Political offensiveness in the mediated public sphere: the performative play of alignments

Michael Higgins, Martin Montgomery, Angela Smith

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter explores developing concerns about the rise of offensiveness in the political public sphere and more especially in social media. We argue that current iterations of purposeful political offence should be considered in the context of a number of factors. The first of these is a rise of “post-truth” politics (Montgomery, 2017), in which impressions of personal authenticity take the place of facts and truth becomes less important than ‘speaking your mind’. The second factor is the ascendency of short-form social media such as Twitter and Instagram, which disperse and fragment the discourse of political elites in a setting in which particular “authentic” styles prevail and in which relatively unrestricted access enables multi-articulated tactics of address. The chapter explores how examples of offensiveness in the agonistic political domain (see Ong) may have similar qualities to those “ritual insults” identified by Labov (1972), arguing, indeed, that like Labov’s examples they have a doubly-articulated quality. In the public sphere, however, they can rehearse the core beliefs of a supporting ingroup, and choreographing expressions of alignment for them, while at the same time offensively provoking an “offended” outgroup."
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication Media and the Politics of Offence
EditorsAnne Graefer
Place of PublicationBasingstoke
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Ltd.
ISBN (Print)9783030175733, 9783030175740
Publication statusPublished - 14 Aug 2019


  • political public sphere
  • personal authenticity
  • offensiveness


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