The University of Arizona

Grant Awards

The National Institute for Civil Discourse is currently funding four university of Arizona researchers working on two independent projects aimed at investigating civility in the public domain.

The awardees are: "Patterns and Determinants of Civility in Online Discussions" led by UA communication faculty members Kate Kenski, Kevin Coe and Steve Rains; and "Citizen Rage: Representative-Constituent Face Threatening Interactions in Town Hall Meetings" by UA linguistic anthropologist Norma Mendoza-Denton.

Norma Mendoza-Denton
Department of Communication, The University of Arizona

This research focuses on conflict talk in Town Hall Meetings (THMs), examining ways in which representatives handle disagreements with constituents. I propose to conduct a case study-centered linguistic anthropological analysis of a small corpus of four different instances of naturally-occurring conflict-talk: two from Tucson, Arizona during THMs in 2000-2001 by then congressman Jim Kolbe, the predecessor to current Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ seat; one from a THM held in 2001 by Rudolph Giuliani, then-mayor of New York City, with transportation workers; and finally a THM held by Congresswoman Giffords in Southern Arizona in 2009. I note the interactional dynamics of disagreements as issued by constituents and pay close attention to the tactics used by politicians in handling confrontation. Interactional management includes not only the issuing of speech routines such as admonishments to "calm down," (paradoxically further inflaming recipients) but also other features such as gaze withdrawal and gestural ambiguity. A fuller understanding of the microdynamics of conflict in THMs will provide us with a baseline against which to understand face-to-face deliberation. This issue is of theoretical interest to students of deliberative processes, while the public policy implications include the identification of aberrant interactional patterns and the training of public figures in handling conflict.

Kate Kenski, Kevin Coe, and Steve Rains
Department of Communication, The University of Arizona

Civility is a vital part of any functioning democracy wherein citizens are expected to deliberate about their electoral choices. Although researchers have studied incivility among political elites, very little research has focused on the extent to which civility and incivility are embodied in citizens’ conversations about politics. Building upon the strengths of the communication discipline, which is focused on the study of messages, and on our particular strengths as political and technology researchers, the proposed study will develop content analytic measures of civility, use these measures to track levels of civility in online discussions, and identify dimensions of news and technology that influence these patterns. Our focus will be on the Arizona Daily Star forums attached to news articles, a first step in a broader program designed to understand the extent to which civility and incivility appear in public discourse about political life. The results of this project will be used to develop a proposal for extramural funding from the Political Science Division of the National Science Foundation (PD 98-1371).