The Public Imperative: Civic Engagement, News Media, and Digital Politics in the Tea Party Movement
Lingle, Colin J.
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This dissertation explored a dimension of American political culture that is likely to be relevant to individuals and social movements seeking political change. I proposed that we share a familiar, yet mostly implicit, social construct that is deeply rooted in historical narratives and national identity. This construct suggests that, when facing some kind of oppression, people may feel compelled to come together, to voice their opinions, and to try to change the status quo. I called this “the public imperative” and described its three core elements: 1) meeting up, 2) speaking out, and 3) pushing back. To see if this functioned in practice, I conducted a series of qualitative in-depth interviews with members of the Tea Party movement, meeting at events in several Western states and Washington, D.C., and talking with members across five distinct regions of the country. My findings suggested that the public imperative was a powerful motivator in transforming isolated, frustrated individuals into a national movement. Through interviews and a detailed web analysis, I also examined how news media and digital platforms related to members’ public imperative expectations. This study has implications for how individuals and organizations might develop more meaningful and effective forms of civic engagement in the United States and elsewhere.
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