Professor of Political Communication

oxford-logoI’m happy and proud to share that I’ve been named Professor of Political Communication at the University of Oxford.

Titles are strange things. Entirely immaterial (“That and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee”) and at the same time deeply meaningful. Academic work is about being part of a community of inquiry, and titles are one of the ways in which our communities recognize valuable work.

That recognition means a lot to me. I am primarily driven by my own curiosity (and occasional contrarian impulses) and my individual professional and personal priorities, all of which are so well aligned with the mission of the work we do together at the Reuters Institute. But it makes me happy to see the work I have done on that basis recognized as valuable by others.

My core interest is in the important and imperfect social and political institutions that enable democracy and make it possible for people to be citizens.

I am interested in these institutions (with warts and all)—how they arise, what their preconditions are, what their implications are, and in how they change and sometimes disintegrate. Substantially, this has led me to study political campaigns, social movements, technology companies, and especially news media in a range of ways, drawing on theories and methods from political science, sociology, and media/communications research. (My appointment is in a department of politics, but I consider myself an interdisciplinary social scientist with a particular interest in news media and communication.) Because I want in real-world variation over time and across different contexts, I have pursued a fair amount of international, comparative work on the role of digital technology as part of processes of institutional and organizational change, especially in journalism and news media–often pushing back against the tendency in some quarters and some times to assume their implications are the same everywhere.

In line with my commitment to problem-oriented social science and my ambition to make the research I am involved in speak to some of the important issues of our time, I have prioritized engagement with relevant stakeholders in political life, the public sector, and private enterprise by publishing through both academic and non-academic channels, by engaging with journalists, and by speaking frequently at both academic and professional conferences and events all over the world.

I like to say that it is important for me that I can explain the value of what I do to my mom (a more demanding version of the proverbial man on the street), the people I study (ordinary people, journalists, technologists, political professionals), and to my academic colleagues (across the social science and beyond)—and the title of professor is one of the most tangible expressions of recognition that the latter community offers, and one I particularly appreciate because I know my interest in news media, my preference for interdisciplinary work, and my commitment to problem-oriented research and public engagement set me apart from many other social scientists who have different priorities—that these colleagues see the value of what I do is very encouraging.

To receive this recognition from the University of Oxford, with its 900+ year history of excellence and truly global reach—and as its first professor of political communication—is an extraordinary privilege and an honor I will try to live up to. I know I have gotten to where I am from a privileged starting point—I am a white man from a peaceful and prosperous country—but I also feel like I have travelled a long way, from the small town in the countryside I grew up in, as the first of my family to go to college, and as a migrant working in a second language for most of my adult life.

I try to show my gratitude to all the many people who mean so much for me and who help and support me in so many ways on a regular basis, but I would like to highlight a few here. (No names, you know who you are.) My wife and my family for their unflagging support despite the strange and often unintelligible nature of much of what I do. The community of faculty and fellow graduates of Columbia University from whom I have learned so much and who remain such an inspiration. A group of contemporaries from across the academic fields I traverse who are such models of academic professionalism and personal integrity and who continue to be both close friends and a source of intellectual stimulation (including the occasional vigorous disagreement). The many impassioned professionals from across journalism, the media world, the technology industry, and politics and policymaking who find time to talk to me about their work even as they are busy trying to do often very difficult things in an uncertain and rapidly changing environment. My Oxford colleagues and friends, from across the Department of Politics and International Relations, the School of Government, the Oxford Internet Institute, and Green Templeton College. And, especially, everyone at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism itself—the staff, researchers, journalists, and others who gather here make it a truly special place and one I am proud to be part of.

(Note: I will continue to work full-time as Director of Research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.)

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