Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

The political is personal: an analysis of crowd-sourced political ideas and images from a Massive Open Online Course

Humphrey, Mathew; Umbach, Maiken; Clulow, Zeynep


Professor of Political Theory

Professor of Modern History

Zeynep Clulow


The analysis of ideology at the vernacular level requires access to peer-to-peer political discussions amongst non-specialists. It is in these discursive exchanges that political views are articulated, refined, and revised. Such exchanges are, however, difficult for the researcher to capture. Here we take c.25,000 learner comments (along with several hundred image uploads) from a Massive Open Online Course, run in conjunction between the University of Nottingham and the British Library, as a source of such peer-to-peer political discussions. Learners discussed five topics, of which we have selected 'Freedom', 'Justice', and 'Community' for close analysis. We find that the idea of 'freedom' generated by far the most learner discourse, and in both the comments and image uploads this concept was both positively appraised and highly personalised. 'Justice' was generally seen as something to be delivered by political institutions, although accounts of injustice were frequently appraised through either personal experience or the experiences of others. Accounts of 'community' often focused on the trappings of nationhood, but some comments, and many images in particular, highlighted moments of ephemeral and more personal, self-chosen communities such as music concerts or hobbyist conventions. Overall, both comments and images show that, in their interpretation of the conceptual vocabulary of politics, people frequently frame their understanding through personal experience in a very direct manner. It is not only true that the 'personal is political', but also, for many, that the 'political is personal'.


Humphrey, M., Umbach, M., & Clulow, Z. (2019). The political is personal: an analysis of crowd-sourced political ideas and images from a Massive Open Online Course. Journal of Political Ideologies, 24(2), 121-138.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 21, 2018
Online Publication Date Apr 24, 2019
Publication Date Apr 24, 2019
Deposit Date Jan 15, 2019
Publicly Available Date Oct 25, 2020
Journal Journal of Political Ideologies
Print ISSN 1356-9317
Electronic ISSN 1469-9613
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 24
Issue 2
Pages 121-138
Keywords Political Science and International Relations; Geography, Planning and Development
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Political Ideologies on 24.04.2019 available online:


You might also like

Downloadable Citations