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 media systems (primarily in the US). As the “content” of mass media is always another medium, the media can be studied as data, as a method, and as phenomena. In this way, I am able to consider both challenges to the credibility of mainstream, “legacy” media institutions as well as how credibility works. 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 the resurgence of populist politics. [See CV for research employment history]
CURRENT & RECENT PROJECTS
journalistic 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’ 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 logics to reread two 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 actors through which the “will of the people” is represented in the mass media. This work also ties to my current involvement as an expert on an international, interdisciplinary panel for a European Commission project.
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 the cutting-edge research on efforts to influence media treatments of matters of public concern and the effects of media treatments on health care policy. It includes my work on a project on nurses and media: “The Woodhull Study Revisited: Nurses’ Representation in Health News Media.” It also includes my work revising a chapter, “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.
On the forms of deliberative communication: (With Dr. Francesca Polletta)
forthcoming, 2018 in The Oxford Handbook of Deliberative Democracy. Abstract: As deliberative democratic theory has moved from a macro theory of democratic legitimacy to prescriptions for institutional design, questions about what constitutes deliberative communication have taken on increasing practical importance. At the same time, empirical data has accumulated to answer those questions. We review findings on the kinds of talk that produce either mutually-agreed upon decisions or better understandings of the issues at stake, equality among speakers, and impacts on policies or participants after the forum is over. Deliberative talk in facilitated settings today does not resemble the abstract, dispassionate reason-giving imagined by many theorists of deliberation. However, precisely for that reason, deliberative talk today is producing some of the benefits claimed for it.