International Research Conference, Lancaster UK, 18 - 20 July 2016
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Social media and social justice in Higher Education: power and performance in the Twitter

Natasa Lackovic, Lancaster University, Roger Kerry, The University of Nottingham


Social media - Twitter in particular – are seen as “tools” that can contribute to social justice since they allow publication of user-generated content and thus provide outlets for public opinion on any social issue, supporting multiple voices, activism and activist community building. On the other hand, social media are also considered as “cyber utopia” tools of oppression with regard to data storing, surveillance, control and prosecution threats. In addition, digital technologies and the virtual world are identified as hegemonic and “non-neutral” in terms of discourse, access, affordances and use. These conceptualisations locate social media as potent tools for critical reflection, especially in Higher Education (HE) pedagogy. However, examples of such applications are rare. Some authors tackle critical media literacy and critical pedagogy role of social media, but there is a scarcity of studies that explore the role of Twitter as a “tool” to support possibilities for critical pedagogy in HE. This paper presents a study that focuses on Twitter and considers 1) how students perceive Twitter and 2) whether they recognise any social justice role of Twitter in general and for learning. Within the study, an optional Twitter learning activity was introduced in an undergraduate module of Physiotherapy at a UK university, but students opted not to participate. Two focus groups were organised with 12 students (out of all 43 Year 1 students) to explore students’ perceptions of SM and Twitter. The results suggest conceptualisations of Twitter as a “theatrical power stage” and “business tool” which stifled student motivation to participate. It evoked a particular characterisation of Twitter as a theatrical space where students find themselves primarily in the role of spectators (audience), watching the more knowledgeable, professional lead actors. Students did not mention any social justice or “for-critical-reflection” role of social media, albeit they were critical of the platform. Rather, the “politics of fear” and marketisation discourses were echoed. Building on the findings, the paper presents and problematises the “theatre of Twitter in HE learning” model analogous to the basic elements of (classical) theatre, where relevant students’ roles operate in relation to participation, mostly the Spectators and Uninterested. It considers what the lack of critical reflection and critical pedagogy awareness with social media and “Twitter theatre performance” may mean and what it may lead to. Implications of the presented Twitter theatre are drawn with regard to social media and social justice in Higher Education practice.


Social media; Social justice; Twitter; higher education learning; critical pedagogy

Link to Full Paper (If submitted)


Conference Organisers

Paul Trowler
Lancaster University, UK

Alice Jesmont
Lancaster University, UK

Malcolm Tight
Lancaster University, UK

Paul Ashwin
Lancaster University, UK

Murray Saunders
Lancaster University, UK

Chrissie Boughey
Rhodes University, South Africa

Suellen Shay
University of Cape Town, SA

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