SNSs and deliberative governance in a polarised society : the role of WhatsApp groups in Kenyan counties

Kibet, A ORCID: 2020, SNSs and deliberative governance in a polarised society : the role of WhatsApp groups in Kenyan counties , PhD thesis, University of Salford.

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Kenya has experienced polarisation that has sometimes resulted in conflict. As a remedy, the Kenyan constitution, reviewed in 2010, and other legislation prescribes deliberative governance as one of the solutions to polarisation in sub-national Kenyan counties. The legislation mandates counties to use the mainstream and social media platforms for deliberative governance to promote national cohesion and integration. This study examines the growing use of WhatsApp groups for such deliberations. It is based on the proposition that the outcomes of deliberative governance and its impact on polarisation depends on the quality of deliberation and, in particular, on the platform’s (WhatsApp’s), structure and norms. The deliberative norms analysed here are based on the Habermasian model of tolerance, inclusivity, diversity, incivility, and heterogeneity of viewpoints, whilst the deliberative structure examines WhatsApp group’s affordances and composition. Based on these propositions, this study empirically explores the impact of deliberative governance on polarisation in WhatsApp group platforms in four Kenyan counties. Guided by a critical realism paradigm, the study uses an original mixed-methods approach involving a quantitative (online survey) and qualitative (WhatsApp-based focus group discussion). The study revealed that the socio-demographic profile of WhatsApp groups participants is predominantly young males with high educational attainment, similar to other SNSs participatory platforms. The research also suggests that achieving deliberative norms such as civility, tolerance, and inclusivity is challenging in WhatsApp groups. Therefore, the quality of deliberations in WhatsApp groups falls short of the Habermasian deliberative ideals, and this has worsened because WhatsApp has enhanced the sharing of stereotypes, misinformation, and conflict frames which have aggravated polarisation. Consequently, deliberations in WhatsApp groups have further augmented polarisation around county governance issues. Regarding the deliberative structure, the study proposes that the platform’s affordance, the composition of participants, the information sources, and the discussion topics in WhatsApp groups affect the quality of deliberations and polarisation. Additionally, this study makes a significant contribution by using an fresh, integrated methodological approach based on WhatsApp’s affordances for data collection and analysis.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Contributors: Ward, SJ (Supervisor)
Schools: Schools > School of Arts & Media
Depositing User: Kibet Amos Korir
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2020 09:50
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 21:46

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