The Threat of Being Yourself

By NEMO/ISK researcher Nils Gustafsson

One of the things I like best about research is doing interviews because it is a very direct way of learning. For my NEMO project, I interview members of the Swedish parliament about their attitudes towards using social media as a tool in their intra- and extra-parliamentary work. The aim is to study to what extent the increased focus on individual politicians (rather than parties) – so visible in social media – can be a serious challenge to long-established collective norms within the parties in parliament.

Especially in a parliamentary system which forces strong party cohesion, like here in Sweden, political parties develop party cultures that members must adhere to if they want to be accepted by their peers and increase their influence and status within the group.

As well as being a strong individual with a personal platform, able to set yourself apart from your fellow parliamentarians (and rivals), you must show loyalty towards leadership, the group and to the informal norms of communication and conduct that are present in each organisation. But norms and cultures change as a result of inner and outer pressure, and then it can be a very tricky thing indeed to navigate through a political career.

Halfway through my interviews I had come to the conclusion that something was indeed happening with internal norms in the Swedish parliamentary parties, and the change seemed to be most serious in the largest and most collectively orientated party, the Social Democratics. Here, some MPs spoke of parallel cultures: younger parliamentarians would be more individualist and candid in their communication with (semi-)publics, whereas older MPs kept quiet and got in line.

It seemed logical: an individualist trend would be more problematic for a collectivist party.

But as I encountered more MPs from smaller and more individualist parties (such as the Left, Green and Liberal parties) I realised that the possibilities of building individualist platforms through the aid of social media posed a perhaps even greater threat to them: a group of people already made up of strong individualists with a tradition of open competition could face even worse problems in keeping MPs in line, because there would not be a tradition of conformism to fall back on.

As I am doing my last interviews for the study, each encounter is equally exciting: what more is there to know? What have I missed so far? And then, of course, I am looking forward to the joy of going over all of the interviews again to do my final analysis.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Write a Comment

* Required