Start 01.10.2022 - End 30.09.2026

Digital democracies in peril: a post-structuralist lens on disinformation and individual agency online

Digital Democracies in Peril is an EUTOPIA Co-Tutelle Doctoral project, funded by VUB Onderzoeksraad. It is carried out in collaboration with PAIS, University of Warwick, granted to Samuel Cipers, to pursue a joint PhD in political science.

This project aims to propose a new context-sensitive and agency-centred theoretical model to study online disinformation, combining post-structuralist school of thought with Hirschman's Exit, Voice, Loyalty model, to further our understanding of online disinformation as manifestations of discontent and distrust.

In this project, post-structuralism serves as the main political theory to study the context in which disinformation finds (fertile) ground, while Hirschman’s EVL-model provides a framework to study individual behaviour as a reaction to major political crises. Contextualising the success of online disinformation unveils disinformation as a reaction fueled by political discontentment from the public towards the political elite, as there is no other perceived option for meaningful change in politics. This means that disinformation provides an option for citizens to voice discontent with the state or certain policies, and form groups online uniting their views on forums or social media.

Digital Democracies in Peril will add to existing knowledge on disinformation by researching political drivers and analysing individual agency online. Furthermore, it yields highly relevant insights on the topics of online group forming, activism, populism and disinformation. It carries a modest, yet important contribution to the evolving school of post-structuralism by providing a contemporary case study on a divisive societal topic. Finally, it will revitalise and demonstrate the relevance of Hirschman’s model in our understanding of individual agency in the (political) communication process and the online public sphere.

The Brussels School of Governance is a partner in Digital Democracies in Peril. Our team will host Samuel Cipers during his EUTOPIA Co-Tutelle Doctoral Fellowship.

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