Expanding the Political Psychology Toolkit: The Potential of Discursive Psychology for Understanding Contentious Political Debate at a Grassroots Level


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In its location at the intersection of political science and psychology, political psychology draws on many of the research techniques of both disciplines in its exploration of power, voting behavior, leadership, attitudes, and values. One hitherto relatively underutilized approach for understanding public policy debate is discursive psychology (DP). Applying this perspective to a contentious policy issue in Australia, we seek to demonstrate that this approach can add richness and depth to our understanding of how ordinary citizens engage in public policy debates. We suggest that this type of analysis can augment insights obtained from more traditional methods—such as focus groups, experimental approaches, and opinion polling—by analyzing how debates are constructed and presented at the grassroots level. This research is innovative in two ways. First, it applies a rigorous, empirical research approach to an area in which it has not previously been used: the study of public policy issues. Second, rather than analyzing the communicative practices of political leaders, we consider the rhetorical arguments made by ordinary citizens in their engagement with political issues and how they negotiate what counts as evidence. This can provide insights into how public debate can be conducted more productively and respectfully.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)667-683
Number of pages17
JournalPolitical Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


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