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This paper reports on a survey of social media use by English local authorities. The survey indicates that English local authorities currently do not engage with social media in any substantive manner. However, as the paper argues, this lack of attention to forms of communication afforded by Web 2.0 risks missing an important avenue of ‘citizen engagement’, understood neither in the relatively straightforward terms of one-way ‘e-democracy’, such as e-petitions, nor in the Habermasian sense of rational democratic deliberation, but the more flexible manner of open-ended ‘conversations’ about local political issues. As the paper makes clear, academic enquiry has largely neglected this apparently mundane use of social media – certainly as it relates to specifically political participation – so some ‘interactive snapshots’ of this embryonic form of political communication are examined as a way of providing ‘prefigurative examples’ of its potential. By way of conclusion, it is suggested that the development of civic or political conversations across local government chimes with the emergent liquid modern environment, supporting, but not replacing, the ‘fixed’, or at least less ‘agile’, institutions of representative democracy.
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Keywords: Web 2.0; e-democracy; engagement; local authorities; social media

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK

Publication date: August 1, 2013

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