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Friday, May 19 Faculty Club, South dining room

9:15 Opening Remarks and Introduction of Participants
Lance Bennett, University of Washington


I. Designing Communication Environments for Democratic Publics

Implications of the information environment for political participation
Diana Mutz, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and Ohio State University

What kind of information environment is best for citizens of a democratic polity? In other words, if we were to design a political system based on first principles, what kind of information environment should it ideally have: One in which people are continually exposed to a diversity of views that conflict with their own, or one in which they are exposed primarily to information that reinforces their own viewpoints? My recent work suggests that patterns of political communication may force some unfortunate trade-offs in terms of what is deemed desirable in an information environment. For example, people whose political networks involve greater political disagreement are more likely to hold ambivalent political views, and are less likely to participate in politics. Paradoxically, personal networks that include frequent contact with people of dissimilar political views serve the interests of tolerance, but they are likely to discourage political participation and mobilization. Participation and involvement are best encouraged by an environment that offers reinforcement and encouragement, not one that continually plants seeds of doubt. I'd like to discuss the implications of these patterns for some of the assumptions of classic democratic political theory and for present-day theorists attempting to engineer more participatory publics.

The reinvention of Scotland ?
Philip Schlesinger, University of Stirling and University of Oslo

The United Kingdom is undergoing a process of far-reaching (if unpredictable) constitutional change. In 1997, the Labour government in London launched a programme of devolution of powers to Scotland and Wales. Scotland was to have a Parliament with wide-ranging powers, Wales a National Assembly on a lesser scale. Elections to these new legislative bodies took place in 1999. (For a short while Northern Ireland also enjoyed a devolved administration, the Local Assembly, which is presently suspended due to yet another political crisis.) London too is to have devolution from May 2000 and the clamour in other English regions for something similar is growing.

In this paper, I focus on Scotland, the nation whose demands for autonomy within the UK (and in some quarters for independence from the British state) have really driven this process of change. My interest lies in the communicative dimension of the institutionalisation of a new political system since 1997. How does communicative space reconfigure, both in the devolved nation and in the wider UK state? What processes of invention have to occur in the media and ICT age when you resuscitate a parliament after 300 years and replace bureaucratic politics with democracy in an ancient nation? How inventive can civil servants, politicians and media schooled in centuries of Scottish-Britishness be? What was the role of civil society in bringing about change? How far can aspirations for radical democracy go and how do news media fit in? The paper is based on an often ethnographic study of press, broadcasting and politics conducted since 1996 which seeks to draw out the implications of constitutional change for political communication in a British state without a written constitution.

10:45 - 12:30
II. Communication and Decline of the Old Political Order? Changes in Parties, and Elections, and the Bases of Engagement

How to combine media commercialization and party affiliation. Is there a place for citizenship?
Paolo Mancini, University of Perugia

This presentation will discuss the changes which involved political communication following the commercialization process that completely reshaped the Italian mass media system in the ‘80s, and examine the effects of these changes on citizenship. Italian society, and particularly the mass media system have been characterized for many years by a very high level of politicization and party affiliation that will be described in the paper. Political communication was not aimed at winning new votes as at reinforcing already existing opinions and beliefs. The structure of news organization was based on a spoiling system: each medium was linked to one of the competing organizations.

New needs deriving from the commercialization process have not completely replaced the old attitudes, but today the struggle for larger audience combine together politics and entertainment, political views and sensationalism. Both in television and in the print media a very large attention is still devoted to political issues but these issues are often trivialized, dramatized and exposed with a language that is aimed at raising strong emotions.

The secularization process that affected Italy in the last decades mixes together with still existing political and ideological affiliations with the needs that derive from media competition. It can be said that Italian voters are not just viewers of a political spectacle: in different ways they are still active in the political arena. Nevertheless the political spectacle has lost large part of the old "rational" attitude that characterized political struggle in the previous years. Political parties and other political and cultural organizations still exist and they are powerful, but they have to respond to the logic of media spectacle. If this is not new for many countries, in Italy this takes place following particular modalities and features. Television, being the most emotionally involving instrument becomes the dominant medium that the other media are forced to follow both in their contents and in their formats. This means, for example, that television audience grows up while print readership goes down. Here too, rational attitudes give space to emotion.

A return to civic and political engagement prompted by personalized political leadership?
Gianpietro Mazzoleni, University of Genoa

In contrast to a generalized decline of traditional forms of political engagement and citizen trust in political institutions, stands significant evidence of large sectors of the citizenry engaging in civic and political activities and casting their ballots in elections. A cross-national look reveals the peculiar feature of this neo-participation: it seems increasingly prompted by the personal appeal of political leadership. It seems a contradiction to state that people abandon the 'old' forms of political engagement turning to grass roots civic interests and commitment, and at the same time they are politically seduced by strong personal leadership which is undoubtedly spread and reinforced by the media. But look at the popular support for Clinton, at the incredible success of Berlusconi, at the popularity enjoyed by Tony Blair, and, now, at the fortunes of Joerg Haider. The 'personalized leadership' as engine of new political engagement is a puzzling and intriguing variable.

Information, technology, and the organization of political engagement in the US
Bruce Bimber, University of California, Santa Barbara

The proximate effect of the revolution in information technology under way at the beginning of the 21st Century is to create societies that are more information-rich and communication-intensive. Among the questions raised by these developments is how the shift toward information-richness affects various aspects of citizen engagement - its extent, its quality, and its structure. This paper explores the latter problem, evaluating how the structure of collective action and citizen engagement with political affairs responds to changes in the informational context of politics. Using the historical evolution of politics in the US as an illustration, the paper suggests a model in which exogenous changes in information precipitate organizational innovations, which in turn exert a fundamental influence on the structure of engagement. The paper uses this model to suggest political implications of the contemporary information revolution, as information infrastructure substitutes for the traditional resources that modern political organizations use to wield influence.

12:30-1:30 Lunch

III. Rise of a New Political Order? Communicating Civic Culture

Internet and the democratization of civic culture
Peter Dahlgren, Lund University

While the health of the formal political system is of utmost concern for democracy, it is still not the whole story. Democracy is also dependent upon knowledge, competencies, values, practices, traditions and identities that have their foundations in the context of everyday life. We can thus speak in (renewed) terms of a civic culture, or civic cultures (in the plural), both as an empirical and normative referent. Current research suggests that the use of the Internet for explicitly political purposes is still quite limited. Yet in the many other uses to which it is put, more than a few would seem to have significance for the development of civic culture, and hence, for democracy broadly understood. The presentation will take up some areas of Internet activity from this perspective, also suggesting possible approaches for empirical research.

Gen.com: Youth, civic engagement, and the new information environment
Michael X. Delli Carpini, Pew Charitable Trusts

By almost any traditional measure, young adults are increasingly disengaged from politics and public life. New technology such as the Internet offers the possibility of reversing this trend by: (1) providing greater opportunities to reach, inform and mobilize young adults; (2) creating new virtual communities of interests; and (3) establishing new ways to act and interact in the political sphere. But new communications technology also raise concerns such as an increasingly fragmented public, greater ability to manipulate citizens, and the creation of even greater incentives to eschew public life for the private world of consumerism and entertainment. In my paper I will present evidence regarding the disengagement of young adults from traditional forms of civic engagement and explore the reasons for this disengagement. I will then turn to a discussion of how young adults are turning to new forms of engagement and explore the implications of this shift for democratic politics and public life. Finally, I will examine the actual and potential impact of new technology such as the Internet on youth civic engagement.

Internet and civic engagement: Age of the citizen-consumer
Margaret Scammell, London School of Economics

Typically the impact of the internet on citizen engagement is considered in terms of transformation. Mobilisation (or de-mobilisation) provides the theoretical axis around which research is generally conducted. Thus far conclusions are cautionary: patterns of political interest and mobilization are largely unaffected by the new technology. This paper offers a different axis, that of production-consumption, and suggests that this might provide insight into our understanding of political communication and the digital age. Broadly, it agues, in opposition to the commodification of politics thesis, that the Internet will greatly encourage already-apparent trend towards the politicisation of consumption: the rise of the citizen-consumer.

IV. Deliberation and Democratic Publics: Face to Face and Mass Engagement with Political Ideas

Face-to-face deliberation: A luxury or necessity for democracy?
John Gastil, University of Washington

The term "deliberation" has become fashionable in writings on democratic theory, political participation, and citizenship. In the broadest sense, any healthy democracy requires a measure of reasoned discussion, but does democracy require ongoing, face-to-face deliberation? This question is particularly important as political systems grow in population, international bodies grow in power, and electronic communication supplants face-to-face interaction. I address this issue by reviewing research on the nature and impact of face-to-face deliberation, as it is practiced in juries, public forums, and town meetings.

Media framing and effective public deliberation
Adam F. Simon and Michael Xenos, University of Washington

Without a doubt, a central component of a democratic society is the presence of meaningful public deliberation by its members over matters of concern to all. Assessing and explaining the presence or quality of public deliberation in mass media content therefore present themselves as important tasks for researchers with an interest in understanding the functioning of our democratic system. Depending upon the social theoretical framework applied to these tasks, researchers have developed a
number of competing theories and expectations concerning public deliberation. Some contend that due to the fragmented nature of discourse in our current cultural milieu we should not expect to find any particular patterns in discourse, let alone the presence of meaningful public deliberation. Others view public discourse as determined by forces outside the discursive sphere such as material power and the behavior of governmental elites, and expect these forces to preclude the existence of meaningful deliberation. Still others view the discursive process as constrained by these forces but also driven by its own internal logic, which naturally tends toward a communicatively rational deliberative process in which competing interests resolve disputes according to mutually agreed upon standards.

This study employs framing analysis to examine public discourse concerning a national labor strike in an effort to sort out these competing positions in an effort to advance scholarly understanding of public deliberation. We contend that under proper conditions public deliberation emerges and displays a discursive rationality that influences the material world as the material world influences it, and offer observations of discursive patterns in media framing of the 1997 United Parcel Service strike in the United States as an example.

Civic engagement in the era of tabloid news
Regina G. Lawrence, Portland State University, and W. Lance Bennett, University of Washington

What does civic engagement mean in the "new media" era? The advent of the Internet and greater cable television bandwidth now allows news consumers to witness events such as oil spills, mass murders or natural disasters in real time. Simultaneously, as new media have exploded, the norms of mainstream journalism have shifted. Tabloid media increasingly influence the agenda and the content of the mainstream media, and officials have lost some of the control over the news that they used to enjoy. We live today in the era of big stories, in which the media’s long-standing interest in "serializing" dramatic news events has blossomed into a virtual media saga industry. What are the prospects for civic engagement in this media environment?

Employing evidence from American news coverage and opinion data arising out of the Lewinsky/ impeachment scandal, we suggest that the new media environment requires a re-thinking of what "civic engagement" entails. Under certain conditions, something approaching public deliberation can occur even within a highly sensationalized mass-mediated public sphere. These conditions include: the issues at stake in dramatic conflicts in the news narrative, the volume of media coverage and opinion polling, and the length of time during which a story dominates the news. These aspects of mediated civic engagement are by no means limited to the United States. They may accompany media tabloidization, and the changing nature of political and civic identity in many societies.

Saturday, May 20 Parrington Hall, Forum

9:15- 11:00
IV. Communication, Political Organization, and Citizen Empowerment: Strategic Communication, Movement Politics and the Public Sphere

Strategic communication and notions of citizenship in the American women's movement, 1960-1980
Susan Herbst, Northwestern University

This project explores conceptions of citizenship within the Women's movement, drawing upon archival evidence. Through the analysis of movement newsletters, magazines, posters, and private communications among leaders, I hope to map out how activists mobilized their constituencies and tried to move public opinion. I've just begun the empirical work on this study, so hope to propose some preliminary hypotheses about evolution of the movement and strategic communication, using the interesting yet incomplete data I have collected so far. It is my belief that the late twentieth century women's movement can give us insights into the larger problematics of social movements and ideas of citizenship in the United States.

NGOs in the German local public: Democratizing governance or reshaping corporatism?
Sabine Lang, Free University Berlin

The NGOization of local politics in Germany refers to a development in which a new set of professionalized advocacy actors has entered the local public sphere. Research shows that these ‘movement-turned-organizations’ with their emphasis on professional communication and planned action, transnational networking and local agenda-building have become increasingly strong and accepted parts of local governance schemes. Traditional neo-corporatist communication patterns are altered as NGOs gain acceptance as strong informational sources, professional project planners as well as, in some cases, sources of financial power in the local community.

The presentation will address a number of questions regarding the potential of NGOization to enhance participatory democracy. Do German local governments merely react to claims by NGOs, or in what way do they strategically help to produce those claims? Do these new communication and decision making processes encourage citizen involvement on a larger scale or do they merely reshape local governance by selectively incorporating specific NGOs, thus re-districting the terms and boundaries of political marginalization?

Where can citizens talk politics when politics is everywhere and the public sphere is nowhere? The State, the family, and new forms of civic organization and engagement
Nina Eliasoph, University of Wisconsin

How do Americans talk politics in everyday life? In previous research, I asked how civic groups in the US created contexts for political conversation, and why political conversation was considered so "out of place" almost every place. I found that Americans in voluntary associations sounded more public-spirited outside of meetings and other public contexts than they sounded when speaking to each other behind the scenes; the appearance of public apathy actually took hard work to produce. Part of the reason voluntary associations avoided political conversation was that they assumed it would be discouraging, and would prevent volunteers from feeling that they could indeed make a difference (as long as they professed not to care about the problems they felt they could not fix). I am currently smack in the bewildering middle of a project about civic life, political conversation, and children, that asks how adults and children talk about political issues in everyday settings, and how "public-spirited bureaucrats" from state, non-profit, and for-profit agencies can help or hinder such discussion. For example, child-focussed bureaucrats can draw adults into civic life through children, and frame political issues out of the seemingly private realm of child-raising. The presentation will explore how these strangely private/domestic and strangely bureaucratic civic groups challenge current theories of civil society, and how these groups organize around new media.

11:00 - 12:30
V. Does the News Still Matter? Changing Media Systems and Roles for Mass Information

Elite and racial cues, news media, and political cognition: Implications for racial and ethnic relations
David Domke, Univesity of Washington

In contemporary democratic societies, one approach that some citizens appear to be utilizing to solve the information overload is to pay close attention to "cues" by political elites -- that is, what societal leaders say and do, and the manner in which news media report these words and actions. Whether this process occurs, and if so what the social and political implications are, seems particularly important to examine in the domain of race relations. Citizens have repealed affirmative action statutes in several American states, and the trend is spreading to other states. Similarly, in recent years ethnic differences have returned to the forefront of several European and Asian nations. With this in mind, this research has begun to explore how citizens process, interpret, and evaluate mass-mediated messages by political elites about race and politics. Preliminary evidence from an experiment being conducted in March will be presented and discussed, with a particular focus on how the status (elite or not) and race of "political messengers" interact to influence citizens' perceptions of affirmative action and optimism about race relations.

Strategic public relations, sweatshops and the Net: The making of a global movement
Bette Jean Bullert, Seattle University

The global economy and technological advances in communication have created unique conditions for political organizing by lowering the importance of national boundaries, reducing time constraints and some communication costs, and shrinking power differentials between information producers and consumers (while enabling economic producers and consumers to engage in important new forms of political struggle). This paper examines the role of public relations professionals in framing the political agenda in the anti-Nike sweatshop awareness campaign.

The homologous evolution of political communication and civic engagement: Good news, bad news, and no news
David Swanson, University of Illinois

High levels of public cynicism about politics, skepticism about the effectiveness of political institutions, and steadfast support for democracy are evident generally in the advanced democracies. In the U.S. these phenomena taken together have given rise to interest in civic engagement, conceived as a devolution of citizen involvement and activity from traditional political institutions to extra-institutional activities, associations, ad hoc initiatives, and groups of all kinds, often with a focus more local than national, and typically with a narrowly defined portfolio of interests and objectives. Embedded within some of the discourse of civic engagement is a vision of a new, restorative, more deliberative, more participative, even plebiscitary politics. The ongoing communications revolution might be seen as mirroring in some ways the devolution of political information from traditional national institutions to a more variegated array of providers that includes more specialized sources, more expansive conceptions of what counts as sources and types of political information, and more interactive, receiver-tailored media. The good news about the parallel evolution of communications and citizen involvement is that material its audiences consider to be political information is more easily available, in more forms, from more providers, focused on more topics of personal interest than ever before, and that new media allow citizens the opportunity to share concerns and form common cause across wide geographic boundaries at low cost. The bad news is that in the new communications environment traditional standards and functions of journalistic mediation play a diminished role, opening the terrain wider than before for direct manipulation, deception, and misinformation, and creating a context that encourages individuals to narrow the scope of their information to fewer topics than were stressed in traditional news. The worst news is that the future of serious political news is in doubt, as it risks being relegated to a specialized offering for a small taste culture, in an environment filled with many alternative conceptions and sources of "news." Thus, the emerging political news "system" overall is becoming less dependable as a source of trustworthy, responsible information and analysis to support political involvement at the moment when, according to some evidence, citizens' interest in civic involvement is growing.

12:45 - 2:00 Roundtable Conference Synthesis