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Political Identity on the Net: David Cameron’s Website Maria Cristina Paganoni Dep. of Contemporary Languages and Cultures Faculty of Political Science.

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Presentation on theme: "Political Identity on the Net: David Cameron’s Website Maria Cristina Paganoni Dep. of Contemporary Languages and Cultures Faculty of Political Science."— Presentation transcript:

1 Political Identity on the Net: David Cameron’s Website Maria Cristina Paganoni Dep. of Contemporary Languages and Cultures Faculty of Political Science University of Milan Issues of Identity in and across Cultures and Professional Worlds Rome, 27 October 2007

2 Mediatised politics has to deal with changing conventions of specialised discourse (Gotti 2003) – linguistic, textual and generic unique features of digital genres and multimodal text types (Garzone 2007) “multiple interconnections” (Lemke 2002) between visual and verbal elements.

3 Political Communication 2.0 (Ward 2007) i.e. political communication in the age of Web 2.0 against the information overload of the “permanent campaign” (Blumenthal 1982)

4 Political marketing is turning IDENTITY into the commercial notion of BRAND (of parties and candidates). Political branding is addressed to “consumer” citizens, whose choice is decided overwhelmingly by cultural, social and psychological brand differentiators (Scammel 2007: 180).

5 Research questions In what ways is the branding of politicians fostered and enhanced by the digital environment? What are the main visual-verbal features, discursive strategies and rhetorical devices through which political personae are constructed on websites? How is the online interaction with citizens carried out?

6 Methodology Multimodal Analysis (Kress – van Leeuwen 2001; Lemke 2002; Ventola et al. 2004; Garzone et al. 2007) -Multidisciplinary: it analyses the combination of diverse semiotic codes (language, image, sound) and modes -text-internal -qualitative approach, giving access to a social encyclopaedia (knowledge areas, discourses, text types...)

7 Methodology Other insights have been borrowed from: Political studies - ICTs and political communication, political branding (Gibson et al. 2003; Polat 2005; Scammell 2007) Media studies - the making of celebrity (Evans and Hesmondhalgh 2005)

8 Analysis of visual/verbal features  Design and typography: layout, hierarchy and flow of elements  Inventory and categorisation of topics and issues (including significantly absent items)  Text and construction of stance (who is talking, to what intended audience, expressing what values)  Imagery  Links to other sources as expressions of affiliation (adapted from Pauwels 2005)

9 Case study Webcameron It was launched in Sept. 2006 Though country- and culture-specific, it emblematises wider emerging trends July 2007: David Cameron received the New Statesman New Media Award for his official MP website as well as for Webcameron.



12 Webcameron I want to tell you what the Conservative party is doing, what we’re up to, give you behind-the- scenes access so you can actually see what policies we’re developing, the things that we are doing, and have that direct link... watch out BBC, ITV, Channel 4, we’re the new competition. We’re a bit shaky and wobbly, but this is one of the ways we want to communicate with people properly about what the Conservative party stands for.

13 Webcameron The site is branded in pink, and not blue Video and written content: online forums, posts, newspaper articles No traditional Tory imagery, not even the new logo.

14 Textual coherence is realised by means of Colour – pink and blue (David’s ties and clothes) Icons (the pink logo) Repetition of lexical items

15 Visual/verbal redundancy The same material is reshuffled Different combinations of the same clusters of signs

16 Orientational meaning It is the kind of relationship text and image establish towards users and content in terms of viewpoint, attitudes and values (Lemke 2002); It is quite revealing of the “Cameron brand”.

17 Focus not on abstract issues, but on David’s personality “Wedge” (politically divisive) issues are overlooked or addressed in online forums Marketing strategy: brands are shaped in conversation with consumers, in this case consumer citizens. Regularly updated site; not “stale” Reconnection strategy

18 Verbal text Colloquial register Political jargon is avoided Linguistic structures in written and spoken discourse stress David’s indefatigable work and travelling (present participle; “I’m here in…”; “I’ve come to…)

19 Video titles making British poverty history meeting Angela Merkel in Berlin making sure we succeed in Afghanistan supporting the campaign for a Children’s Hospital in Leeds visiting Flood Damaged Areas around England getting young people interested in science looking forward to the local election keeping the cost of living down

20 Opening words Well, I’m here in Berlin. I’ve come to have a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel… I’m here in a voluntary body called Chance UK in London which runs mentoring schemes… Well, I’m here in Kandahar, in Afghanistan, exactly a year after I came here before […] meeting with President Kazai… In the last few weeks I’ve been visiting a number of areas affected by floods… I’m in Cheltenham today for the Science Festival… I’m here today at the Leeds General Infirmary which has a very important campaign going on for a Children’s Hospital in Leeds... Welcome to another day on the campaign trail. Today I’ve been in Lincolnshire where I went to… I’m in Reading today where we will be launching our campaign about the cost of living…

21 ABOUT DAVID I was born in October 1966 and live in London and West Oxfordshire, where I’ve been the MP for Witney since 2001. I’m married to Samantha and have three young children, Ivan, Nancy and Arthur. (…) I ran my leadership campaign and will lead my Party by being open and honest about the changes we need to make in our Party and the changes we need to make in our country…

22 ABOUT DAVID I want my Party to lead the way in making Britain a greener, more family-friendly country. (…) I lead a modern, compassionate Conservative Party that looks to the future not the past. (…) Britain is a fantastic country – a great place to live. But think how much better life could be. I believe that my party, the Conservative Party, is the right one to take our country in the new direction that it needs.

23 ABOUT DAVID Emphasis on personality and its traits(“I”/ “honest”) Plain language Strategic keywords as markers of value (“new”, “modern”, “open”, “optimistic”…)

24 ABOUT DAVID Hybrid rhetoric, mixing different ideologies (e.g. change and tradition) Foregrounding of appealing issues Downplaying of controversial ones Vague and moralising language

25 Concluding remarks Mediatised politics Issues and lifestyle favoured over actual policies Identity as brand Accountability instead of consent

26 Concluding remarks The personalisation of politics implies a shift from the collective “body politic” to the “politician’s body” in fact a virtual self/political brand constructed through digital interaction.

27 SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY Blumenthal, S. (1982), The Permanent Campaign, New York, Simon & Schuster. Delli Carpini, M. X., Cook, F. L. and Jacobs, L. R. (2004), “Public Deliberation, Discursive Participation, and Citizen Engagement: A Review of the Empirical Literature”, Annual Review of Political Science, 7, pp. 315-344. Evans, J. and Hesmondhalgh, D. (2005), Understanding Media: Inside Celebrity, Maidenhead, Open University Press. Garzone, G. (2007), “Genres, Multimodality and the World Wide Web: Theoretical Issues”, in Garzone, G., Poncini, G. and Catenaccio, P., eds., Multimodality in Corporate Communication: Web Genres and Discursive Identity, Milan, FrancoAngeli, pp. 15-30. Gibson, R. and Ward, S. (2000), “A Proposed Methodology for Studying the Function and Effectiveness of Party and Candidate Web Sites”, Social Science Computer Review, 18, 3, pp.301-319. Gibson, R., Nixon, P., and Ward, S. (2003). Net Gain? Political Parties and the Impact of the New Information Communication Technologies, London, Routledge. Gibson, R. (2007), “Political Communication 2.0: Privatisation, Fragmentation and Interactivity in the New Media Age”, Presentation to the Finnish Political Science Association Annual Conference, Jan. 11. Gotti, M. (2003), Specialized Discourse: Linguistic Features and Changing Conventions, Bern, Peter Lang. Kerr, P. (2007), “Cameron Chamaleon and the Current State of Britain’s Consensus”, Parliamentary Affairs, 60, 1, pp. 46-65. Kress, G. and van Leeuwen, T. (2001), Multimodal Discourse, London, Arnold. Lemke J.L. (2002), “Travels in Hypermodality”, Visual Communication 1, 3, pp. 299-325. Pauwels, L. (2005), “Websites as Visual and Multimodal Cultural Expressions: Opportunities and Issues of Online Hybrid Media Research”, Media, Culture & Society, 27, 4, pp. 604-613. Polat, Karakaya R. (2005), “The Internet and Political Participation. Exploring the Explanatory Links”, European Journal of Communication, 20, 4, pp. 435-459. Scammell, M. (2007), “ Political Brands and Consumer Citizens: The Rebranding of Tony Blair”, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 611, May, pp. 176-192. Stöckl, H. (2005), “Typography: Body and Dress of a Text: A Signing Mode between Language and Image”, Visual Communication, 4, 2, pp. 204-214. Ventola, E., Cassily, C. and Kaltenbacher, M. (2004), Perspectives on Multimodality, Amsterdam/Philadelphia, John Benjamins.


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