Dr Chris Birchall
Lecturer in Digital Media / Programme Leader BA Digital Media
0113 343 1111
Clothworkers' Building North, 2.13
Office hours: Thursday 12-2pm
BSc (Leeds), MS (DePaul, Chicago), MSc (MMU), PhD (Leeds)
I joined the School in September 2010 as a Research Associate to teach on the BA New Media programme and study for a PhD. I am BA New Media programme leader and a member of the Political Communication and Centre for Digital Citizenship research groups.
My background is that of a professional software and web developer, having worked in a variety of positions in IT companies, as a freelancer, in the voluntary sector, the NHS and within Higher Education.
A masters degree in Geographical Information Systems sparked my interest in public participation in local planning and policy debates and I have since moved on to study the role of technology in the public sphere and the effects of technological mediation of the social world.
My research interests include digital methods and their application to the study and practice of digital citizenship, political communication online, and mobile and digital technologies and social change. I’ve worked on a number of projects within the department, investigating local media ecologies and using digital methods and tools to investigate the potential and impact of social media on public engagement by institutions and the political voice of citizens.
With a background in web, software, database and GIS development I have skills in a wide range of technologies, languages, databases and tools. As well as teaching content related to these skills, I also like to employ them within digital research methodologies, to investigate how digital technologies can be utilised to affect social, and particularly political, change. My PhD: “Understanding large scale public political conversation online in austerity Britain through an iterative, quali-quanti investigation”, investigated the role of website interface design in the behaviour of participants in online political discussion. The study aimed to shed light on how current and emerging technologies may be used, within specific niches on the web, to promote productive “cross-cutting” political discussion. In order to analyse large scale, emergent conversation online I developed an innovative methodology that brought together big data approaches and smaller scale qualitative methods to combine the broad patterns and headline figures of automated analysis with deeper understanding of human communication and interaction.
Currently teaching on the following modules:
- COMM1730 Interface Design
- COMM2735 Dynamic Web Programming
- COMM3780 Mobile Media
- COMM3790 Citizen Media
Also contributing as a supervisor on COMM3710/20 Project I/II and COMM2790 Working in New Media
BA Hons New Media / BA Hons Digital Media programme leader.
(2016) The Mediated City: The News in a Post-Industrial Context. London: Zed.
(2014) “Balancing the potential and problems of digital methods through action research: methodological reflections”, Information, Communication & Society. 18.2: 172-186.
(2015) “Creating spaces for online deliberation”, In: Handbook of Digital Politics. 264-280
(2016) Digital Networks of Political Action. Working Papers of the Communities and Culture Network +, Vol. 8.
(2014) Digital Data Analysis, Public Engagement and the Social Life of Methods: Final Report. Working Papers of the Communities & Culture Network+ Vol.3.
Software / Codes
Research Centres & Groups
Centre for Digital Citizenship
Political Communication Research Group
Digital Communication and Media Research Group
This study investigated online public political conversation in the UK. Drawing on theories of deliberative democracy, it emphasised the importance of inter-ideological discussion between citizens in the formation of informed opinion and preferences, focussing on the potential of the internet to facilitate this through large scale, ideologically diverse conversations. A multivariate analysis investigated the roles of interface design, institutional linkage and participant community dynamics in the formation of online political conversation. The investigation of conversation from across the internet required a very large scale approach, situating the study within the big data paradigm. However, it also required deeper understanding of human communication, gained through more qualitative analysis. Therefore the study utilised a novel, iterative, quali-quanti approach featuring initial, large scale quantitative analysis – involving bespoke software to automate the collection and analysis of conversation data – that was used to direct further iterations of increasingly smaller scale and qualitative analysis. Reflections on the successful application of the methodology are significant in themselves, but the study also generated novel observations of online public political conversation. The findings illustrated participatory spaces as unique online niches, each with specific communities and goals, and described how participant agency allows citizens to contribute according to various democratic models. For example, an action-oriented approach existed in policy related spaces, in which participants sought only to express a preference, rather than engage in discussion. In more discursive spaces, non-political social bonds between participants were seen to be particularly important in the facilitation of civil, productive, inter-ideological debate and certain participatory roles were important in facilitating these bonds. The design of spaces exerted a significant, but not determining effect on conversation, being used to present conversation in particular ways. However, certain features, notably active facilitation, helped to shape conversation through enabling some of the important community roles to be performed.