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Palgrave Macmillan

Interpreting Hashtag Politics

Policy Ideas in an Era of Social Media

ISBN 9781137357731
Publication Date May 2014
Formats Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan

Why do policy actors create branded terms like Big Society and does launching such policy ideas on Twitter extend or curtail their life? This book argues that the practice of hashtag politics has evolved in response to an increasingly congested and mediatised environment, with the recent and rapid growth of high speed internet connections, smart phones and social media. It examines how policy analysis can adapt to offer interpretive insights into the life and death of policy ideas in an era of hashtag politics.

This text reveals that policy ideas can at the same time be ideas, instruments, visions, containers and brands, and advises readers on how to tell if a policy idea is dead or dying, how to map the diversity of viewpoints, how to capture the debate, when to engage and when to walk away. Each chapter showcases innovative analytic techniques, illustrated by application to contemporary policy ideas.

Stephen Jeffares is a lecturer at INLOGOV, School of Government and Society, University of Birmingham UK. He is co-author of Hybrid Governance with Chris Skelcher and Helen Sullivan. His work draws on text analytics and Q methodology to understand changing debates surrounding public policy and public services.

1. Policy Ideas and Hashtag Politics
2. Theorising Policy Ideas
3. The Lifecycle of Policy Ideas
4. Identifying Policy Viewpoints
5. Social Media and Policy Practices
6. Capturing the Digital Footprint of Policy Discussion
7. Interpreting Social Media Data
8. The Future of Hashtag Politics


  • Tim Deignan 18th November 2014

    Jeffares’ book makes an interesting and useful contribution to the literature on policy discussion in social media environments, with a particular focus on tools and techniques for exploring diverse viewpoints on policy issues. It demonstrates the use of Q methodology as a tool for exploring the viewpoints expressed within social media contexts. The book looks at the creation and discussion of policy ideas and how they live in the social media ecosystem within platforms such as Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube and Facebook. It considers ways to analyse policy discussion and to understand the life cycles of policy ideas within these environments. The discussion draws on democratic, political, commercial and practice-oriented literatures. The book argues that Twitter can offer comprehensive coverage of current political issues. Jeffares suggests a 1,000 day life cycle for policy ideas and considers ways of sampling the viewpoints that crystalise around them in social media. Specifically, his book looks at the practice of “hashtag politics” – creating and engaging with discrete brand-like policy ideas. It looks at how policy actors coin and foster policy ideas which diffuse out into social media, including battles fought for control of hashtags, with tweets by policy actors being subverted by hashtag crashers. The case studies include the ‘bedroom tax’ and other controversial policy ideas as discussed in social media. Jeffares discusses the research potential of hashtags as unique identifiers offering insights into policy-making practice and political expression. Applying discourse theory to policy ideas, the book looks at how hashtagging allows researchers to ‘track the fate of themes and ideas over days and hours rather than years’. A key part of this process is sampling policy discussion as searchable talk involving online, high volume, fast-moving discourse within often short timeframes. The book gives examples of how text analytics can be used to interrogate and model streams of social media data, including the coding and classifying of tweets using story-lines, and the possibilities of machine classification. Different approaches, including ‘monitor and visualise’ and ‘capture and sift’ techniques are considered. Jeffares makes an appeal for more open access to social media data archives, and argues that specialised tools also need to be developed to analyse these data. To that end, the book explores the combining of social media text analytics with Q methodology, an established research technique for investigating viewpoints. Jeffares considers the ‘exciting possibilities’ offered by Q methodology but argues that it needs to be adapted to enable the sampling of high volume and high velocity discussion within online fora. In summary, Jeffares’ book offers a relatively short but very interesting treatment of the potential of social media for communicating and analysing policy ideas. More generally in relation to the use of large data sets in researching viewpoints, there is undoubtedly considerable unrealised potential for using corpus linguistics with Q methodology. This book offers an encouraging lead in that direction.

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