The Challenges for Online Deliberation Research: A Literature Review

The Challenges for Online Deliberation Research: A Literature Review

Magnus E. Jonsson (Department of Political Science, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden) and Joachim Åström (Department of Political Science, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/ijep.2014010101


While pure deliberation has still not been found online, the field of online deliberation research is blossoming. Born out of the “frustrations and possibilities” of the 1990s, a current theme in the field is to re-link deliberative theory with empirical political science. The aim of this systematic literature review is to sort out and examine important features of this development; to identify and categorise important research themes and issues as well as to pinpoint some research gaps. Using citation analysis as a method for article selection, 788 abstracts were retrieved and out of these, 130 items were chosen for further analysis. First the review shows that researchers from several different disciplines are involved in the field and that these researchers are studying online deliberation in a variety of arenas aided by a wide range of methods. Second the review reveals that the field struggles with a highly diversified concept of deliberation; that newer theoretical developments are underutilised in the operationalisation of theoretical concepts for empirical analyses, and that it there is a rather low degree of cumulativity in the field. Finally, more attention is paid on deliberation per se, rather than the political and democratic consequences of deliberation.
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To conduct this structured literature review, citation analysis was applied to find the most relevant and important studies in the field. A main problem, however, with this method is the semantic fragmentation of the concept of online deliberation, and since a “literature review is concept-centric” (Webster & Watson, 2002), there is a necessity to be modest and honest about the problem with stringency in the reviewed material. To solve this problem, we applied an inductive approach to the semantic varieties of the concept, i.e. we added terms along the way as we found other terms related to the main concept, and then searched these new terms in the same manner as the original term. The different terms that were found in the literature were computer-mediated deliberation (Gastil, 2000), digital deliberation (Bierle, 2004), E-deliberation (Cindio, 2008; Hands, 2005; Kim, 2006), eDeliberation (Wojcik, 2007), virtual deliberation (Barabas, 2003; Delborne et al., 2011) and web-deliberation (Kies, 2010). Our interpretation is that there is no specific normative meaning or substance to these different concepts, but that they are simply semantically different from each other. Departing from these findings, we used online deliberation†2 as the head term, and then added: Internet deliberation, e-deliberation, eDeliberation, web deliberation, digital deliberation, online political deliberation, on-line deliberation, computer-mediated deliberation, and computer-mediated political discussion.

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