Manuela Neurauter-Kessels


Prof. Dr. A. H. Jucker

Impoliteness in cyberspace: personally abusive reader responses in online news media


While the study of politeness looks back on a long research tradition, the study of impoliteness has only recently gained increasing scholarly attention. Even more so, the investigation of this phenomenon in an online context is still a widely underexplored research area. This dissertation project contributes to filling this gap by investigating the negative communicative behaviour of participants in a public computer-mediated setting. More specifically, this study captures and describes personally abusive impolite contributions of users in the reader response sections of five popular British online newspapers. Online reader responses are a form of interactive audience participation and successor to traditional forms such as letters to the editor. This mode of communication allows users to share their personal views and discuss and debate newspaper content with a potentially vast mass media readership. In this setting, people with sometimes strongly different points of view disagree and criticize each other and thus conflictive talk appears to be an essential feature. Despite that there are netiquette and moderation rules of proper conduct for discussion in place, in heated debates participants break these rules on a regular basis and demonstrate what could be termed inappropriate impolite communicative behaviour. The study’s major contribution is seen in the further development of a conceptual understanding of impoliteness and broadening of the methodological perspective on impoliteness in practice illustrated at the example of reader responses. Central to the study is a discourse-pragmatic framework to capture the dynamics and dimensions of personally abusive impolite exchanges in a novel and uniquely hybrid context where participants do not interact face-to-face but via the written word in a (pseudo)anonymous, public and physically distant mass media setting. At the same time the study contributes to a better understanding of reader responses as a still evolving form of communication in the online news media landscape.

The full-text dissertation is available for download at