Friday, May 19 Faculty Club, South dining room
9:15 Opening Remarks and Introduction of Participants
I. Designing Communication Environments for Democratic Publics
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 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
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.
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.
technology, and the organization of political engagement in the US
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.
III. Rise of a New Political Order? Communicating Civic Culture
and the democratization of civic culture
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.
Youth, civic engagement, and the new information environment
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.
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.
deliberation: A luxury or necessity for democracy?
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.
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
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.
engagement in the era of tabloid news
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 medias 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
communication and notions of citizenship in the American women's movement,
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?
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?
can citizens talk politics when politics is everywhere and the public
sphere is nowhere? The State, the family, and new forms of civic organization
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
racial cues, news media, and political cognition: Implications for racial
and ethnic relations
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.
public relations, sweatshops and the Net: The making of a global movement
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.
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