By formal training and expertise, I am a sociologist of political culture with a focus on media, protest, and politics. I leverage the theories and interdisciplinary scholarship within these areas to answer various questions such as: When and why do cultural factors (identities, norms, or impulses) matter in contention relative to more familiar structural and strategic ones (economic shifts, political organizations, or rational self-interest)? How are certain social performances or accepted ways of doing things – doing journalism, activism, policy making, or storytelling – anchored in institutionalized hierarchies of practical authority and communicative credibility? Under which conditions do certain performances and/or performers become vulnerable to challenge or provide routes to changing the codified, formalized rules of other institutions? To answer questions like these, I employ both qualitative and quantitative measurement strategies and research designs.
My research projects are regularly linked to political communication and media systems. As the “content” of mass media is always another medium, media communication can be studied as a phenomena, as data, and as a method. In this way I consider challenges to the credibility of “legacy” media institutions in relation to other authorized bases of public information, including the dynamics of how communicative credibility works and approaches to analyzing such dynamics. These issues are increasingly important as longstanding questions about the tension between reliable information, public understanding, and institutions of political representation are being revived alongside new digital technologies and the resurgence of populist politics.
CURRENT & RECENT PROJECTS
REPORTORIAL objectivity as contending performances:
Contrary to the popular notion that in order to perform their objectivity professional journalists hew to one common institutionalized standard or one common “bias,” reporters sometimes perform their objectivity not by being impartial but by being partial (to their understanding of shared public values). We know much more about the performance of neutral observation than we do about what I refer to as the guardianship of consensus. My research puts the textual work journalists do at the center of investigation to explore how and when and why these two distinct logics, or contending performances, of objectivity are enacted. More specifically, I conceptualize analytic and outrage rhetoric in the in the mainstream news discourse about abortion in the United States, identify the speakers to whom such rhetoric is ascribed as well as when they are expressed by journalists themselves, and compare these uses across story characteristics, political contexts, and over two decades of abortion controversy. I not only show the language with which journalists rhetorically perform either the role of guardian of consensus or that of neutral observer, but also the normative messages conveyed about the political process as a result – about the credibility of the different actors involved, the acceptability of certain contests, and prospects of resolution.
On The ‘pre-history’ AND FORMS of [mediated] populist performances in Germany and the United States:
Using diverse data sources (e.g., on media discourse linking claims to speakers and events, and on civil society, government, media, and other institutional gatekeepers), this study sheds light on the interplay of media, state, and civil society fields in generating the conditions in which dominant institutional schemas or logics became vulnerable to populist challenge. Within this project is a paper that uses an approach centered on institutional schemas to reread prevailing demand-centered explanations for populist mobilizations in the United States and Western Europe over the recent period (“Lifeworld Disruption and the Demand for Populist Mobilization,” with Dr. Michael Neuber). Another study within this project examines the different communicative forms and the different actors through which the “will of the people” is represented in the mass media. This work connects to my contribution to the publication entitled, “Opinion Forming in the Digital Age”.
On THE DIGITAL COMMUNICATION HEURISTICS OF POLITICAL PARTIES IN EUROPE (With Dr. ANDREAS SCHÄFER):
Analyzing original data from interviews conducted with an array of political party campaign communication managers in Europe, this research project examines the heuristics, schemas, scripts, or institutionally appropriate ways of doing election campaign communications within a changing media landscape. Topics of inquiry range from identifying common communication strategies to examining the sources of the norms for conveying and evaluating messages within campaigns as political institutions as well as across political parties and national contexts. In one preliminary study we focus on the interview data from Germany and the United Kingdom to investigate the extent to which political party communication manager rules of thumb for effective communication cohere or conflict with one another.
On the Relationship between the nursing profession and MEDIA in the context of health policy and politics: (with dr. Diana J. Mason)
This research collects and synthesizes contemporary research on efforts to influence the media coverage of matters of public concern, especially the case of media representations of health care politics and policy. It includes contributing to a project on the relationship between the nursing profession and news media: “The Woodhull Study Revisited: Nurses’ Representation in Health News Media.” It also includes work revising a chapter entitled, “Using the Power of Media to Influence Health Policy and Politics,” for the 8th edition of Policy & Politics in Nursing and Health Care.
On the Consequences of Voluntary associations cross-nationally from 1970 to 2010: (with Dr. Evan Schofer)
This research project investigates the effects voluntary associations using cross-national comparisons using new data collected (by me) from the Encyclopedia of Associations. One study examines their effects on protest and the other examines their effects on inequality (gini scores). Both consider the possibility that some types of associations are better than others at influencing these outcomes. For instance, we find that important subsets of private associations – namely those linked to leisure, religion, and trade – are negatively associated with protest. Earlier versions of these studies were presented on panels at American Sociological Association Annual Meetings: “Civic Associations and Protest: A cross-national comparison” Denver, CO, August 17-20, 2012; & “Voluntary Associations and Economic Inequality,” Las Vegas, NV, August 20-23, 2011. Currently, we are revising the papers based on our most recent data, new data sets on contentious action, and updating the literature in which we situate our findings.