The Discursive Enactment of Edward Snowden

  • Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing on the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013 has spurred heated debates and raised polemic issues concerning digital mass surveillance, information privacy, national security and government secrecy. As such, Snowden’s whistleblowing has resulted in widespread discursive battles on popular and social media. The purpose of this study was to theoretically and empirically explore how various participants have discursively taken up Snowden and his disclosures by engaging the debate through digital media. Using aspects of the methods pertaining to ‘Discourse Analysis’, ‘Online Ethnography’, and ‘Grounded Theory’, it first sought to identify the prevalent discursive forces at play through the daily monitoring of the discourses created on digital media. Following this macro-analysis or ‘systemic observation’ in which various discursive themes, labelled ‘spheres’ were established, 22 articles from news sources, a corpus of nearly 40,000 YouTube comments , and five interviews featuring Snowden were selected for in-depth micro-analysis. Using the methodological practices of ‘coding’ in combination with various theoretical understandings of ‘discourse’, ‘hegemony’, and ‘the myth of the hero/villain’, the analysis investigated how ‘storylines’ and ‘antagonisms’ were enacted, reinforced, and contested. Analysis revealed understandings of  how and why the terms ‘hero’, ‘patriot’, ‘traitor’ and ‘villain’ has come to be used for many whistleblowers, including Snowden. Furthermore, the study offers explanations for the roles that these ‘terms’ played when taken up and resisted by various and diverse participants in the Snowden story. Ultimately, the project further demonstrates how theoretical and empirical notions can be merged when conducting discourse analysis.

    Selected Bibliography:

    Androutsopoulos, J. (2008). Potentials and limitations of discourse-centred online          ethnography. Language@ internet5(8).

    Breckenridge, J. (2012). Choosing a methodological path: Reflections on the constructivist turn.             Grounded Theory Review, 11(1).

    Hajer, M. (2015). FAQ. Maarten Hajer Personal Website. Retrieved from   

    Johnson, R.A. (2002). Whistleblowing: When it works – and why. Boulder, Co: Lynne Rienner.

    Torfing, J. (1999). New theories of discourse: Laclau, Mouffe and Zizek. Malden, MA: Wiley-      Blackwell.




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