Theses Doctoral

Constituting Democracy at Every Turn of Talk: Conversation Analytic Accounts of Political Town Halls

Yu, Di

Recent years have witnessed a slow but persistent erosion of the democratic governing of the U.S. Political scientists have identified several severe threats against the American democracy, including the spread of misinformation, the impact of negative partisanship, and the lack of political belonging for marginalized groups. While research on these threats abounds at the macro level, what remains under researched are the conduct of ordinary people as they navigate these issues and exercise civic rights.From the micro-analytic perspective of Conversation Analysis and Membership Categorization Analysis, this dissertation examines the practices that ordinary citizens and U.S. Members of Congress (MOCs) use to navigate these issues. 50 recordings of town hall meetings were collected from social media pages of the MOCs’ offices from 24 US States with the majority being House Representatives and several Senators.

The dissertation addresses, on the one hand, how citizens navigate the following issues: introducing misinformation as part of one’s town hall contribution, (re)producing negative partisanship, and (re)producing exclusionary stances towards minoritized groups; and on the other, how MOCs respond to these issues. First, citizens assert epistemic superiority or appeal to rationality when bringing in factually unfounded information to town hall contributions. MOCs may choose to endorse, sidestep, or refute the misinformation when responding. Secondly, citizens present irreconcilable alternatives, presuppose a zero-sum game, or ascribe categories of threats to the opposing party. MOCs can choose to neutralize or upgrade the negative partisanship and even initiate it on their own. Finally, citizens assign categories of immorality against minoritized groups or establish their own religious superiority for maintaining exclusionary stances. MOCs may disalign with such stances by offering contesting categories, redirecting the focus of discussion, or disaffiliating with the citizens’ exclusionary stance via a telling.

With the perspective of “motivated looking,” this dissertation is a continued effort in critically informed EMCA research and can be used to strengthen research on participatory democracy by its inherently emic approach. More importantly, findings from this dissertation can be adapted by organizations, teachers, and individuals to hold or facilitate more productive conversations around civic topics.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Arts and Humanities
Thesis Advisors
Waring, Hansun Zhang
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
February 21, 2024