various terms have been devised to describe the transformations within political communication since the late twentieth century, including ‘postmodern campaigns’ (Norris 2003), ‘the fifth information age’ (Bimber 2003; Smith 2010) and the ‘digital age’ (Farell, Kolodny and Medvic 2001). However, one of the most widespread notions describing the changes in political communication since the mid-twentieth century has been the concept of the ‘three ages of political communication’, formulated by Jay G. Blumler and Dennis Kavanagh (1999) and subsequently enlarged by Blumler to encompass a new, fourth age (2013). The third age (described by Pippa Norris as an age of ‘postmodern campaigns’) has brought change and established trends that have recently become strong and prevalent enough to warrant Jay G. Blumler’s (2013) argument according to which, over the last couple of years, we find ourselves on the threshold of the ‘fourth age of political communication’. Crucially, this age is defined by the mass penetration of new technologies into every conceivable area of public and private life. However, it is difficult to draw a clear line between the third and fourth ages, not least because the latter has been characterised by an intensification of earlier trends. Its dominant trend has been described as a mediation of political content through technology or organisation (or both). Since the media are the most important source of information about politics, in the fourth age politics itself has adopted a strong media orientation. Another determining process influencing politics has been described as the ‘mediatisation’ of society and politics, with citizens and politicians increasingly compelled to adopt a ‘media logic’ in their daily lives. The growth of the media and their sheer availability today provide a quick and easy access to up-to-date information of different kinds and varying quality (Tewksbury and Rittenberg 2012). Political scientists did not enter into the discussion about new (social) media for a long time – practically until the late 1990s, when computers and the internet quickly spread into households. In the early twenty-first century, there was an increase of interest (particularly among American political scientists) in the new media and the study of their impacts on the organisation of campaigns and fundraising. Hand in hand with this went an interest in political participation, initially rather broadly focused as a study of the new media’s impact on political participation (e.g. Putnam 2001; Skocpol 2004) and of the options new media provided for the political mobilisation of electorates (e.g. Norris 2001). As the social media became widespread the issue of their influence on the character of public debates began to be studied in earnest (e.g. Hindman 2010). The issues that emerged in connection with the new media and political communication over the last two decades and helped to stimulate the discussion about the growth of social networking sites, achieving a prominent position in the scholarly discourse, in academic journals and at conferences, are the following: access to information, political discussion, communication of political actors, mobilisation and on-line participation. They are all linked by the question: What are the positive and negative consequences of social media use in these areas? Chapter 3, Politicians and the new media introduces the reader to the first important thematic field of political communication, which particularly deals with the ‘demand’ side. The chapter therefore examines how institutionalised political actors use new technologies in political communication and campaigning. Relatively soon after the emergence of SNS, the issue of their use for the presentation of politicians and parties became a prominent topic of political communication. Scholarly interest in SNS and their use for political communication grew considerably in 2008 in connection with Barack Obama’s campaign, which, beyond the employment of other on-line instruments, was characterised by a massive involvement of Facebook and mobile technologies (see Macková 2011; Miller 2013). Though outside America academic interest was somewhat delayed, European research is now becoming more substantial, with scholars from Nordic countries, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy achieving a prominence in the field. There are two major approaches to the study of politicians’ use of new technologies, allowing for a more three-dimensional view of the varieties and ambiguities of this use. The first approach views the new media and SNS as a device for forging democratic links between citizens and politicians; the second views them primarily as instruments of campaigning. The first approach sees the new media as a possible way of resolving the issue of decreasing public participation in traditional democratic institutions. Politicians’ activities on the internet are seen as a response to the deepening differences between citizens and politicians, a response by means of which politicians may seek to create new, direct and more sincere access to the electorate, thus bridging the growing gulf in communication between politicians and citizens (Coleman 2005a, 2005b, 2005c; Coleman and Blumler 2009). Scholars adopting this approach have noted the trends of the ‘personalisation’ and ‘intimisation’ of politics (Stanyer 2013) and political communication, focusing on the interactions between politicians and citizens and highlighting what Coleman (2005c) described as ‘direct representation’ and ‘connected representation’. The second approach is more focused on the use of new media for electoral campaigning. The connection between politicians and citizens/voters is thus not the end but rather the means – an instrument to achieve electoral victory. This second approach is more prevalent in academe, and communications by both politicians and parties are given much attention. The rise of Facebook and other social media has granted campaigners new instruments with which they may seek to influence voters. Although these technologies certainly influence the style of campaigning and communication, they are merely one of the instruments used in campaigning, and not the dominant one (Howard 2006; Karlsen 2010; Lilleker et al. 2015). Does communication in the fourth age really exhibit the characteristics that have been ascribed to the new media? The main issue on the ‘supply’ side on which academics are focused is the following: Whether and to what degree political actors and institutions actually use the potential of the new media. Do patterns of political communication replicate themselves in the on-line environment? Do the new media allow the emergence of new kinds of actors and forms of communication? Or are we rather witnessing a normalisation of cyberspace into politics as usual (Margolis Resnick 2000)? If that were the case, the new media would not really bring a principal change to political communication, reinforcing rather the existing patterns. The question of change (or lack thereof) is of key importance for political communication as concerned with the new media, and may be thought of in terms of the equalisation vs. normalisation theses (Schweitzer 2008). Summing up the present state of discussion, we note that results so far have been ambiguous and authors often come to contradictory conclusions. This may be due to the different political and media contexts of the countries where research was carried out (for instance, Blumler and Gurevitch 1995 have referred to the different media systems and political communication systems), the specific time of data collection at various points in the electoral cycle, the choice of method or a combination of all these (and perhaps other) factors. What is more, existing studies are largely limited to one collection of data, one time period, one election and one country, and a restricted group of countries tends to come under study. The aim of Chapter 3 is to provide a picture of how Czech political actors communicated on the most prevalent SNS, Facebook, and the focus was on the individual actors (deputies), their behaviour and motivations. How did Czech deputies use Facebook for political communication and interaction with citizens in 2013-2015? In this chapter the author uses two surveys to answer the following questions: Which deputies used SNS? How large were their audiences? How active were the deputies and the audiences? What kinds of content did the politicians share on Facebook? The emphasis was on the issues of personalisation and privatisation of content. The chapter is based on data from two surveys of Czech deputies and their communications, undertaken between 2013 and 2015. One was a qualitative survey carried out at Charles University in Prague in spring 2015. Data from 15 semi-structured interviews provide an insight into politicians’ motivations for using Facebook and their preferred styles of communication. The other was a quantitative survey of new media adoption by Czech deputies and a content analysis of 6,200 posts published on their Facebook profiles and pages. This survey consisted of three waves in order to capture data both prior to a parliamentary election (in 2013) and Facebook communication outside an election campaign. Analyses of these data show that although SNS have become relatively widespread and many politicians use them as ordinary instruments of communication (whether of their own accord or due to perceived pressure from their environment), their notions of how a politician should behave and communicate on Facebook varied widely. This was also reflected in the various practices and characteristics of the communications they created and experienced on the network. Although we find some for whom this medium serves for communication with citizens (see Coleman 2005a, 2005b) and those for whom Facebook has become the key communication channel through which they can purposely present to citizens more than just the professional aspects of their lives, for others social networks provide a channel allowing them directly to distribute political information in a manner that largely substitutes for the mass media and hence allows them to circumvent the traditional media to some extent. Thus, we are witnessing both the normalisation of this communication and innovative political communication. Furthermore, with the exception of a few very well-known politicians – who also enjoy substantial coverage in the traditional media – most fail to gain attention of users and potential voters, confirming that in terms of political communication the new media are in obvious synergy with the mass media and cannot be understood as an exclusive, separate phenomenon. The results of the survey of Czech deputies, lasting for more than two years, thus present a relatively colourful, heterogeneous and in many details highly contrasting picture of how Czech deputies use or would like to use SNS. In this the Czechs are no different from politicians abroad, as their communication practices have been shown by studies to be equally heterogeneous (e.g. Enli and Skogerbø 2013; Larsson Kalsnes 2014; Sørensen 2016a; Strandberg 2013). Chapter 4, Citizens and the new media turns the attention the other way, on how the Czech people have used SNS and the internet in their everyday lives and political behaviour. Beyond the institutionalised actors, citizens and their role in the system are of much interest to the scholarly community in the field of political communication. Here, academics get to the core of political science, especially when discussing decreasing civic engagement as well as changes in the very notion of citizenship. The issue of growing political passivity reverberates across both public and academic discourse, with citizens described as involved in political activity less and less and as viewing the political system more negatively than before. However, as Erik Amnå and Joakim Ekman (2013) have shown, academics differ in their evaluations of this phenomenon. On the one hand, we can identify a relatively pessimistic interpretation of the changes, based on arguments of a general decline in civic engagement (e.g. Putnam 2000) and decreasing interest in politics. On the other hand, there is also a largely optimistic discourse, and this seems to be the prevailing one in the discipline of political communication. It explains decreasing engagement and participation with reference to a transformation of citizens. This does not indicate a transformation of an active citizen into a passive one; rather it suggests the changing nature of citizenship, which can take many forms today (for more see Hooghe and Dejaeghere 2007), and in consequence the range of actions taken by citizens changes too. Thus, one can encounter such notions as ‘standby citizens’ (Amnå 2010; Amnå and Ekman 2013), ‘monitorial citizens’ (Schudson 1996) and ‘critical citizens’ (Norris 1999). Another largely optimistic line of argument is based on the premise that the present situation only seems to indicate a lack of interest in politics and participation. What really happens is that citizens shift their activities elsewhere, into areas they think they can influence, for example, specific issues, local matters, or, by contrast, distinctive kinds of supranational action – i.e. types of behaviour that standard research into participation tends not to cover (Dahlgren 2013; Norris 2002). This line of research emphasises such notions as ‘lifestyle politics’ or ‘life-politics’ (Giddens 1991, 2003), ‘subpolitics’ (Beck 2007) and ‘subactivism’ (Bakardjieva 2009). This debate therefore assumes a turning away from the traditional forms of political participation and signals an espousal of less formal and more casual participation, of personalised forms of life-style politics that are grounded in the everyday life (Shah et al. 2012). The arguments of changing citizenship and the ‘political’ are of essential importance for both political science in general and the field of political communication in particular, as they allow for a review of the notions of ‘participation’ and ‘citizen’, not least with reference to the role of new technologies in the processes people use to acquire information and their involvement in discussions and participative acts, both those institutionalised (such as on-line petitions and on-line fundraising) and the minute (e.g. sharing of political posts on SNS). Here the study of the new media asks to what degree they are able to facilitate information access and participation, and how they can stimulate participation and mobilise alienated citizens, thanks to the ease of access, low cost and speed of the new media. Thus, in Chapter 4 the author seeks to answer the question: What role did the new media play in the political activities of Czech citizens in 2014? The focus is both on the processes of acquiring information and political discussion (and the role of the new media in this discussion) and how the new media in general and SNS in particular influenced citizens’ political acts (both in on-line participation and as predictors of participation). The answers are sought in two surveys undertaken in 2014 at Masaryk University in Brno. One was a representative questionnaire survey of the Czech adult population (N = 1,998) that sought to capture citizens’ media, communication and political practices (and their basic political postures). The other studied people who were politically and civically active by means of semi-structured interviews. This latter research has helped to illustrate some of the trends identified and to explain possible motivations of actors. In line with research carried out elsewhere (Boulianne 2011, 2015; Skoric et al. 2016), data from the two surveys show that the situation on the ‘demand’ side is, unsurprisingly, ambiguous in a similar way to that prevailing among politicians. Indeed, the Czech data suggest that one cannot speak of a revolutionary transformation of political behaviour caused by easy access to information, discussion and political activities. What one can note – and interpretation needs to proceed carefully – is that there is a change underway, change which has many subtle aspects. Whereas most of the population tended to overlook SNS (and the internet as a whole) as an on-line discussion space – this despite the fact that in 2014 more than a quarter of the Czech adult population spent time on SNS each day – SNS have become an important source of information for some groups (as also adduced by recent foreign studies, e.g. Duggan and Smith 2016). Though the new media are an important source of information for younger Czech people in particular, television remains the dominant channel, even among the youngest. Online environment, including SNS, is constituted by many activities, of which politics makes only a small proportion. However, for a considerable part of the population, which has adopted these technologies into its communication repertoire and everyday practice, this space provides options for political behaviour in the sense that it offers alternative ways for obtaining information, for the creation and dissemination of this information, and for involvement in explicitly political activities. It also serves to maintain interest in politics through latent forms of participation and political expression by contemporary citizens, political actors and groups. Further, new media allow the development of new or minute forms of political behaviour in areas that are more accessible to actors, where they feel they can make an impact. The book presents a picture of how Czech politicians used new media/SNS for communication, and how Czech citizens used the same media for political purposes during 2013-2015. In the concluding chapter, based on research described in Chapters 3 and 4 and on studies undertaken abroad, the author seeks to characterise the field of political communication today. The fourth age of political communication is, above all, very changeable and diverse. Citizens tend to be dissatisfied with politics, showing less trust in the system (its functioning and responsiveness) and its political and media institutions, and they diversify their media practices. This is most conspicuous in their consumption of information, with the young in particular turning away from the traditional media and orienting their convergent practices towards the new media. These media then further fragment user practices by offering a greater choice not just in terms of communication instruments, but also information sources. Alongside new choices, quick technological development also places considerable demands on users: on their technological capabilities, financial resources, media literacy and time. The boundary between political and non-political content is being blurred in contemporary political communication. This trend can be seen in the blending of various types of media format and in the noticeable move towards everyday lives , whether it takes the form of privatisation of communication on the part of the political actors, diffuse participation on the part of the citizens, the boom in political satire or the appearance of new actors in the political arena (Macková and Macek 2014; Švelch and Štětka 2015). Political communication and interaction in online environment is seen as more intense, continuous, rapid, aggressive, negative and conflicting than before. Hence it would appear that some in the population consistently seek to avoid exposure to this channel of communication and its political content. Information tends to be received selectively from certain types of actors. This decreases both the volume of information to which individual recipients are exposed, and the risk of recipients being exposed to information with which they disagree. An unsurprising consequence of this selectivity is that it may create isolated digital islands where opinions are reinforced – so-called echo chambers – which further fragment the public and political spheres (Sunstein 2001, 2007; Macek 2015).
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