The development of ‘drama’ in YouTube discourse

Pihlaja, Stephen (2012). The development of ‘drama’ in YouTube discourse. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis presents a systematic discourse analysis of sustained antagonistic debate—called 'drama'—on the video-sharing website, YouTube. Following a two-year observation of a YouTube community of practice discussing Christianity and atheism, 20 video 'pages' (including talk from videos and text comments) from a drama event were identified and transcribed, producing a 86,859 word corpus comprising 136 minutes of video talk and 1,738 comments. Using metaphor-led discourse analysis (Cameron & Maslen, 2010b) of the total corpus, metaphor vehicles were identified, coded, and grouped by semantic and narrative relationships to identify systematic use and trace the development of discourse activity. Close discourse analysis of a subset of the corpus was then employed to investigate membership categorisation (Housley & Fitzgerald, 2002), impoliteness (Culpeper, 2011), and positioning (Harré & van Langenhove, 1998), providing a systematic description of different factors contributing to the emergence of 'drama'.
Analysis shows that 'drama' developed when negative views of one user's impolite words exposed the different expectations of other users about acceptable YouTube interaction. Hyperbolic, metaphorical language derived from the Bible and narratives about tragic historical events often exaggerated, escalated, and extended negative evaluations of others. Categories like 'Christian' were used dynamically to connect impolite words and actions of individuals to social groups, thereby also extending negative evaluations.
With implications for understanding 'flaming' and transgression of social norms in web 2.0 environments, this thesis concludes that inflammatory language led to 'drama' because: (1) users had diverse expectations about social interaction and organisation, (2) users drew upon the Bible's moral authority to support opposing actions, and (3) the online platform's technical features afforded immediate reactions to non-present others. The 'drama' then developed when users' responses to one another created both additional topics for antagonistic debate and more disagreement about which words and actions were acceptable.

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