Rianne Dekker

Rianne Dekker

Participant in 2014
Work history 2/2012 – current. PhD candidate UniteEurope Project. Department of Public Administration, Erasmus University Rotterdam.

2/2010 – 1/2012 Researcher ‘Theorizing the Evolution of European Migration Systems’ (THEMIS) research project. Department of Sociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam.

1/2009 – 1/2010 Student assistant ‘Conjoining Citizenship’ Project. Department of Sociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam.
Study history 09/2009 – 05/2011 MSc in Urban Studies and Urban Policies (with distinction). Faculty of Social Sciences, Erasmus University Rotterdam. Title of thesis: ‘The Virtual Reality of the Public Sphere’

09/2006 – 09/2009 BSc in Sociology (with distinction). Faculty of Social Sciences, Erasmus University Rotterdam. Minor: International and European Politics. Participation in Erasmus Honours Programme 2008

Phd Projects


Governments' responsiveness to the virtual public sphere

Online media have become a new sphere of political discussion among citizens. This has spurred scholarly debate on the emergence of a virtual public sphere, as online media closely approach Habermas’ historical blueprint of the public sphere. In contrast to other arenas of the public sphere, online media have the advantage of being easy access, non-hierarchical and real-time. This may provide for a vital public sphere through which citizens communicate their needs and preferences to the government. Such a vital public sphere is key for governments’ democratic legitimacy.
An important prerequisite for a vital virtual public sphere is that governments are responsive to online discussion during processes of decision-making. This connection is often overlooked in studies into the virtual public sphere. Research has mainly focused on either the quality of online deliberation, or governments’ use of online media as channels of communication. In my PhD research I focus on the question to what extent and how governments are responsive to the virtual public sphere.
I study this question with regard to a specific policy issue; migrant integration. Migrant integration is generally considered a politically contested issue. The policy field is not fixed and problem definitions and proposed solutions vary strongly. In such a policy field, external events and public opinions that are reflected in (online) media may have great influence on the political and policy process. Governments’ responsiveness to the virtual public sphere is thus particularly important with regard to migrant integration. My PhD research is funded by and founded in the FP7 project ‘UniteEurope’ that is developing a social media analysis tool for local governments that is specifically designed to monitor and analyze discussions about immigrants in their cities.
In the first phase of my research I have studied (1) the characteristics of local integration policies in four European cities (Antwerp, Berlin, Malmö and Rotterdam) and (2) how ethnic minorities themselves are using online media before, during and after migration. A systematic literature review of studies on governments responsiveness towards online discussions has marked the advance of the second phase of my research in which I study (1) what determines the responsiveness of government actors towards the online public sphere by semi-structured interviews with government actors in the policy field and (2) how online discussions on specific topics may have affected government’s decision-making processes. In this final stage I compare online discourses with mass media outlets and policy discourse.

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