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Open Access

Document Type


Degree Program


Degree Type

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



Internet, news, public sphere, online community, politics, digital activism


Participatory democracy depends on formations of community and social relations, places and spaces for critical discourse, and the organizational and technical capacity for collective action. This study seeks to better understand how these processes are at work in the virtual realm, and more broadly examine the changing nature of political information and discourse in the online context. Toward this end, I examine two sites that embody different yet highly successful models of user participation, collective content production, and increasingly, political action: the political blogging community of Daily Kos and the social news site Reddit. This study is based on three broad theoretical frameworks of community, discourse, and action. I use work by Michele Willson (2006) to explore how community exists in the virtual realm. Drawing upon the scholarship of Jurgen Habermas (1991) and more recent adaptations and extensions of Habermasian public sphere theory from Aaron Barlow (2006), I ask can online communities set the foundation for a public spheres, and if so, how do they function as virtual public spheres? Building upon understandings of online community and virtual public sphere(s), I utilize work by Manuel Castells (1997) and Jeffrey Juris (2005) to understand how community and discourse can enable collective action. These lines of analysis provide the structure through which I examine Daily Kos and Reddit. Using ethnographic methods, I place the voices and perspectives of users within this theoretical structure to produce a comprehensive look at the function of collaborative online political information communities.


First Advisor

Jarice Hanson

Second Advisor

Henry Geddes