On Friday, June 17th and Saturday, June 18th, 2016, the Institute for Communication Sciences of the French National Research Center (ISCC, CNRS-Paris-Sorbonne-UPMC) organizes in Paris an international conference with the help of the Center for Comparative Studies in Political and Public Communication headed by Philippe J. Maarek on:

Social Networks and political Actors: what political communication today?

Scientific direction: Philippe J. Maarek, professor at Paris East – UPEC University, member of ISCC
Scientific co-direction : Arnaud Mercier, professor at Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas Unviersity, member of CARISM

The progressive integration of electronic social networks by political leaders and parties to their repertoires requires scholars to revisit the traditional investigations of political communication. The appropriation by the political sphere of digital technologies and the reconfiguration of political behavior and habits to the Internet age have led to new research and renewed questioning, with the idea of identifying the contours of a possible or potential “electronic democracy”.

The conference will particularly look into the specific use of electronic social networks like Twitter, Facebook, etc., by institutional political forces (parties, leaders, elected officials …). The overall challenge is to understand what is changing because of the so-called “Web 2.0” apparatus. Is it adopted by politician personnel as a plain additional tool among the range of what constitutes the political Internet, or are we facing a new transformation of political communication, due to the specificities of these new devices and to their mass appeal, particularly among the younger audience?

We already know that these tools are powerful vehicles of social and political mobilization, transforming the logic of “collective actions” to “connective actions” according to the useful distinction advocated by Lance Bennett. Or how do staff and political institutions manage to react, if not to put to use, these new vectors, which for the first time, stop their positional monopoly of being the sole transmitters of political communication in the public sphere? This has been obvious all over the world, from Occupy Wall Street to Los Indignados, via young Chinese from Hong Kong, or the Iranians in 2009 and Tunisians or Egyptians two years later. A kind of new militant ecosystem has developed, involving bloggers, citizens, aspirations for more democracy, along the street protests that social networks and mobile telephony have often helped coordinate and mobilize and against which staff and political institutions have been forced to react, in order not to keep being on the run.

Are we therefore witnessing changes for staff and political institutions in their way of communicating and acting on politics? Are these socio-technical devices already fully integrated, digested by these actors, or still only being integrated? Are politicians exploiting all their potential, which explains their massive success, or do they choose only certain aspects? What is the role of these networks in the politicians’ communication? To what extent are these networks now integrated into the campaign repertoire? How does political governance adjust to this development? Do local political institutions manage to appropriate these networks that often strengthen proximity? What changes do these networks induce on parliamentary work?

One of the many challenges that this conference intends to address is whether the participatory and collaborative mythology associated with socio-technical features offered by social networks is reflected in the facts: are political professionals borrowing these tools or not? If so, do they use their potential or do they incorporate them minimally, as an additional communicational support, without any intention to communicate collaboratively with citizens? Similarly, is the possibility for the citizen of contacting politicians directly frequently put into use? Does it change the nature of the relationship established by their candidates, their elected representatives, their activists, with voters, citizens, sympathizers?

On the campaign level, the integration of these tools is both manifest and at the same time seems incomplete. Some candidates still have no social network accounts, or hardly use them, and badly at that. Amateurism sometimes seems to reign supreme. Is it because their usage is not quite stabilized? Is it the nature of the tool itself to cause this lack of control? Or does the problem come from the difficulty to articulate with the usual campaign techniques?

The same questions arise on the side of political institutions, including governments and local institutions. Can social networks constitute an additional tool at their disposal, or is it already the case? Are they integrated into public communications devices on a par with the other means? Does the adoption of these devices form an opportunity for substantial transformation for these institutions’ communication or for the elected politicians who run them?

Any or all of these major central interrogations will be on the floor of the debates during this conference through different approaches. With the help of the Center for Comparative Studies in Political and Public Communication, the CNRS Institute of Communication Sciences intends to analyze this important part of the current evolution of political communication during the conference on comparative political communication which will bring together researchers and professionals from the field on June 17th and 18th 2016.

The conference will be bilingual French-English. Colleagues wishing to present a paper are invited to send an application before March 15th to: Proposals should include an abstract of 250-500 words (one or two pages) and short Vitae (one page).

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