Why is political communication research absent from current public+policy debates and what can be done about this absence?

I’ve written a short essay “No One Cares What We Know: Three Responses to the Irrelevance of Political Communication Research” for The Forum in Political Communication.

In it, I examine why academics working in the field of political communication research have been largely absent from recent important and high-profile public and policy debates around political-communication related issues like fake news, propaganda, and surprise election results (Trump, Brexit, Corbyn/May). I offer different ways of responding to our current irrelevance, academic purism (redoubling efforts to produce more precise and reliable work answering questions that arise from our past work), scholarly conservatism (reproducing the current mode of work), or intellectual pragmatism (reform oriented towards more context-driven, problem-focused, and interdisciplinary forms of knowledge production premised in part on engagement with the big, public issues of our time, a style like that pursued by some of the founders of our field, such as Paul Lazarsfeld). I personally favor the third, but I am interested in a debate about how we move forward as a field and as a community.

As part of the article, I also briefly sketch out different ideal typical “styles” of engagement for scholars interested in increasing the impact of their work — engagement here is not about sounding off about one’s opinions or chasing media attention for media attentions’ sake, but about thinking about what combination of strategy (inside or outside) and stance (partisan versus impartial) is worthwhile. The figure below capture the ideal types.

engagement

The full article is available here and the abstract below. A pre-publication version is here.

Abstract: Public discussions around the role of different forms of political communication in influencing various political outcomes in for example the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election and UK EU Referendum suggest that political communications research is largely marginal to these public discussions. We might think we have epistemic authority over our object of analysis, but no one cares what we know. The result is that substantially important public (and policy) discussions of issues at the core of our field are dumber than they could have been, in part due to our absence, an absence that is in turn in part due to the ways in which we as a field do our work. In this essay, I identify some of the external and internal factors that help account for this and suggest that we as a community debate whether we want to do something about our irrelevance and the internal norms and institutions that contribute to it. I offer three possible responses, labelled academic purism, scholarly conservatism, and intellectual pragmatism, and different styles of engagement, and ask whether we should aim to be a more active part of the “rough process” of public discussion, or simply leave it to others and accept that no one cares what we know.

Thanks to Michael Wagner for the invitation to write it, to Danna Young for our discussions, and to Matt Powers and Lucas Graves for their comments on an earlier draft.

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