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Me: Abi Rhodes

PhD: Critical Theory and Cultural Studies

Thesis Title: Fanning the Flames: Political Discourse Analysis of Anti-austerity Social Movement Intervention in the UK General Elections of 2015 and 2017

Thesis Description:

Once thought of as sitting outside of institutional politics, social movements have been a consistent and dominant feature of the political landscape in the twenty-first century. Social movements, as political actors, can have a refining and reinforcing effect on conventional politics through the highlighting of specific issues that shape both political party and voter behaviour. However, in the field of political communication the literature has traditionally focused on the ways in which institutional political actors – political parties and politicians – have communicated, often via the media, with the electorate.  Conversely, the social movement literature has tended to focus on extra-parliamentary politics that occur outside of election time and, as such, neglects this aspect of the political process. This thesis begins to address that lacuna by exploring the role of communication by the UK-based social movement The People’s Assembly Against Austerity in electoral politics and assesses how far they can be seen as political actors in electoral campaigns.

The project examined the 2015 and 2017 general election campaigns, during which the notion of ‘austerity’ formed a major element of the political environment.  The political issue of the National Health Service (NHS) forms the focus of the research because it was one of the few remaining areas of the Welfare State said to be protected from the full impact of austerity policies.  To discover what role movement communication played in electoral debates on the NHS, a comparative analysis between The People’s Assembly Against Austerity texts and the Conservative and Labour Party manifestos was conducted.  In order to analyse what each of the political actors were arguing for, this research used Fairclough and Fairclough’s (2012) approach to Political Discourse Analysis (PDA).  This methodology facilitated the explication of competing views that were circulating during each election and allowed for competing perspectives and claims for action to be foregrounded.  What is contended in this thesis is that social movements can be publicly and politically influential by presenting discourses that challenge (or reproduce) established definitions, meanings and understandings of social reality.


Fairclough, Norman & Fairclough, Isabela, Political Discourse Analysis (London: Routledge, 2012)


The key question at the heart of this research is: During elections, what arguments do social movements present to enter the political debate and to what extent do they challenge or complement electoral political messaging?  Underlying this question is a sub-question that interrogates the role of framing by different actors to determine to what extent the arguments presented by The People’s Assembly and the Conservative and Labour parties were based on (anti)austerity frames.  


Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Dr Jen Birks, University of Nottingham  

Dr Colin Wright, University of Nottingham



Journal articles

Rhodes, A., (under review) ‘Social movement-led political communication: elections and voters’ heuristic of trust’, Social Movement Studies

Book chapters

Rhodes, A., (2019) ‘Movement-led electoral communication: Extinction Rebellion and party policy in the media’ in Jackson, D., Thorsen, E., Lilleker, D., and Weidhase, N., (eds.) UK Election Analysis 2019: Media, Voters and the Campaign (The Centre for Comparative Politics and Media Research, Bournemouth University)

Rhodes, A., (2019) ‘Movement-led Electoral Campaigning:  Momentum in the 2017 General Election’ in Wring, D., Mortimore, R., and Atkinson, S., (eds.) Political Communication in Britain: Campaigning, Media and Polling in the 2017 General Election (Palgrave Macmillan)

Rhodes, A., (2016) ‘The “unelectable” elected man’ in Unterrainer, T., (ed) Corbyn’s Campaign (Nottingham, Spokesman Books)

Online articles

Rhodes, A., ‘Movement-led policy action in the media: GE2019 the #ElectionRebellion’ in Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association (MeCCSA) newsletter Three-D, Issue 33

Birks, J., and Rhodes, A., ‘Civil society and grassroots voices in the election coverage’ in Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association (MeCCSA) newsletter Three-D, Issue 28


Targeting the Vulnerable a review of Vickie Cooper and David Whyte's (eds.) The Violence of Austerity for Review 31

Citizens of Somewhere a review of David Goodhart's The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics for Review 31

Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:


  • PSA Annual International Conference 2020, Paper Presentation as part of a panel, Social Movement Communicative Tactics in Election Campaigns, Panel name: Who Controls the Campaign? Exploring the Technology-Intensive Relationship Between Political Parties and their Supporters, 6th-8th April 2020, University of Edinburgh - Cancelled due to Covid-19
  • MeCCSA Annual Conference, Paper Presentation, Fanning the flames: social movement intervention in electoral communication, 8th-10th January 2020, University of Brighton


  • MeCCSA Annual Conference, Paper Presentation, Continuous framing in a changing political environment: An analysis of the anti-austerity argument for the NHS during election time,  9th-11th January 2019, University of Stirling


  • Conference of the Journal of Languages, Texts and Society, Paper Presentation, Social movement texts of resistance and electoral campaigning in the 2017 UK General Election, 14th June 2018, University of Nottingham
  • M3C Visiting Seminar Series, Presentation, Why we protest: an analysis of social movements and the political agenda in the 2017 UK General Election, 8th May 2018, University of Birmingham 
  • PSA Annual International Conference 2018, Paper Presentation, Movement-led electoral campaigning: social movements as experts in the 2017 UK General Election, 26th-28th March 2018, Cardiff City Hall 
  • MeCCSA Annual Conference, Paper Presentation, The role of creative activism and agency in the 2017 UK General Election, 10th -12th January 2018, School of Arts & Creative Industries, London South Bank University


  • Standing Up for Our Rights: European Citizens’ Gathering, Chair (invited) of Brexit and the Media panel, 18th November 2017, University of Nottingham
  • The UK General Election of 2017: the campaigns, media and polls, Paper Presentation (invited speaker): The Role of The People's Assembly and Momentum in the 2017 General Election, 19th July 2017, Loughborough University London #CMP2017
  • Austerity for the Many Magic Money Trees for the Few, Paper Presentation (invited speaker) with Jen Birks: Civil society and grassroots voices in the election coverage, 23rd June 2017, De Montfort University
  • PubhD #40, Research Presentation, 21st June 2017 at The Vat and Fiddle, Nottingham (a follow up podcast was made and can be listened to here:
  • 5th Annual Nottingham Postgraduate Conference in Politics and International RelationsPaper Presentation: Why we protest, 15th June 2017 at The University of Nottingham
  • M3C Research Festival 2017, Research Relay Presentation, 25th May 2017 at Stamford Court, University of Leicester
  • CLAS Symposium 2017, Paper Presentation: What’s the point of protesting?, 3rd-4th May 2017, The University of Nottingham
  • Austerity, Poverty and Protests, Presentation and Panel as part of Journey to Justice: Nottingham, 25th April 2017 at NonSuch Theatre, Nottingham
  • Journey to Justice: Nottingham, Exhibition Piece, April - June 2017 at the National Justice Museum, Nottingham


  • LINK16: Student-led Interdisciplinary Research Conference, Poster Presentation, June 3rd 2016 at The University of Nottingham


Teaching experience:

University of Nottingham (2017-present)

Lecturer: BA Hons in Film and Television Studies (Level 2)

Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) workshop on Researching Culture, Film and Media module

Seminar tutor: BA Hons in International Media and Communications Studies (Level One)


Media and Society (Level 1)

Cultures of Everyday Life (Level 1)

Communication and Technology (Level 1)

Researching Culture, Film and Media (Level 2)


  • leading seminars
  • marking
  • student feedback / support
  • administration
  • lecturing
  • session design
  • practical engagement
  • small group teaching

Other experience:

Conference Organising

November 2018

Alongside my supervisor, Dr Jen Birks, I helped organise the 2018 Political Studies Association Media and Politics Group (#PSAMPG) conference at the University of Nottingham.  The theme of the two-day conference was Political Reversals and Renewals and hosted Professor Natalie Fenton (Goldsmiths) and Professor Andrew Chadwick (Loughborough University) as keynote speakers.

July 2018

Alongside Richard Bromhall and David Civil, I organised a one-day, interdisciplinary conference at Nottingham Contemporary entitled Movements: Protest, Politics and Activism in the 21st Century. Our event showcased academic work across a range of fields and brought together academics from across the globe, from Africa, Asia and South America, to present their work on a range of disciplinary perspectives, such as film, art and literature as activism, media representations of protesting, video gaming as a tool for political engagement, and acts of dissent under neoliberalism.  There was also papers from public-facing groups who work daily on activism and politics: Journey to Justice and The People’s Assembly.  For more information visit 

May 2017

I co-coordinated the Culture, Languages and Area Studies (CLAS) PGR Symposium, which ran on May 3rd to 4th at the University of Nottingham. The aim was to promote academic collaboration and interdisciplinary thinking as well as provide a focal point in the School’s calendar for celebrating the diverse research conducted by postgraduates across the entire School. The event consisted of a keynote speech, six formal panels of research presentations from postgraduates in the School (taught and research), workshops hosted by guest speakers and/or members of staff from CLAS and an undergraduate poster session.


Training Sessions:


  • Inequality Discourses in the Media Symposium on discursive representation of different forms of exclusion, inequality or discrimination in the British media (print, TV, radio or online). Contributions to this symposium use a range of disciplines and methods, including critical discourse analysis, critical stylistics, corpus linguistics corpus-assisted discourse studies and blends of these and other approaches, 15th June 2018, University of Birmingham in collaboration with the DINEQ project, a European Horizon 2020 project based at the University of Birmingham.


  • School of Culture, Languages and Area Studies Teacher Training event for PGR students, 25th-26th September 2017, University of Nottingham

  • School of Culture, Languages and Area Studies Teacher Training Assessment Training, 1st November 2017, University of Nottingham

  • Talking Heads 2017, intensive one-day media training event, 28th of July 2017, Birmingham City University

  • M3C & Royal Literary Fund Writing Retreats 2017, First Year Researcher - Academic Writing the Creative Way, 20 February 2017 at Nottingham Conference Centre, Nottingham Trent University (an M3C Funded place)

  • Midlands3Cities Presentation Skills Training – Tuesday 24th January, University of Nottingham

  • Preparing to teach in Higher Education – Friday 20th Jan 2017, University of Nottingham


  • Advanced Media Content Analysis: Computer Assisted Gathering and Analysis of Texts in Digital Environments, 19th - 20th December 2016 at Loughborough University, Dept. of Social Sciences (an ESRC Funded place)
  • Midlands3Cities Policy Engagement Skills Training: How Languages Studies Research can influence policy makers, 16 November 2016 at The University of Nottingham

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