Online Conflict Discourse, Identity, and the Social Imagination of Silesian Minority in Poland
University of Kansas
Slavic Languages & Literatures
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This dissertation shows how online discourse drives social change, boundary work, identity performance, and, ultimately, community management (including in-group/out-group membership) by looking at the development and spread of popular nationalism on the internet. As people from outside of the political elites form online communities, they become politically active in online discussions on national (and regional) identity. In doing so, such online communities become communities of practice (Eckert 2006) that discuss recent events and larger issues, take sides, form coalitions, come up with idiosyncratic ways of discussing certain topics and people, and, finally, engage in a range of online behaviors that involve othering, narrativizing, and hateful speech. As a result, nationalism becomes a catalyst for the formation of online communities that emerge and coalesce around political goals, common language, and shared ideological stances. The dissertation examines how public discourse drives social change by looking at nonelite political actors become the ‘movers and shakers’ who radicalize themselves over the course of ongoing online discussions and then advance their ideological agendas by inciting radicalization among others. Finally, this work also analyzes the key role of language in the process of political radicalization in online spaces. The dissertation traces the emergence, coalescence, and maintenance of two such factions in the Western Daily discussion forum (Pol. Dziennik Zachodni, https://dziennikzachodni.pl), as evidenced in language use. Taking a sociolinguistic approach to internet discussions and applying a close, critical discursive reading of unstructured online conversations, the dissertation examines such phenomena as linguistic creativity, othering, narrativizing, and hate speech. All of these phenomena are crucial for identity struggles because it is through them that identities are constructed in the Western Daily forum. Given the context collapse (Marwick and boyd 2011), it is through language that members of the two warring communities can instantaneously identify each other as language becomes an immediate identifier of each participant’s stance toward the topic of the discussion. Not only language conveys intended meanings, but it also encodes pre-existing assumptions that people bring to the conversation, which is why methods of critical discourse analysis are well-positioned to uncover these meanings by focusing on language use.
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