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Hearing the ‘Voiceless’ : examining the #FeesMustFall movement as an issue community.

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The hashtag #FeesMustFall was adopted by students on social media platforms as a rallying cry to unite students and the public to support the cause for free education in South Africa (Thomas, 2015). This study aims to ‘listen’ to the voices of #FeesMustFall 2016 on Twitter. Literature focussed on exploring how issue communities (Mareider and Schwarzenegger, 2012) and social curation (Villi, 2012) provide insight on the characteristics of the #FeesMustFall movement. Furthermore, this research investigates the conversations of this online community on matters of free education. Therefore, the conversations were examined using the norms of the Hauserian (1999) public sphere, which focusses on discourse and not the group enacting the discourse. Because this research explored aspects of ‘hashtag activism’, this type of analysis proved useful to understand new types of civic engagement which occur on online platforms like social media. In terms of methodological framework, this study was grounded within cultural studies and network theory as it explored the discourses within the conversations and the network structure of the community. This helped uncover the underlying topics discussed in the community, and identify the most influential members.


Master of Arts in Media, Visual Arts and Drama. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2017.