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Abi Rhodes

PhD in Critical Theory and Cultural Studies, Faculty of Arts

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Biography

I am an M3C/AHRC funded PhD candidate at Nottingham University addressing the role of discourse in campaigns by social movements for a more equal society and how such discourse is mobilised in the news media and by political parties, with a focus on election time.

Prior to this, for over ten years, I was a writer and publishing executive at the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and its imprint Spokesman Books, where I sit as a member of the board and the editorial board of The Spokesman.

I have written several reviews and articles for The Spokesman, Review 31 and WorkingJournalUSA and contributed a chapter to Corbyn's Campaign published by Spokesman Books in 2015.

A part of my PhD I have co-written a piece with my supervisor, Dr Jen Birks, for the Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association (MeCCSA) newsletter Three-D, Issue 28: Civil society and grassroots voices in the election coverage.

Research Summary

My timely project addresses the role of discourse in campaigns by social movements for a more equal society and how such discourse is mobilised in the news media and by political parties, with a… read more

Current Research

My timely project addresses the role of discourse in campaigns by social movements for a more equal society and how such discourse is mobilised in the news media and by political parties, with a particular focus on election time. Social movements can bring about social change through various tactics that impact public opinion and popular discourse. It builds on existing studies that have shed light on how effective social movements are at bringing about such changes and begins to explore the impact of these changes on the political agenda, with a focus on the UK. It draws on the theoretical assumption that the political sphere of the social world is discursively constructed and that discourse moulds our social reality. A social movement can seek to define that reality for participants of the movement and the general public, which can have an impact on the political agenda.

Traditionally social movement studies has prioritised how social movements mobilise using a repertoire of tactics and strategies and why they generate opposition to particular issues. This study contributes to the field of social movement research by considering how opposition to an issue is communicated by social movements and explores the role of this information dissemination in setting the political agenda. It does so by addressing the role of discourse in campaigns by a social movement in the UK for a more equal society and considers how such discourse is mobilised in the national news media and by political parties, with a focus on election time. The overall objective is to examine whether it is possible for social movements to shift the political agenda through tactics such as protesting, petitioning, mass demonstrations and other forms of public engagement that frame an issue. This will be achieved through an examination of the language used by the social movement The People's Assembly Against Austerity when communicating their anti-austerity frame in the run up to and in between the 2015 and 2017 UK General Elections, and the concomitant news media and party manifestos (Labour and Conservative). By examining the discourse of social movements and its implementation in agenda setting, this research has the potential to inform the language used by a wide range of groups when engaging with political parties and news media, from social movements to think tanks and unions.

My first piece of research focused on answering the question: 'What's the Point of Protesting?' I am interested to know why people organise and participate in collective action and what impact, political or social, they think that that action will have. Through surveys with participants at the recent It's Our NHS National Demonstration on 4th March 2017, organised by The People's Assembly, and interviews with the demo organisers, my research assesses if such actors are explicitly seeking to engage directly with formal political institutions and, if so, how.

The research aims to provide an insight into what impact participants and organisers of these movements hope to make in the sphere of parliamentary politics and whether this is in fact their aim. It does so by asking actors to describe what motivated them to participate in collective action and what impact, political or social, they think the action will have. By asking such questions directly, this paper presents the voices of the activists engaged in contentious performances and, in doing so, it attempts to fill the gap between social movement practice as it occurs on the ground and social movement theorizing.

The survey data has been presented at:

  • M3C Research Festival 2017, Research Relay Presentation, 25th May 2017 at Stamford Court, University of Leicester
  • CLAS Symposium 2017, Paper Presentation: What's the point of protesting?, 3rd-4th May 2017, The University of Nottingham

Other presentations include:

  • The UK General Election of 2017: the campaigns, media and polls, Paper Presentation (invited speaker): The Role of The People's Assembly and Momentum in the 2017 General Election, 19th July 2017, Loughborough University London #CMP2017
  • Austerity for the Many Magic Money Trees for the Few, Paper Presentation with Jen Birks: Civil society and grassroots voices in the election coverage, 23rd June 2017, De Montfort University
  • Austerity, Poverty and Protests, Presentation and Panel as part of Journey to Justice: Nottingham, 25th April 2017 at NonSuch Theatre, Nottingham
  • Journey to Justice: Nottingham, Exhibition Piece, April - June 2017 at the National Justice Museum, Nottingham

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