Images of Citizenship: A Content Analysis of Local Government Websites in the United States

Images of Citizenship: A Content Analysis of Local Government Websites in the United States

Michael J. Jensen (University of California, Irvine, USA & Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-931-6.ch006


Local government websites are the primary place citizens interact with their local governments online. This research presents qualitative and quantitative content analyses of local government websites in the United States. It investigates these websites with respect to the participatory and consumer citizenship roles reflected and structured through their design. The websites are evaluated regarding their usability with respect to consumer and participatory interactions as well as the symbolic content framing users’ interactions. While both participatory and consumer interactions were equally accessible in 2003, longitudinal analysis shows that governments are facilitating consumer interactions without a corresponding increase in participatory usability. Additionally, an evaluation of the symbolic content of the websites reveals that almost universally, they emphasize a consumer mode of interactions over a participatory mode of interactions. A detailed qualitative analysis shows that participatory aspects are subordinate to consumer dimensions and that political content is cast to discourage dissenting political interactions.
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Local government websites provide a rich surface to study the implementation of e-government implementation. They are both a tool of public policy and a policy output in their own right. Additionally, there are a number of audiences addressed by a government website. These may include businesses, other government bodies, organizations from civil society, and citizens. As public policy outputs, local government websites are theoretically important for two reasons. First, e-government portals provide the “cultural interface” between governments and members of a political system through their construction of an online scene of interaction between governments and users (Manovich, 2001). Websites can emphasize, marginalize, or omit certain interactions which can thereby define modes of online citizenship from the perspective of the government. Thus websites serve as an authoritative discourse to normalize citizen-government interactions (Edelman, 2001; Mehta, 1998). Second, in contrast to the kaleidoscope of images we receive from the fragmentary information flows communicated through media, direct interactions with government authorities and other networks, local government websites centralize a set of images and information in one place. Websites therefore project the online “face” of government (Chadwick, 2001). This chapter considers local government websites as a policy output in analyzing the images of citizenship communicated to users. It begins with a review of the approaches and findings of previous content analyses of government websites. It then suggests additional considerations for analyzing the spaces of government websites and the spaces within government websites.

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