Discursive Hierarchies and Network Centralization: Comparing Technological and Linguistic Affordances

Toft, A. “Discursive Hierarchies and Network Centralization: Comparing Technological and Linguistic Affordances.” Paper presented at the International Communication Association conference, Seattle, Washington, May 21-25, 2014.


This paper presents a multi-methods approach to the study of online communication networks. Drawing on affordance theory (Gibson, 1977; Norman, 1998), I suggest that communication-oriented collective action in the public sphere is structured by organizational, technological and linguistic affordances. I argue that political organizing is often focused around issues, and participants in collective action experience opportunities and constraints within the issue spaces where they intercede. To this end, I collected a corpus of digital texts and the hyperlink connections between them  in three overlapping  homeless campaigns in Seattle, Washington: a campaign to “stop the sweeps” of homeless encampments, a direct action tent-city called “Nickelsville,” and a campaign to stop the proposed construction of a new misdemeanant jail in the city. Rather than focusing on a single organization or publication, my analysis draws on a diverse corpus of texts produced by activists, journalists, churches and governments, and allows us to see in the aggregate how 2nd order communality functions in a specific context (Flanagin, Stohl, & Bimber, 2006). Three aspects of communication-oriented collective action are explored by employing network analysis methods in measuring hyperlinking patterns, discursive prosody, and semantic similarity profiles within each campaign’s issue sector. Taken as a whole, these three approaches to analyzing an issue space can be fruitfully applied in other complex environments where researchers are interested in how activists might effectively work to change dominant meanings through communicative action. Implications for research in emergent organizations, technology as organization and discourse in organizational contexts are discussed.

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