Graduate’s book explores impact of social media on political debates

Thu 04 March, 2021
Article Header Image

A research graduate from the University of Bedfordshire has authored a book based on her PhD thesis, analysing the UK’s public political participation in an ever-changing digital age.

Published by Palgrave Macmillan, ‘Political Participation on Social Media: The Lived Experience of Online Debate’ examines real-life experiences of political discussion on social media using original research and explores the relationship between digital political communication and individual and psychological aspects.

Written by Elizabeth Bailey – who completed her PhD with the University’s Research Institute for Media, Art & Performance (RIMAP) in 2019 – the book explores people’s lived experience of engaging with politics online, and shows how people’s engagements are varied and influenced by many factors.

Discussing the inspiration behind her PhD, Elizabeth said: “I have long been fascinated by the struggles people experience discussing politics. It was clear that social media channels were having a strong influence on this in ways that begged further exploration!”

Book coverSupervised by Professor Jon Silverman, Elizabeth’s thesis involved in-depth field research into people’s experience of engaging with major political events and debates on social media – including the Scottish Independence Referendum, the EU Referendum and the UK Labour Party leadership contests – which she conducted via UK-wide focus groups and through one-to-one interviews. Many participants said they experienced profound emotional responses to political debate owing to the constraints of using social media, but that they still value using such platforms as a medium for political learning and self-expression.

Following her doctorate, Elizabeth said she was very lucky in securing the subsequent publishing opportunity: “After submitting my thesis and passing without correction, the external examiner – who happened to be the Political Campaigning & Communication series editor for Palgrave Macmillan – said that a book proposal based on my thesis would be welcomed by the publishers. I accepted the challenge and my proposal was quickly accepted!

“I am delighted to be able to share my thesis and ideas more widely through my published work. The book really emphasises the importance of understanding how ordinary people think and feel their way through politics, and the macro-political surprises this can throw up.”

Noting his student’s success, Jon Silverman – Research Professor of Media & Criminal Justice – said: It’s been a real privilege to witness, and participate in, Elizabeth’s intellectual journey from promising MA study to a superb doctoral thesis brimming with fresh insights into social media usage, which has deservedly led to an important book.”

Elizabeth, who lives in Luton with her family, is familiar with the world of politics, having decided to study a Masters and then a PhD at the University of Bedfordshire after a two-decade career in the UK Civil Service across five Whitehall departments, including the government’s Department of Health & Social Care.

She said: “After taking voluntary redundancy from my last role, I saw it as an opportunity for a major life change. Unsure of what I wanted to do next, I applied for a Masters Degree at the University in an area that interested me a lot – media and technology. I enjoyed it so much and had such a great experience writing my dissertation that I decided to continue my studies further with a doctorate.”

Elizabeth BaileyAlongside studying for her Masters and PhD, Elizabeth has been working as part of Luton Council’s Public Health team, and is a political campaigns ambassador for Cancer Research UK. After completing her doctorate, Elizabeth was accepted on to the University’s Project Management Apprenticeship Programme – an 18-month part-time career development course run by Bedfordshire’s Business School in compliance with the government’s Apprenticeship Levy.

Available in e-book and hardback, ‘Political Participation on Social Media: The Lived Experience of Online Debate’ can be purchased directly from Palgrave Macmillan or via Waterstones, ebay and Amazon. University of Bedfordshire students and staff can also loan the book from the University’s e-library:

Elizabeth’s original PhD thesis can be read online via the Bedfordshire's Open Repository.

For more information about postgraduate study, CPD courses and PhD opportunities at the University of Bedfordshire, visit:


University switchboard
During office hours
(Monday-Friday 08:30-17:00)
+44 (0)1234 400 400

Outside office hours
(Campus Watch)
+44 (0)1582 74 39 89



International office

Student support



Our Tweets: @uniofbedsnews