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me: Abi Rhodes

PhD: Critical Theory and Politics

Thesis Title: Discursive Dissent: Political Discourse Analysis of anti-austerity social movement intervention in the UK general elections of 2015 and 2017


Thesis Description:

My research focuses on the NHS as a political issue and interrogates the practical arguments presented by the The People’s Assembly Against Austerity (PA) and the Conservative Party and Labour Party manifestos during the 2015 and 2017 UK general elections. I use Faircloughian Political Discourse Analysis (PDA) to analyse the structure of each argument and evaluate challenges and the counter arguments based on a content analysis of mainstream media reporting with reference to academic research on the political landscape at the time.

Social movements are involved in a discursive struggle, usually with the mass media and other political actors, over visions of the future and what action should be taken to realise that vision. PDA provides a methodological and theoretical framework by which to analyse this struggle. With its roots in Foucauldian discourse (Foucault 2002), PDA is a method of analysing the practical arguments employed by competing political actors (Fairclough & Fairclough 2012). Political discourse is viewed as ‘primarily a form of argumentation, and as involving more specifically practical argumentation, argumentation for or against particular ways of acting, argumentation that can ground decision’ (Fairclough & Fairclough 2012: 1). Understood in this way, political discourse can inform and guide action.

Agents deliberate over possible lines of action – reasons for or against doing something – and make choices about how to act in response to, what Fairclough and Fairclough refer to as, ‘circumstances and goals’ (Fairclough & Fairclough 2012: 1). And this, they argue, is what politics is fundamentally about, making choices – ‘choosing policies’ – based upon practical argumentation about what is to be done and about how to act (Fairclough & Fairclough 2012: 1-11). This view of politics as action is key to their approach of analysing actors’ deliberation, leading to choice and action and this thesis situates social movements as political actors putting forward just such arguments for action.

This study contributes to the field of social movement research by considering how opposition to an issue is communicated by social movements and explores the role of this information dissemination in setting the political agenda.  By examining the discourse and practical arguments of social movements and its implementation in agenda setting, this research has the potential to inform the language used by a wide range of groups when engaging with political parties and news media, from social movements to think tanks and unions.  


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

Foucault, Michel, The Archaeology of Knowledge (London: Routledge, 2002)

The key question at the heart of this research is: During election time, what arguments do social movements present to enter the political debate and to what extent do they challenge or complement electoral political messaging?

This main question can be broken down in to a set of sub-questions:

a)       During election campaigns, what are The People’s Against Austerity asking for and how are they asking? This is essential to determine what tactics the PA were using to put across their arguments to the broader public.

b)      To what extent are the arguments presented by PA and other political actors based on (anti)austerity frames and does this affect the claims for action? Practical arguments are a way of arguing for or against ways of acting.  If arguments are grounded in one frame or the other do their claims for action – what the arguer is arguing should be done – reflect the normative underpinnings of that frame?

c)       To what extent do the arguments from 2015 and 2017 present a shift in the dominance of the austerity frame? Examining any discursive shift between the two election years would provide a window onto the changing political landscape in the UK.


Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Dr Jen Birks, University of Nottingham  

Dr Colin Wright, University of Nottingham




  • 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:


  • 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:

Academic year 2017/18 

Undergraduate Level:
Autumn Semester: Seminar teaching on Media and Society module (V91INT) that forms part of the BA Hons in International Media and Communications Studies at the University of Nottingham.

Spring Semester: Workshop teaching on Critical Discourse Analysis for the Researching Culture, Film and Media module (V92N02) that forms part of the BA Hons in Film and Television Studies at the University of Nottingham.

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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