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Andrew Waits

Graduated Spring 2005 – B.A. in Communication and Political Science
Mary Gates Undergraduate Fellow at CCCE in 2004-5

Andrew writes:

Research Interests: The Internet as a means of social interaction, change, and political transformation.

I first became interested in the potential of the Internet as a means of political transformation and social interaction while taking Professor Kirsten Foot’s Political Science 407 course during my junior year at the University of Washington. I was primarily interested in the power of the Internet to create a forum where individuals could become exposed to differing opinions and ideologies as well as a means of mobilization and organization. In the fall of 2004 I was offered the opportunity to work on the 2004 Internet Elections Project with Professor Kirsten Foot. Through this experience I was further exposed to what could only be described as a truly vibrant, dynamic political web sphere as well as the varied, truly innovative practices being employed by a variety of online actors. After being honored with the Mary Gates Undergraduate Research Training Grant I was afforded the opportunity to continue working on the IE Project throughout my senior year in which I learned a variety of data analysis and coding techniques. Upon being accepted to the Communication Honors Program I was given the opportunity through two quarters of seminar to further explore my interests and develop a specific, refined research questioned that exploited my personal curiosity with the Internet in a political and communicative context. I began focusing on the Internet as a deliberative environment and researching the possible affordances of the medium. My experience culminated in my attendance of the Second Conference on Online Deliberation: Design, Research, and Practice at Stanford University, with the help of the Arts & Sciences Research Award, where I met many of the scholars whose work I studied and admired throughout the research process.

Main Ideas, Methods, and Conclusions of my Senior Thesis for the Communication Honors Program

The overall purpose of my thesis titled, “The Deliberative Potential of Computer-Mediated Communication: The Effects of Incoherence, Anonymity, and Time On the Interpersonal Requirements of Deliberation”, is to explore the possible affordances of asynchronous computer-mediated communication (CMC) for conducting political deliberation given that it takes place in a structured environment informed by deliberation theory. More specifically the paper is concerned with how, when structured, certain features of CMC may hold the comparative advantage over face-to-face communication in fulfilling the communicative and participatory requirements of deliberation. Furthermore, I examine claims against the coherence of CMC and argue that incoherence is likely the result of messaging systems which lack the tools of mediation needed to structure coherent communicative interaction.

Based in an interpersonal definition of deliberation developed my Burkhalter, Gastil, and Kelshaw (2002) I analyze whether basic features of face-to-face communication such as identifiability and synchronicity are theoretically conducive to promoting the communicative and participatory requirements of deliberation. To do so I draw on a variety of social psychological literature concerning anonymity and time constraints to better understand the effects which both have on communication.

I conclude by arguing that online environments which lack social status cues and time constraints may actually help to promote the communicative and participatory elements which make a discussion deliberative. More specifically anonymity and asynchronicity may encourage the equal influence of participants, the consideration of a wide range of ideas, idea generation, equality of participation, the discussion of evaluative criteria, information gathering, and mutual respect. Furthermore, I conclude that possible setbacks of both anonymity and loose time constraints may relate primarily to information gathering and deindividuation, as well as coordination and coherence.