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Hashtag Publics

The Power and Politics of Discursive Networks


Edited By Nathan Rambukkana

This collection investigates the publics of the hashtag. Taking cues from critical public sphere theory, contributors are interested in publics that break beyond the mainstream – in other publics. They are interested in the kinds of publics that do politics in a way that is rough and emergent, flawed and messy, and ones in which new forms of collective power are being forged on the fly and in the shadow of loftier mainstream spheres.
Hashtags are deictic, indexical – yet what they point to is themselves, their own dual role in ongoing discourse. Focusing on hashtags used for topics from Ferguson, Missouri, to Australian politics, from online quilting communities to labour protests, from feminist outrage to drag pop culture, this collection follows hashtag publics as they trend beyond Twitter into other spaces of social networking such as Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr as well as other media spaces such as television, print, and graffiti.
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Chapter One: Twitter Hashtags from Ad Hoc to Calculated Publics


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Twitter Hashtags from Ad Hoc to Calculated Publics1



From its early beginnings as an instant messaging platform for contained social networks, Twitter’s userbase and therefore its range of uses increased rapidly. The use of Twitter to coordinate political discussion, or crisis communication especially, has been a key to its legitimisation, or ‘debanalisation’ (Rogers, 2013), and with the increased legitimacy has come increased journalistic and academic attention—in both cases, it is the hashtag that has been perceived as the ‘killer app’ for Twitter’s role as a platform for the emergence of publics, where publics are understood as being formed, re-formed, and coordinated via dynamic networks of communication and social connectivity organised primarily around issues or events rather than pre-existing social groups (cf. Marres, 2012; Warner, 2005).

The central role of the hashtag in coordinating publics has been evident in contexts ranging from general political discussion through local, state and national elections (such as in the 2010 and 2013 Australian elections) to protests and other activist mobilisations (for example, in the Arab Spring as well as in Occupy and similar movements). Twitter hashtags have also featured significantly in other topical discussions, from audiences following specific live and televised sporting and entertainment events to memes, in-jokes and of course the now banal practice of live-tweeting academic conferences.2 ← 13 | 14 →

Research into the use of Twitter in such contexts...

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