Communication Studies, Department of


First Advisor

Damien Smith Pfister


Walther, J.C. (2018). Creating Dialogic Moments in Municipal Deliberation: The Case of Recycling in Nebraska. (Doctoral Dissertation). University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Communication Studies, Under the Supervision of Professor Damien S. Pfister. Lincoln, Nebraska: September, 2018

Copyright (c) 2018 Janell C. Walther


Networked communication has changed the nature of the public sphere by making it more accessible to more people; however, the networked public sphere also creates issues such as echo chambers, information overload, and polarization. Further, use of algorithms that influence media consumption amplifies to role of information on social identity. This “infocentric identity” driven by algorithms may increase polarization among those interacting in the networked public sphere. Previous research indicates that municipalities are often insulated from such national-level polarization. However, given this infocentric identity, many municipalities may experience polarization to some degree. This study examines if , and how, municipal public discussions experience national-level polarization. Dialogue could be a potential response to polarization stemming from the infocentric identity; thus, this study examines if dialogue or dialogic moments occur currently in municipal public discussions. Finally, the present study explores what, if any, dialogic interventions might be used to insulate municipal public discussions from polarization.

To better understand municipal public discussions, I utilize a case study of a municipal debate about mandatory recycling because the debate was controversial, required compromise that was achieved over time, and occurred in tandem with the 2016 presidential election. The case study demonstrated that while local online discussion may reference national-level discussions, but such national-level polarization was not mimicked. Further, I found that dialogic moments do occur presently in public discussions when participants asked open questions, recognized different points of view, asserted their stake, and messaged clearly. Focus groups were used to understand how people reacted to the municipal public discussion and what recommendations participants made for improved public discussions. Discussion of findings are discussed in relation to theories of dialogue, networked public sphere, social identity, and public deliberation. Applications to and recommendations for policy practice are also addressed.

Advisor: Damien S. Pfister