Agonistic interfaces: prompting debate and reflection on socio-political issues using digital technology

Feltwell, Thomas (2020) Agonistic interfaces: prompting debate and reflection on socio-political issues using digital technology. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Online discussions are affected by the design of digital technology, which can segment, polarise and divide discussion. The idea that digital technology presents a public sphere - a space where all can debate equally - is becoming increasingly challenged. Discussion is fragmented across digital spaces, each of which is subject to the constraints of the technology’s design. As such their design, and how this affects online discussion is coming under increasing scrutiny from work within the HCI community, where this work is situated.

Using critical technical practice, this thesis documents the design and deployment of a suite of agonistically informed technology prototypes, which I term agonistic interfaces. Leveraging adversarial design principles and the agonistic conception of democracy, these agonistic interfaces purposefully bring users into contact with socio-political issues, through reflection, discussion and criticality. This work examines three specific domains: i) socio-political social media ii) second screening of reality TV and iii) conversational interfaces.

My results demonstrate the agonistic interfaces I designed were able create and sustain debate across a variety of contexts, and I describe a number of design techniques that can be used to engage criticality and reflection. The results highlight how the agonistic interfaces presented can provide a space for reflection on sociopolitical issues, how they can become a point for the concentration of various discourses, and they also raise questions about the moral acceptability of inclusive debate.

I present two primary contributions of this thesis. First, I identify agonism as a means of addressing existing problems around online discussion, and describe how agonistic interfaces can address this. Second, I demonstrate specific ways that agonistic interfaces can be designed to reconfigure debate and engagement, which I illustrate through the design and deployment of four technology prototypes oriented around the three domains of inquiry.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Agonism, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Critical Reflection, Critical Technical Practice, Agonistically-Informed Interfaces
Subjects: G400 Computer Science
J900 Others in Technology
Department: Faculties > Engineering and Environment > Computer and Information Sciences
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 18 Mar 2021 08:32
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2021 15:31

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