PCR 28: Letter from the Editor

Letter from the Editor


Curd Knüpfer, Freie Universität Berlin


The Political Communication Divisions of APSA and ICA are some of the largest and most influential of their respective associations. Their joint efforts and the high-impact journal Political Communication are the institutional backbone and center of what we might conceive as the academic field of “Political Communication.” This field is a prestigious one and much of its appeal lies in its cross-border cooperation. The international conferences are well-attended, and leadership teams often need to navigate various time zones when setting up their Zoom meetings. And yet, one can’t help but notice a particular pattern when it comes to which institutions and actors are truly represented here…


The American Political Science Association mainly draws members from the United States, rather than spanning the two American continents. Meanwhile, the International Communication Association is dominated by members from the so-called WEIRD states – and institutions affluent enough to pay for or at least subsidize membership fees, travel, and accommodation. Beyond membership and individual actors, there’s also the epistemic dimension to consider. As Cherian George or Patrícia Rossini reminded those present at ICA’s 2022 Political Communication Round Table discussion, much of what we refer to when speaking about “political communication” theory, was developed within Western contexts.


Despite ongoing efforts to internationalize, in personnel as well as in regard to epistemic content, the current center of the field of Political Communication tilts heavily towards Western institutions. And as this issue of the Political Communication Report aims to make clear: this diminishes the potential of what a more de-centralized field could look like. To make this case, we asked various members of our community to provide their perspectives on what it would mean to “de-Westernize PolComm”:







In editing this issue, I immediately faced a very practical challenge: This relaunched publication format is still new to many in the field, and engaging colleagues requires personal connections. In soliciting contributions, I am essentially asking colleagues to commit precious time and energy to a novel (more or less) publication format. This underlines the importance of building a community and being able to tap into larger epistemic networks. De-westernization is a process, and as such, it requires work by actual people. I am so very grateful, both personally and as part of the political communication community, that these scholars took the time to provide us with their perspectives and insights.


In light of what I have learned from their essays, I would like to briefly reflect on my own positionality: my name is Curd Knüpfer, I am German, and work at a Central European university. My only work experience in a setting outside of Europe was in the US. I am, in many ways, not the right person to edit a publication issue focused on “De-westernizing” anything. In fact, de-westernizing PolComm will also entail that there need to be relatively fewer “Curd Knüpfers” hanging out at APSA or ICA receptions, shaking hands with one another, or writing editorials like this one. However, a shift in demographics does also demand efforts from institutions and individual actors, who are already part of the field. To this end, my own main takeaways are these:


  1. Reach out more actively to PolComm scholars from or working on or in non-Western political communication contexts, to build networks outside of those I regularly come into contact with.

  2. Apply whatever leverage I have to encourage institutions in Political Communication to support travel grants, mentorship programs, visa assistance, and diversify the topics and contexts given attention.


So if you are reading this issue thinking, ‘why wasn’t I, or so and so included?’ – please reach out to me and let me know! Connect me to other scholars to learn more about how we can introduce them to and position them better in the field of Political Communication. This collaboration will help me achieve the goals set out here and ensure I’m held accountable for them.


Beyond the essays on the issue’s main theme, be sure to also check out the “Awardee Interviews” section, as well as ICA’s PolComm Division Chair Frank Esser’s report on the state of ICA’s Political Communication Division.


What’s next? Two issues (Spring & Fall) are currently planned for 2024, the first of which will look at emerging challenges in researching elections and campaigns. The second will take stock of the role of normative positionalities in political communication research and theorizing. Ideally, both of these issues will also draw on insights that the current one provides.


Happy reading – and please consider distributing these texts via social media and other channels!


Curd Knüpfer, Fall 2023




Waisbord: De-westernizing Political Communication

De-westernizing Political Communication: Why? How?


Silvio Waisbord, George Washington University 

http://dx.doi.org/10.17169/refubium-41232, PDF

De-westernizing communication studies

This forum is a timely opportunity to take stock of current efforts to de-westernize the field of political communication. These efforts are part of a broader interest in communication studies in the West to interrogate its epistemological foundations, recognize particularities and limitations of findings and arguments, and become aware of the conditions of production in the context of global academia. These issues have gained relevance amid the intensification of global connections among university programs, professional associations, conferences, journals, and scholars in past decades.

Various concepts have been used to refer to this process. De-westernization refers to examining critically the position of Western knowledge within the inequalities of global academia and broadening perspectives by integrating non-Western scholarship. De-centering calls into question sharp divisions between core and peripheral scholarship and underscores the need for taking global and cosmopolitan positions. Decolonization refers to the critique of historical systems of colonialism in academic institutions and global flows of ideas (Magallanes-Blanco 2022). It criticizes the global domination of Western scholarship through the imposition of institutions and paradigms, as well as its universalistic and racialized premises. It warns about the perils of intellectual colonization as pioneer anti-colonial thinkers did in the past. It foregrounds epistemological counter-movements from the Global South (Gómez-Cruz, Ricaurte, & Siles 2023).

Here I prefer to use “de-westernizing” given that my primary interest is this process in the Global North. Decolonizing and decentering are appropriate concepts depending on the objectives and sites of intervention. Semantic differences should not overshadow commonalities; these concepts are animated by similar concerns and aspirations to foster critical reflexivity and inclusivity in global academia.

Current interest in de-westernizing communication studies is welcome for two reasons.

First, academic work should constantly probe its epistemological assumptions, as well as the scope and the validity of studies and arguments. On this issue, it is important to note significant differences between the Global North and the Global South. De-westernization is hardly new in the Global South given the towering presence of Western scholarship. Western ideas have been obligatory points of reference for scholars as well as for anyone doing intellectual and creative work – fiction, poetry, theater, films. The situation is quite different in the West, where scholars are rarely exposed or pushed to engage with research produced in the Global South. Although this can be attributed to several reasons, asymmetrical flows of scholarly work and the lack of strong incentives to engage with non-western scholarship surely play a part.

The situation is different elsewhere. In Latin America, for example, communication studies has historically been positioned at the intersection of foreign and local scientific and intellectual currents. Scholars have long been exposed to scholarship originated in the United States and several European countries. Much attention has been devoted to discussing the applicability of Western theories to the study of local and regional developments (Fuentes-Navaro 2016). Scholars have long sought to (re)interpret and challenge Western epistemologies and to produce indigenous and hybrid approaches.

Second, de-westernizing is necessary given the dominant position of Western scholarship and institutions in global academia – universities, doctoral programs, journals, research funding, and professional associations. Globally, Western institutions and scholars occupy a privileged position. This is reflected in the volume of productivity, citation patterns, international university rankings, funding opportunities, and awards/recognition. Also, Western institutions (including professional associations, conferences, publishers, and journals) have been central to the consolidation of global academia (not only in communication studies). The basic institutional infrastructure of global scholarship has its primary residence in the West. Therefore, de-westernization demands revamping institutions originally created to serve and support US and European scholars in ways that ensure they accommodate and elevate scholarship about the Global South, too.

In summary, de-westernizing demands a double shift: adopting more inclusive, cosmopolitan perspectives, and rebooting the Western-based infrastructure of communication studies.

Why de-westernize political communication? 

Engaging with these issues in the field of political communication is overdue. For the past decades, the field has consolidated in North America and Western Europe. It straddles a vital zone of intersection between communication studies and political science, with influence from other fields, including cognitive psychology and computational social science. It has a clear ontological core and wide-ranging theories and models; solid numbers of scholars and university programs; specialized, well-ranked journals; and popular divisions of national, regional, and global professional associations.

The field remains essentially grounded in Western scholarship, notwithstanding growing awareness about this issue (as this forum reflects). It has a strong Western focus in terms of subjects of study in countries with distinctive and exceptional political and communication and media histories, structures, and dynamics. It rests on intellectual foundations built on findings, arguments, and theories from a relatively small number of Western countries. It is anchored on epistemological assumptions and theoretical frameworks grounded in intellectual and scientific traditions of Western academia.

These patterns are not surprising. Knowledge is inseparable from socio-historical contexts, experiences, and traditions. What we study, what research questions we ask; what theoretical and epistemological traditions we tap into; and how our work is assessed in terms of significance and excellence are closely connected to political, communication and social places. The local and the national are both appealing and constraining.

Thus, although we want to be part of a global academic community, local and national events and patterns continue to shape research, funders’ priorities, publications, and so on. The current prominence of topics such as digital disinformation, right-wing populism, polarization, and migration in political communication scholarship primarily reflects important contemporary developments in Western democracies. However, topics that matter to scholars in Western countries do not have similar relevance elsewhere, and topics that are significant elsewhere have limited or no presence in the West. Whose research agenda dominates scholarship is not a small matter.

For example, contemporary political communication in Latin America has a different focus that reflects developments in the region. It remains interested in understanding communication structures and dynamics in authoritarian regimes, as well as in democracies with significant challenges: problems of representation and instability, social and political violence, protracted conflict, armed parastate actors, abysmal levels of poverty and exclusion, and entrenched histories of systemic racism. It pays considerable attention to mediated activism in both legacy media and online spaces. It continues to study distinctive features of media systems in the region, including clientelism, corporatization, newsroom precarity, the instrumentalization of state-owned media, as well as community media and advocacy journalism.

Unsurprisingly, these questions have limited presence in current political communication scholarship in the West. This is not part of a deliberate plan to ignore what happens in the rest of the world. It is the outcome of the inevitable, intertwined relationship between academic knowledge and place – what happens in communities and countries where scholars and institutions are based, and limited interest in what happens elsewhere.

Epistemological traditions influence scholarship, too. In the West, political communication has a strong positivist tradition, particular disciplinary approaches (i.e., political psychology), and theoretical frameworks. Specific lines of inquiry (i.e., psychological effects of message design) and methodologies (i.e., experimental methods), too, have a strong gravitational pull. These traditions do not have the same presence elsewhere. In Latin America, qualitative methodologies as well as critical, institutional, and structural analysis anchored in social theory and the humanities, continue to have a significant presence (Waisbord 2013). Yet, it is not ensured that these analytical currents have similar chances of getting published. One can speculate that research about and/or from the global south that fits popular interests and epistemologies in the West has better chances of receiving attention and being published.

For Western political communication to deepen its commitment to global scholarship, it needs to reimagine its global position, visibility, and resources. It should broaden its ontological and epistemological focus. Such a shift may encounter disinterest or resistance, but it is the right path forward. Everyone benefits. Openness and support for global scholarship broaden research agendas and perspectives, complicate arguments, and strengthen theoretical concepts and propositions.

How to de-westernize?

Global inclusiveness does not happen naturally or overnight. It demands sustained commitment; it is a deliberate choice by scholars and institutions. Also, de-westernization should not be conceived as a silo – what some scholars and institutions do, or just another area of specialization. Instead, it is a collective endeavor that demands strategic and continuous actions driven by curiosity and intentionality.

In lieu of a plan of action, I propose ideas that build off previous suggestions (Waisbord 2022).

First, it is necessary to recognize obstacles to global diversity and inclusivity. Successful actions need to be guided by a clear diagnosis of the roadblocks. Otherwise, it is not clear what needs to be done and for what purpose. What stands in the way? Is it a lack of curiosity about studies outside the West? Are there concerns about “making room” and recognizing work that falls outside the conventional boundaries in terms of topics, methodological approaches, and analytical frameworks? Are structural inequalities in global academia primarily responsible for persistent problems? Are there lessons from other fields in communication studies, such as journalism studies (Mellado, Georgiou & Nah 2020) and media activism (Pal, Cruz, and Munish 2023), that have become more globally diverse and inclusive?

Second, making effective changes demands identifying points of entry. What needs to be done to address what obstacle? Training, mentoring, supporting language skills, offering funding, and/or fostering participation in professional associations and networks? Raise awareness and change perceptions?

Third, it is necessary to discuss and prioritize actions. Here is an incomplete to-do list: Form global research partnerships, incorporate Southern scholars into Western-focused projects, set up research and conference travel grants, advocate for North-South collaborations with funders and universities, build theories grounded on research insights from around the world, and globalize editorial boards and conference panels.

Although much work remains to be done, it is worth noting that many actions have already been implemented. This includes the diversification of editorial boards and developing institutional ties with academics and universities in the Global South. These actions may not rapidly overturn structural inequities in global academia, but they are steps in the right direction. Also, they have symbolic significance for they convey interest in fostering inclusivity and broadening perspectives.

Changes in micro attitudes and behaviors could help, too. Find out what colleagues working on issues in the Global South are studying. Read research outside our standard thematic, epistemological and geographical lanes. Reviewers should refrain from asking authors who write about issues in the Global South to indicate the country of study in the title (when they do not expect Western scholars to do so). They should also ask about the theoretical and empirical relevance of studies, regardless of whether they are conducted in the Global North or the Global South. Let’s not confine non-Western scholarship to catch-all categories, such as specialized journal issues or conference panels, unless there are analytical merits to do so. Be curious and show curiosity.

Understanding why and how global diversity enriches a field of study is essential. De-westernizing political communication demands continuous dedication, collaboration, and actions on multiple fronts. 



Fuentes-Navarro, R. (2016). Institutionalization and internationalization of the field of communication studies in Mexico and Latin America. In P. Simonson and D. Park, Eds The international history of communication study, 325-45.

Gómez-Cruz, E., Ricaurte, P., & Siles, I. (2023). Descolonizando los métodos para estudiar la cultura digital: una propuesta desde Latinoamérica. Cuadernos info, (54), 160-181.

Magallanes-Blanco, C. (2022). Media and Communication Studies. What is there to Decolonize?. Communication Theory, 32(2), 267-272.

Mellado, C., Georgiou, M., & Nah, S. (2020). Advancing journalism and communication research: New concepts, theories, and pathways. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 97(2), 333-341.

Pal, M., Cruz, J., & Munshi, D. (Eds.). (2023). Organizing at the Margins: Theorizing Organizations of Struggle in the Global South. Springer Nature.

Waisbord, S. (2013). Cambios y continuidades: la agenda de investigación de la comunicación política en América Latina, Austral Comunicación, 2(1).

Waisbord, S. (2022). What is next for de-westernizing communication studies? Journal of Multicultural Discourses, 17(1), 26-33.



Silvio Waisbord is a Professor at the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, United States. He is the author and editor of eighteen books and articles on journalism, politics, media, and communication for social change. His latest books are The Empire of Utopia: Myths and Realities of North American Society (in Spanish, Peninsula / Planeta 2020) and The Routledge Companion to Media, Disinformation and Populism (co-edited with Howard Tumber). He served as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Communication and International Journal of Press/Politics. He is President-Elect of the International Communication Associations. He holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, San Diego and a licenciatura in sociology from the University of Buenos Aires.



Mitchelstein: Imagined Academic Communities

Imagined Academic Communities:
Three Observations about the De-westernization of Political Communication


Eugenia Mitchelstein, Universidad de San Andrés

http://dx.doi.org/10.17169/refubium-41234, PDF

This is not the first, and will surely not be the last, publication linked to a prestigious journal that proposes to de-westernize a field of communication studies, in this case, Political Communication. In the past fifteen years, scholars from all over the world have made excellent points about the need to de-westernize (Gunaratne, 2010) de-center (Waisbord and Mellado, 2014), or contextualize (Rojas and Valenzuela, 2019) social science, communication studies, and/or public opinion research. In previous work, co-authored with Pablo Boczkowski, we have examined the problems of lack of representativeness, lack of reflexivity, lack of decentering, and lack of cosmopolitanism in digital journalism research (Mitchelstein and Boczkowski, 2021). We have also proposed that the double standard regarding contextualization examined by Rojas and Valenzuela is not only a scholarly problem but also a political issue (Boczkowski and Mitchelstein, 2019). Cherian George, in a thought-provoking address to a roundtable at the International Communication Association in 2022, has, instead, argued for a provincialization of political communication, suggesting a candid acknowledgment “that the field is what it is, and that what it is is Western Political Communication” (2022).

How have these initiatives fared? A cursory glance at Volume 40 of the journal Political Communication indicates that more than five-sixths of the research articles published are based on data collected in the United States, Canada, or Western Europe. Exceptions include a study of distrust in news in Ukraine, another one about news credibility in Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine, an analysis of anti-populist journalism in Argentina, and an examination of ethnic campaign appeals in Indonesia. Not surprisingly, almost nine out of ten authors represented in this volume are also based at universities in the United States, Canada, or Western Europe. The exceptions are affiliated with institutions in Argentina, Cyprus, Poland, Russia, and Singapore.

This skew, while admittedly from a limited sample, shows a blatant overrepresentation of “WEIRD”  societies: western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic, or what often is called the “Global North”. Moreover, the few authors that are not based in these countries are from upper-middle income economies, and researchers from Africa, South Asia, or Central America are absent, which indicates that there are profound inequalities even within what is usually called the “Global South”. If a field of study is, to borrow Benedict Anderson’s felicitous conceptualization, an imagined academic community, Political Communication appears to be a “deep, horizontal comradeship” (1983, p. 7) only for some of its members. This is not only a political problem, but also an epistemic one. Focusing on issues like distrust, news avoidance, or misinformation primarily in a select group of countries with certain characteristics limits our understanding of these phenomena and may lead to misguided solutions for political communication challenges.

To attempt to focus ongoing and future efforts towards de-westernizing, decentering, and re-contextualizing political communication, I devote the remainder of this essay to three observations about the reasons and potential solutions for the overrepresentation of the Global North in the field. These observations aim not to be exhaustive or universally applicable but rather to contribute towards building a more representative academic community, and consequently, a better understanding of the phenomena under study.

1) Money Matters

There are many reasons for this underrepresentation: as Waisbord and Mellado (2014) have analyzed, scholarships from different regions vary in terms of subject of study, body of evidence, theoretical perspectives, and academic cultures. However, there is one dimension that appears to be consistently overlooked when examining differences across academia: the staggering differences in the availability of material, and, relatedly, symbolic and social resources for scholars working outside the Global North. For example, although scholarly organizations such as ICA have established tiers for membership and conference registration fees, the cost of visas, travel, and lodging at a conference remains prohibitively high for researchers not affiliated with major research universities in Western Europe or North America, and directly impossible to cover for graduate students from Global South countries. It could be argued that virtual conferences or online attendance may serve to bridge those inequalities. While these options are undoubtedly valuable, they are not as productive in establishing collegial bonds and launching joint projects.

This is not to deny that academia in the Global North also harbors deep inequalities—for instance, between adjunct instructors and tenure track professors, or across different universities—however, it is symptomatic that these inequalities also are also mostly ignored. The field of communication in general, and political communication in particular, tend to avoid discussion of social class, poverty, and material conditions of living. Unsurprisingly, this pattern is repeated when discussing inequalities within the academic community. Of course, it is not up to academic communities to solve long-standing problems in the distribution of resources. However, there are some steps that could be taken. Every year scholarly associations distribute competitive grants to attend their annual conferences. Almost invariably, these grants are awarded to graduate students at top programs at Tier 1 research universities in the Global North. Although some funds are dedicated to scholars from non-Western countries, even with this practice in place, entry barriers remain too high for many researchers, who in some cases even refrain from applying.

2) The Global North Is Not the Norm

These structural inequalities are, in turn, reproduced in scholarly work. Rojas and Valenzuela offer insightful observations on the predicament faced by scholars engaged in public opinion research beyond the confines of the United States and Europe, for whom “it is customary to have to explain whether our findings are ‘real,’ that is, generalizable relationships that advance theory, or some kind of contextual artifact” (2019, p. 652). These authors go on to propose that all research, not only that produced outside the Global North, should be contextualized. While I enthusiastically agree with this proposal, it is disheartening to see that, four years on, this is far from being a reality. Reading through abstracts of research papers published in the 2023 volume of Political Communication offers one sure sign of how contextualization is mandatory for the Global South but optional for the Global North. Many of them fail to mention where the data collection was conducted, exemplified by a striking case where a content analysis of “Fox News” is described with an implicit assumption that the audience is universally acquainted with the United States’ cable news channel.

Incomplete abstracts are not, by far, the most important problem of taking the Global North as the norm. In fact, they are a consequence of this bias. Scholarship from the Global North tends to assume that whatever communication process or public opinion movement is taking place in that region is a novel phenomenon that should be studied within the existing theoretical frameworks. With notable exceptions, scant effort is dedicated to seeking comparative insights from scholarship originating in diverse regions. Relatedly, the field is often reluctant to entertain a historical sensibility that indicates that those “new” phenomena might not be necessarily new across the board.

As an illustration, research about misinformation bloomed after the Brexit and Trump elections in United Kingdom and the United States, respectively. Scholars from these countries mostly approached misinformation as a novel phenomenon, boosted by technological factors, such as the diffusion of social media platforms, and connected to the intervention from foreign countries, which would produce dire consequences for the political system as a whole and had to be curved. Seven years on, as Weeks and Gil De Zúñiga argue, “the field has not yet consistently, systematically, and empirically outlined the conditions under which this information has major social effects” (2021, p. 282). While research on misinformation is indeed valuable, 2016 was not the first time that politicians, media conglomerates and foreign governments distributed false information to the public. During the 1970s and 1980s, dictatorships in Latin America, often with support from the United States government, regularly published false content. Ariel Dorfman (1978) has documented how the Chilean press deliberately misrepresented Salvador Allende’s government. Treating misinformation as an entirely novel occurrence overlooks crucial historical contexts, resulting in an incomplete understanding of its genesis, causes, and repercussions.

3) What Is to Be Done?

Solutions to the problem of Global North hegemony in political communication can be broadly classified into two kinds. The more prevalent and less contentious approach seeks to integrate non-Western scholarship into predominantly Global North academic environments, ostensibly mitigating potential charges of exclusivity. Scholars from the Global South contributing to this research often compose their work in English, having undergone postgraduate education, either partially or entirely, in the United States or Europe. Their scholarship typically aligns with the theoretical and methodological frameworks employed by their counterparts in the Global North. It is hard for me to criticize this approach, as it tends to be the one that I have taken. However, it is limited by design: few Global South scholars will be able to adopt it.

The second, more controversial one, is Cherian George’s call to provincialize the field of Political Communication. While I am profoundly sympathetic to simply changing the name at the door of Political Communication to Western Political Communication and going on about our work, I doubt that this secession would solve most of the problems in the field, or, indeed, the issues I have raised here. The newly minted Western Political Communication sub-field would still miss the possibility to understand variability across diverse cases, resulting in substandard scholarship. In other words, as Mora Matassi and Pablo Boczkowski argue in their comparative analysis of social media platforms “to know is to compare (…) whatever it is that we are able to know, we do so as a result of contrasting two or more entities (…) we mean that whatever it is that we are able to know, we do so as a result of contrasting two or more entities (…) to properly contextualize and thus avoid the naturalization of specific cases” (2023, pp. 5-6).

I would like to propose that the most productive way forward would be for the entire academic community to work together towards more diverse, more representative, scholarship. I regularly meet scholars from all over the world who are willing to talk and write in English—and abandon their native Portuguese, Hebrew or Japanese—to work in collaborative projects. That willingness to translate might be imitated by native speakers of English. It could also be used to include research not originally written in English in prestigious journals, by devoting resources to translation. Rather than calling for de-westernization, making the effort to translate, in the broadest sense possible—by mentoring a young scholar from the Global South, or being willing to form diverse teams for research projects—would be more fulfilling, both for scholars and for the field.

A final note: I have written this essay in English in the hopes that it will reach the broadest possible audience. Any mistakes or unconventional expressions can be attributed to my lack of mastery of the language. To paraphrase a character from a United States sitcom, it is not that I am smarter in Spanish,[1] but I surely find it easier to make an argument in my native language. Decentering Political Communication need not be an easy project, but I am certain it is a worthwhile one.




 Anderson, B. (1983). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Verso.

Boczkowski, P. J., & Mitchelstein, E. (2019). The politics of contextualization in the contextualization of political communication research. Political Communication, 36(4), 676-679.

Dorfman, A. (1978). Niveles de la dominación cultural en América Latina: algunos problemas, criterios y perspectivas, Ideologies and Literatures, 6 (54-89).

George, C. (2022). If Political Communication is Western in all but name, why not just rename it? The case for provincialising the field. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4127203 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4127203

Gunaratne, S. A. (2010). De-Westernizing communication/social science research: Opportunities and limitations. Media, culture & society, 32(3), 473-500.

Matassi, M., & Boczkowski, P. J. (2023). To Know is to Compare: Studying Social Media Across Nations, Media, and Platforms. MIT Press.

Mitchelstein, E., & Boczkowski, P. J. (2021). What a special issue on Latin America teaches us about some key limitations in the field of digital journalism. Digital Journalism, 9(2), 130-135.

Rojas, H., & Valenzuela, S. (2019). A call to contextualize public opinion-based research in political communication. Political Communication, 36(4), 652-659.

Waisbord, S., & Mellado, C. (2014). De-westernizing communication studies: A reassessment. Communication theory, 24(4), 361-372.

Weeks, B. E., & Gil de Zúñiga, H. (2021). What’s next? Six observations for the future of political misinformation research. American Behavioral Scientist, 65(2), 277-289.




Eugenia Mitchelstein is associate professor and director of the Department of Social Sciences at Universidad de San Andrés (Argentina), and co-director of the Center for the Study of Media and Society. She has published more than twenty peer-reviewed articles and is co-author of two books and an edited volume.

[1] Gloria Delgado Pritchett, Modern Family, Season 6, Episode 7 (2014).



Neyazi: Moving Beyond Western Dominance

Moving Beyond Western Dominance: Rethinking Political Communication Scholarship


Taberez Ahmed Neyazi, National University of Singapore

http://dx.doi.org/10.17169/refubium-41235, PDF

The origins of modern communication scholarship can largely be traced back to the socio-political and cultural contexts of the United States and Western Europe. This historical centrality has shaped the research paradigms, methodologies, and theoretical constructs that dominate the field. As a result, the voices and perspectives of non-Western scholars have often been overshadowed, leading to a skewed representation of global communication dynamics (Waisbord & Mellado, 2014). In the field of political communication, this Western dominance becomes even more pronounced. Historically, the evolution of political communication as a distinct field was closely tied to the development and the study of democratic processes such as elections, campaigns, and persuasion in the West, specifically the US. The subsequent institutionalization of the field in the 1970s further reinforced the US context as the main focus (Karpf et al., 2015). Consequently, much of the existing literature and research methodologies revolve around these Western-centric notions of democracy, political participation, and governance. This bias is not merely academic; it has practical implications for how political communication is understood, taught, and practiced globally. The continued existence of such biases in the age of globalization, digitalization and increased connectivity is both puzzling and concerning (George, 2022). It underscores the pressing need to expand and diversify scholarly perspectives to achieve a more comprehensive and inclusive understanding of global political communication.

The recent emphasis on “de-westernization” in political communication scholarship, as evidenced by publications in Political Communication, the flagship journal in the field, is a testament to this growing awareness (Lawrence et al., 2023). In communication studies, de-westernization entails a critical re-evaluation of the predominantly Western-centric theories, methodologies, and paradigms that have historically shaped the discipline (Curran & Park, 2000; Gunaratne, 2010; Iwabuchi, 2014; Thussu, 2009). Recognizing that communication patterns, media systems, and cultural contexts differ vastly across the globe, scholars have argued for a more inclusive and diversified approach that better represents non-Western societies (Waisbord & Mellado, 2014). By broadening the scope of research to include non-Western perspectives, political communication scholars aim to create a more comprehensive and inclusive understanding of the field. It is not merely about incorporating diversity for its own sake; it’s about addressing a historical oversight and ensuring that the field evolves to reflect the complexities of global political communication (George, 2022). In this issue, Silvio Waisbord (2023) has already offered a thorough definition of de-westernization and, hence, I focus more on how de-westernization can influence disciplinary identity and create a more inclusive field that might revisit—if not resolve—pressing concerns like misinformation, identity politics, and populist resurgence, among others, that political communication scholars are trying to address. However, the issue of de-westernization in political communication is highly challenging, given inherent structural constraints intrinsic to the field. In a recent critical essay with empirical insights, Phelan and Maeseele (2023) highlight the limited theoretical diversity in political communication research. They point to the prevailing influence of a dominant disciplinary mindset which, despite acknowledging paradigmatic disparities, equates methodological rigor with quantitative methodologies (see also Karpf et al., 2015).

I want to highlight two critical aspects that demand immediate attention. The first pertains to the prevailing epistemological dominance of the quantitative tradition in political communication scholarship. The second concerns the oversight of spatial hegemony and the intrinsic biases of scholars aiming to decentralize, if not de-westernize, the field.

Marginalization of Qualitative Scholarship and Epistemological Biases

Despite the important contributions of qualitative research to the field of political communication, qualitative scholarship remains at the margin (Gagrčin & Butkowski, 2023; Karpf et al., 2015). This is particularly puzzling given that many seminal texts and theories within political communication have their roots in qualitative and interpretative methodologies (see Lawrance, 2023). Karpf et al. (2015) argue that the marginalization of qualitative methods has resulted in “an unnecessary and counterproductive narrowing of our ability to understand central aspects of political communication and how they are changing” (p.1890). These central aspects of political communication are multifaceted and extend beyond the simple understanding of voter behavior, partisan affiliations, and the ebb and flow of public opinion.

Although the United States and Western Europe often dominate discussions on political communication due to their influential media landscapes and academic dominance, the field is by no means limited to these regions. Diversity in political communication becomes apparent when one steps out of the predominantly researched terrains of the US and Western Europe. Across the globe, in countries and cultures with diverse political systems and societal norms, political communication is manifested in unique and intricate ways. From grassroots movements in Asia and Africa to political advertisements in Latin America, and from the role played by social media in uprisings in the Arab world to indigenous communication strategies in the Pacific, the spectrum of political communication is vast and varied. Recognizing this diversity is crucial for a holistic understanding of the field and for appreciating the myriad ways in which political messages are crafted and consumed worldwide.

In India, for instance, Rajagopal (2000) provides a critical analysis of the advent of television and its relationship with the rise of right-wing politics that has changed the very course of Indian politics. He also contends that a close nexus exists between the politics of market reforms and the growth of communication technology. In Pakistan, Shakil (2000) demonstrates how the media and intellectuals have been granted little space to develop an autonomous public sphere in the country. Akhtar’s study also highlights the issue of self-censorship and various tactics used by the government to pressure the media to operate within the boundaries set by government press officers. African nations, as explored by Manyozo (2009), show an evolving landscape with community radios playing pivotal roles in political mobilization, while in China Yang (2013) has delved into the intricate dynamics of digital communication platforms like WeChat in state-society negotiations. It is to be noted that the works I have listed here are by no means an exhaustive list of important scholarly contributions that fall under the umbrella of political communication.

Importantly, in comparison to the US and Western Europe, which have a strong quantitative tradition alongside qualitative scholarship, political communication scholarship in the global South is predominantly qualitative. Most of the works that I have highlighted use qualitative methods. Hence, the marginalization of qualitative scholarship has, in essence, resulted in the marginalization of knowledge emanating from the South. However, the objective of de-westernizing political communication is not necessarily associated with overcoming a dominance of positivist epistemologies and quantitative methods and replacing them with post-positivist epistemologies and qualitative methods. Rather, the issue is much deeper and ingrained with the positionality of scholars engaged in political communication scholarship. This also raises the question of what needs to be de-westernized, as succinctly posed by Waisbord and Mellado (2014). Should we reconsider the subjects we study, the evidence we rely upon, our theoretical and methodological viewpoints, the questions we pose in our research, or even the prevailing norms and values within our academic and professional cultures?

Embracing Non-Western Perspectives and Epistemologies

This leads to my second point. I would argue that being self-reflective and sensitive to one’s biases should be the first step if we want to de-westernize the study of political communication. Let me explain this by discussing some of the recent attempts towards bringing diversity to the disciplinary identity of political communication and how these attempts paradoxically perpetuate the very same biases and problems that scholars who are advocating de-westernization of the field have highlighted.

The evolving landscape of political communication research, particularly in the US and Europe, showcases an increasing intersection of identity politics, news, and digital platforms. The heightened focus on identity-based mobilization represents a shift towards understanding the complex dynamics between identity politics and media. Yet, there exists a significant gap in Western academic discourse: the long-standing exploration of identity politics and their intersection with media in non-Western contexts, particularly India and Indonesia, may offer important insights for understanding similar phenomena within Western context settings. Scholars in the South have been navigating and deciphering this intersection long before it emerged in the limelight in the US and Europe (Akhtar, 2000; Lim, 2005; Rajagopal, 2001; Kumar, 2011; Neyazi, 2018). Engaging with these existing works could immensely benefit our current endeavors, especially when it comes to understanding the nuances of race and ethnicity-based mobilization. As we witness a surge in such movements in the US and Europe, the insights from studies in the Global South could provide valuable reference and contribute to a richer and more nuanced discourse. This integration will not only enhance the existing knowledge repertoire but also expand our understanding, promoting constructive dialogues in the field of political communication.

Moreover, the current momentum in political communication research offers a valuable moment for introspection about the epistemological traditions that dominate the field. Historically, as noted by Karpf et al (2015), the dominant quantitative epistemological traditions in political communication research have often marginalized qualitative methodologies. However, the recent shift towards appreciating qualitative traditions, while praiseworthy, still falls short of meaningful epistemological decentralization. Non-Western research traditions, especially in regions like Asia and Africa, have a rich history of qualitative and interpretative research, as highlighted above. For a more holistic approach and diversification of the field, Western and European scholars must engage with and draw upon these non-Western epistemological traditions. Only through such collaborative scholarly engagement can political communication research truly reflect the complexities and convergences of global political dynamics and help redefine the identity of the discipline to appear more inclusive.

In a recent special issue of Political Communication, the editors, Coles and Lane, (2023) acknowledge the profound influence of race and ethnicity on global political and social realities, highlighting how these concepts are often sidelined in political communication research. They call for self-reflection, acknowledging the American-centric focus of the issue and the challenges in conceptualizing and measuring race. While they emphasize the need for continued conversations on the topic and counter potential skepticism by highlighting the importance of race and ethnicity in understanding contemporary political communication, they fail to acknowledge how race and ethnicity have been studied in the South, which has long been dealing with such issues. While they acknowledge their positionality as “American scholars trained in communication, our own decidedly ‘American’ conceptualization of race likely played a limiting role” (p.372). Such acknowledgment goes a long way in understanding the problem, but results in perpetuating the biases already entrenched in the field—that is the continued dominance of American perspectives in the study of political communication.

It must be noted that ethnicity has been used for explaining political participation in terms of voting behavior, political mobilization, and grassroots movements in the Asian and African contexts, particularly in India and Indonesia (Aspinall, 2005; Liddle & Mujani, 2007; Masuda & Yudhistira, 2020; Molaei, 2015; Moten, 2011). In India, for instance, identity politics has long been intertwined with the caste system. Political mobilization based on caste affiliations, especially among the historically marginalized Dalit (formerly referred to as “untouchables”) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs), has been a prominent feature of the nation’s post-independence political landscape (Jaffrelot, 2003). Similarly, religious identity plays a critical role in Indian politics with Hindu-Muslim dynamics influencing many aspects of political discourse (Basu, 2015; Jaffrelot, 1999). Indonesia, with its diverse ethnic and religious groups, has also witnessed the rise of identity-based politics, especially after the fall of Suharto’s New Order regime. Ethnic and religious identities, particularly Islamic identity, have been influential in shaping political alliances and narratives in this still nascent democracy (Balasubramaniam, 2007; Sebastian, Hasyim & Arifianto, 2020). In neighboring Malaysia too, the political landscape is deeply influenced by ethnic identity politics, notably among the Malay, Chinese, and Indian communities. The country’s major political coalitions, such as the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan, have traditionally been ethnically based, reflecting the significance of identity in Malaysian politics (Moten, 2011; Shamsul, 1997).

In India, violence engendered by identity politics has been a central aspect of political mobilization and existed long before the rise of digital media. In a seminal work, Rajagopal (2000) analyzed the intersection between traditional media, particularly television, and the exploitation of religious identity for political mobilization that resulted in the consolidation of right-wing Hindutva politics. The rise of digital media has certainly complicated the situation and misinformation has been weaponized by political actors against ethnic minorities to further marginalize them in the public sphere (Basu, 2021; Ghasiya, Ahnert & Sasahara, 2023). False information about communal incidents has led to mob violence in several instances (Amarasingam, Umar & Desai, 2022). In Indonesia, religious sentiments are often exploited on digital platforms, especially during election times, to malign candidates or communities (Salahudin et al., 2020). Although ethnic violence has not been a central feature of political mobilization in Indonesia, digital media has certainly been weaponized to create tension to facilitate political mobilization, especially during elections (See Lim, 2017). Such developments in India and Indonesia can help explain to some extent the recent resurgence of identity politics in the US because it is apparent that with the rise of digital media, unchecked misinformation can quickly inflame tensions and divisions, as observed in the controversies surrounding the 2016 and 2020 US elections.

Thanks to the global tectonic shift underway towards identity politics, there has been a significant change in political discourse and mobilization strategies. While identifying a theoretical gap in studying political mobilization Reddi, Kuo and Kreiss (2023), contend that present conceptualizations of, and discussions about, propaganda and mis- and disinformation do not adequately address the interplay between “power, inequality, race, gender, and other identities within empirical studies” (p.2202). However, they do not meaningfully engage with scholarships in the Global South, who have been exploring this intersection long before it gained broader attention in the US and Europe. Engaging with these existing works to unravel the nuances of race and ethnicity-based mobilization that intersect with digital political environment will allow for a more robust analysis and a richer interpretation when applied to new contexts.


In conclusion, the evolution of political communication scholarship has been undeniably influenced by Western-centric paradigms, methodologies, and theoretical constructs, which have often marginalized the rich insights and diverse perspectives offered by non-Western scholars. This American-European dominance has led to a narrow understanding of global political communication dynamics and poses a significant challenge to the broader goal of achieving an inclusive, comprehensive understanding of political communication. The movement towards “de-westernization” signals a growing awareness of this imbalance and underscores the need for self-reflection and productive engagement with non-Western perspectives, particularly those from the South. It is therefore important to prioritize self-reflection over emphasizing structural barriers when aiming to de-westernize the discipline. Such self-reflection is crucial because we, in our roles as researchers, editors, reviewers, and event planners, are the ones who shape the field of political communication (Rossini, 2023). Addressing these disparities is not merely about diversifying the voices within the field; it’s a crucial endeavor to foster a richer, more nuanced discourse that genuinely represents the vast complexities of political dynamics globally. As political communication continues to be a pivotal field in understanding our interconnected world, it is paramount that scholars remain committed to broadening horizons, engaging in intercultural dialogues, and embracing a meaningful global perspective.




Akhtar, R. S. (2000). Media, Religion and Politics in Pakistan. Karachi: Oxford University Press.

Amarasingam, A., Umar, S., & Desai, S. (2022). “Fight, Die, and If Required Kill”: Hindu Nationalism, Misinformation, and Islamophobia in India. Religions, 13(5), 380.

Aspinall, E. (2005). Elections and the Normalization of Politics in Indonesia. South East Asia Research, 13(2), 117-156.

Balasubramaniam, V. (2007). A divided nation: Malay political dominance, Bumiputera material advancement and national identity in Malaysia. National Identities, 9(1), 35-48.

Basu, A. (2015). Violent conjunctures in democratic India. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Basu, D. (2021). Majoritarian politics and hate crimes against religious minorities: Evidence from India, 2009–2018. World Development, 146, 105540.

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Lim, M. (2017). Freedom to hate: social media, algorithmic enclaves, and the rise of tribal nationalism in Indonesia. Critical Asian Studies, 49(3), 411-427.

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Jaffrelot, C. (1999). The Hindu nationalist movement and Indian politics: 1925 to the 1990s: strategies of identity-building, implantation and mobilisation. New Delhi: Penguin Books.

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Taberez Ahmed Neyazi is an Assistant Professor of Political Communication and New Media at the Department of Communications and New Media and a Principal Investigator at the Centre for Trusted Internet and Community at the National University of Singapore. His research interests include political communication and public opinion; digital political campaign and computational social science. He is the author of Political communication and mobilization: The Hindi media in India, Cambridge University Press, 2018 and has published several journal articles.



Badr: It is epistemic, folks!

It is epistemic, folks!
Why our knowledge from WEIRD contexts is limited and what we can learn from Arab contexts


Hanan Badr, University of Salzburg

http://dx.doi.org/10.17169/refubium-41237, PDF

Why our political communication is not enough!

Vibrant—and occasionally even uncomfortable—conversations seek pushing an overdue transformation in communication studies in recent years. These conversations about diversification and internationalization take place for example, in the Editors’ letters in the leading journals, the business meetings of the most established ICA divisions like Political Communication and Journalism Studies, or in the ICA podcast Architects of Communication Scholarship. Even beyond the Anglo-American academic community, we can find a similar movement towards Cosmopolitan Communication Studies and discussions about “Out of the Comfort Zone: Challenges of Communication Studies in the Age of New Global Realities” at the Freie Universität Berlin.

An increasing body of literature consistently shows that our knowledge has been produced by a structurally shaped Western-based and, white masculine gaze over decades that does not incorporate a globally inclusive epistemic gaze, by excluding entire academic and linguistic terrains (Chakravartty et al., 2018; Mutsvairo et al., 2022; Suzina, 2022; De Albuquerque, 2021). Power imbalances continue to shape who gets to speak and be heard—or cited—in our field. Race, gender, class, ethnic background, origin, geographic location, colonial past, funding, academic training, and language contribute to imbalanced social and symbolic capital in a neoliberal global academic order. Certain topics get less attention than others, such as race. #PoliticalCommunicationSoWhite shows empirical evidence that the main political communication journals discussed race less often than critical journals (Freelon et al., 2023).

Scholars also agree that the field needs to recalibrate itself towards more balance and openness, envisioning what could be an inclusive “cosmopolitan communication studies” (Waisbord & Mellado, 2014; Ganter & Badr, 2022). Bearing in mind that individual scholars cannot change exclusionary structural and cultural barriers, like the securitization of border regimes, inequalities in infrastructure, or the proliferation of stereotypes, we—as a scientific community—still have an autonomous range of agency within our capacities to diversify scholarship from below and from within our own research practices.

Slow and gradual reform-oriented steps are already taking place. These actions include ongoing and visible efforts to structurally diversify editorial boards towards a “mindful inclusion” (Rao, 2019); promotion of inclusive and nurturing reviewing practices that do not reject manuscripts merely based on language; citational practices that empower marginalized and emerging voices; and elevating inclusion and diversity as an institutionalized criterion for excellence in publications, as the ICA-affiliated journal Communication, Culture and Critique does for example. Higher education institutions respond to the gap in representation between a younger, more diverse student body and a more homogenous faculty by investing in syllabi diversification beyond the mainstream canons.

But are these actions enough to achieve epistemic diversity? The call to diversify political communication has more value than only normative inclusive goals: at its core lies the legitimacy of knowledge. The current transformation is still bound to a limited geographic scope and to more critical niches. The field needs to acknowledge that there are other voices, topics, and methods to produce knowledge beyond the current Anglo-American dominance. One starting point is acknowledging that the academic culture conducts research through a WEIRD gaze (acronym for Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic). Opening the field starts by giving up “the pretense that it covers political communication in some generic or universal sense [because] de facto, it represents Western political communication. It should rebrand itself accordingly” (George, 2022). The field of political communication, one of the central and oldest subfields in communication studies, has developed in Western democratic settings with a cumulative knowledge originating in the fields of elections, party campaigns and persuasion situated in US and Western contexts in the Cold War era. True internationalization needs to move away from inward-looking approaches confined to specific nations and regions into multicultural, cosmopolitan theorizing, sensitive to local concerns and perspectives (Waisbord, 2022, p. 27-28).

The first step to accepting the myth of Western universality is recognizing that the knowledge in Western geopolitics and history is not universal. De-westernization here is not a field of specialization per se: it is countering the westernized gaze on our social reality by innovating methods and theorizing. It is an epistemic way of looking at the political communication that overcomes current inward narratives originating in one region and claiming universality. Doing business as usual bears risks of marginalizing topics and views that would narrow, not broaden, the political communication scholarship.

Scholarly actions start with an epistemic shift that negotiates innovative criteria for research quality in the field of political communication. We need to forge new criteria to evaluate excellent social scientific research which learns from the critical cultural and interpretative traditions to move from centering precision, parsimony, and predictability towards rigor, credibility, transferability, and reflexivity (Croucher & Cronn-Mills, 2022). This entails understanding the differences in contributions between White and PoC contributions (Chakravartty et al., 2018, p. 255) and moving beyond importing theories and methodological practices outside of their original contexts. Decisions in research design need to move on from reducing non-Western contexts to mere “case studies” (Rossini, 2023).

What political communication can learn from non-WEIRD contexts

Political communication methods and theories can learn from what is happening outside the WEIRD contexts. In line with the call towards methodological renewal and a more opening towards qualitative methods (Brown & Searles, 2023; Gagrčin & Butkowski, 2023), the field of political communication can learn from studying the practices of political communication in non-Western contexts. Acknowledging the limitations of what we know injects the field with much-needed “academic humility” (Echchaibi, 2022) in times of uncertainty and polycrisis. Injecting the field of political communication with new theoretical and methodological horizons is needed, as otherwise phenomena remain invisible, not researched, and will therefore not contribute to our knowledge! My expertise comes from years of doing research in Arab media and communication fields limited by safety constraints, lack of data, and unpredictability. Criteria for excellence are not necessarily the generalization or large N samples, but the ability to generate trust or a meaningful response. Innovative potentials for theorizing from the Arab region are often overlooked or dismissed for lack of relevance. On illustrative example: almost 15 years ago during the Arab Uprisings, paid and orchestrated misinformation through social media called “digital committees,” known in English as “click farms,” were not even a media phenomenon in Western political communication.. Early research on this new phenomenon was dismissed for lack of relevance. It only gained traction when it became a phenomenon in Western democracies after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Before that, it was regarded as an anomaly, a deviation from the Western norm. I argue that political communication scholarship can develop from theorizing in non-democratic settings. However, it needs to pass the threshold of relevance. Therefore, posing the question “relatable to whom?” recenters our attention to produce meaningful and relevant research that emerges in its local contexts (Zakaria, 2022, p. 7). That is exactly the aim of the #ICA24 preconference Arab Communications Studies: Towards A Renewed Research Agenda and why it is vital and timely.

The other side of neglecting potential non-Western sources of theorization is the blind adoption of theories without acknowledging their particularism. For example, the linear democratization and transition paradigms that evaluate the reality according to the Western yardstick could neither explain complex Arab media realities nor respond to the local research needs in this region. In a region marked by inequalities, wars, and conflicts, it would make little sense to apply a gaze that views this research ontology as a deviation from Western theory. Therefore, joining forces with area studies, in this case Middle East studies, would enrich the political communication through a meaningful cross-fertilization that adds historicized contextualization to a geopolitically strategic region that has been often analyzed through securitization and colonial gaze. Not only does it overlook the entanglement and complexity of regional and globalized logics of interconnections, but it also departs from Western categories that simply do not exist. One prominent example is the dilemma of studying good media governance or accountability in a region marked by informality in less regulated media markets with limited media trust (Pies, 2022). In a country like Lebanon, which is radically polarized and has a fragmented media landscape, the rise of WhatsApp channels as news aggregators is a clear political message by the audiences that strips legitimacy from the legacy media landscape.

Doing political communication research in non-democratic contexts means embracing messy data and incomplete realities. The willingness to accept messy and fuzzy data sets would reflect the research reality they come from. This includes openness to data from repressive fields that can be unstructured, anonymized, or limited in scope, which at the same time attests to the researcher’s ability to gain trust and access; a “fragile and valuable commodity” (Glasius et al., 2018). Another example is moving away from mainstream values which center on objectivity and dismiss the validity of subjective feelings during research. In closed media contexts, “bad feelings” like sadness, frustration, or confusion can raise important and critical questions about structural, institutional, and disciplinary conditions that do not feel right during field research (Moussawi & Puri, 2022, p. 76) or raise mental health impacts on scholars and research participants (Glasius et al., 2018).

Getting rare access and adopting survival techniques in conducting political communication research therefore constitutes additional invisible labor that is often time-consuming. It raises questions on how scholars can gain research access in closed contexts under potentially repressive conditions, where power, archives, and access to knowledge are intertwined. As (media) archives are “centers of interpretations that require epistemological and ethical credibility” (El Shakry, 2015, p. 925), accepting incomplete media samples cannot be avoided. Media materials from the Arab Uprisings are limited, as several short-lived media initiatives that thrived in the post-revolutionary years were not collected at all. In addition, the destruction of archives in the Arab region through conflict, wars, or upheavals makes researching that phase difficult in conflict-torn countries like Libya, Yemen, or Syria. The entire Libyan newspaper archives, for example, are destroyed, and even in the Middle East collection at the -otherwise comprehensive- US Library of Congress in Washington, Libyan media archives are rare and selective. Another example of lost material is the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated newspaper Horreya and Adala (Freedom and Justice) which was not publicly archived, leaving an important phase of a vibrant public sphere in Egypt undocumented. Non-existing archives put analytical and conceptual barriers on knowledge production and demand the adoption of new quality criteria to evaluate and validate scholarship in these contexts.

The road towards epistemic inclusion

Broadening the criteria that investigate how and what research we produce is not a matter of nice-to-have inclusive measures or performative checklists of inclusion. Expanding the epistemic spectrum means embracing messy, inconclusive, and uncertain knowledge. It is a necessity so that the field develops new and different categories to answer meaningful questions that emerge from within their own contexts. This epistemic position should not come from a victimized, marginal position, but from a belief in the value of the contribution. Instead of timidly asking for inclusion, a new paradigm shift is needed that does not only add representation to a field whose knowledge production is still shaped by a predominantly Western-centric trajectory. It has become a necessity to keep the field of political communication alive, responsive, and legitimate. We need innovative training of future communication scholars. Identifying the imbalances is only the first step. Gaining and maintaining legitimacy to represent an international field is a long road. In this spirit, let me conclude with a verse by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado: “Traveler, there is no path. The path is made by walking!” Scholars in political communication have just started!




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Suzina, A. C. (2021). English as lingua franca. Or the sterilisation of scientific work. Media, Culture & Society, 43(1), 171-179. https://doi.org/10.1177/0163443720957906 Add to Citavi project by DOI

Waisbord, S., & Mellado, C. (2014). De-westernizing Communication Studies: A Reassessment. Communication Theory, 24(4), 361-372. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/comt.12044  

Waisbord, S. (2022). What is next for de-westernizing communication studies?, Journal of Multicultural Discourses, 17:1, 26-33. https://doi.org/10.1080/17447143.2022.2041645

Zakaria, R. (2021). Against White Feminism. W. W. Norton & Company. 



Hanan Badr is a professor and chair for Public Spheres and Inequalities at the Department of Communication, University of Salzburg, Austria. Her work focuses on global inequalities, media and communication centering comparative and critical approaches, including fields like activism, journalism, and migration with a focus on digitization and globalization. Her most recent book “Arab Berlin: Dynamics of Transformation” (transcript, 2023). She is Associate Editor of Journal of Communication, Chair of Activism, Communication and Social Justice ICA Interest Group and Kluge Fellow at the US Library of Congress. She held positions at University of Erfurt, Freie Universität Berlin, Cairo University, Gulf University of Sciences and Technology in Kuwait and Orient-Institut Beirut/Max Weber Foundation.



Chakravartty & Roy: Questioning “De-Westernization”

Questioning “De-Westernization”


Paula Chakravartty, New York University
Srirupa Roy, University of Göttingen

http://dx.doi.org/10.17169/refubium-41239, PDF

I. Political Implications of Our De-westernizing Present

Academic inquiries usually lag behind real-world developments and offer their analysis belatedly. The invitation to contribute to this special section on “de-westernizing Political Communication” bucked this trend. When we received the invitation in the summer of 2023, talk of de-westernization and decolonization was thick in the air in India, the world’s most populous democracy and the focus of much of our academic research. Calling for a decisive end to “the colonial mindset” that in their view had remained dominant more than seventy-five years after formal independence, Indian state agencies had launched a wide-ranging campaign of symbolic and material makeovers. Throughout the country, there was a rush to rebuild and rename buildings, streets, neighborhoods, cities, and federal states that traced their existence and nomenclature to “foreign” colonial rule. The renovation drive targeted the name of the nation-state itself. Days before the G-20 summit was scheduled to begin in the capital city of New Delhi in September 2023, the media reported that a change of the “Western” name of India to the “indigenous” Bharat was imminent. Photographs of invitation cards for an official G-20 dinner hosted by the “President of Bharat” subsequently confirmed these claims. De-westernization is the contemporary zeitgeist, it would seem. Our categories of analysis and categories of practice (Brubaker 2013) appear to be in perfect sync for once.

But far from being a cause for celebration of the arrival of the marginalized and exploited, this alignment reflects an unsettling political convergence. The real-world coordinates of the call for de-westernization and more significantly “decolonization” in the Americas and in Europe have somewhat seamlessly mapped onto the spaces of right-wing ethno-majoritarian or authoritarian populist politics in many parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. In India, the main institutional actor calling for decolonization and de-westernization is a government that is run by a political coalition openly committed to a program that has undermined the autonomy of both the judiciary and the media. In power since 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party or BJP for short) is the political wing of the Hindu nationalist or Hindutva (Hinduness) movement that has advanced an elite/upper caste (Brahmanical) Hindu-first vision of India for close to a century, directly inspired by the examples of early 20th-century European fascisms. Hindutva organizations advocate for an ethnocratic order (Jaffrelot 2021). They push to change the postcolonial secular Indian republic into a Hindu state that privileges the demographic majority community of Hindus over the 100 million plus of its Muslim citizens. In the dreamworld of elite-caste Hindu India and across much of its diaspora, Muslims and other religious minorities deserve to be second-class citizens and subject to varying degrees of subordination and control, while mention of caste violence and humiliation is rebranded as a form of “Hinduphobia” (Sundaram 2022; Truschke 2022).

For much of the twentieth century, the Hindutva project materialized as an insurgent street politics of mass mobilization against the secular political establishment. Over the last decade, it has shape-shifted into a governmental project that enjoys state power, widespread public legitimacy, and considerable international recognition and acceptance (Hansen and Roy eds. 2021). This transition from movement to governmental Hindutva has been accompanied by a concerted mainstreaming or normalization of its politics. New normative themes such as civilization, development, and anti-corruption are layered onto the mediatized political repertoire of governmental Hindutva to help reorient its majoritarian rhetoric. The Hindu nationalist rebranding of decolonization and de-westernization plays a similar role. The call to challenge colonial legacies and Western hegemony takes center stage in the official rhetoric of the Indian state today, from the renovation/renaming projects described earlier to official speeches at the UN General Assembly, the G-20, and other prominent international forums.

Repositioned within the governmental Hindutva force-field, decolonization and de-westernization are terms that have a deep historical and affective resonance within the wider terrain of Indian democracy. They circulate and articulate globally as well: they are recognized as unobjectionable and in fact salutary terms among liberal and progressive intellectual circles worldwide. At the same time, they are densely invested with Hindutva ideological meanings. The righteous anger of the BJP and the Hindutva movement targets British colonialism and its imposition of Western secularism in the colony. The colonialism paradigm (and the call to decolonize) is also deployed against Muslims and Islam in India, with the so-called “Muslim invasion” of India 900 years ago contrasted with the authentic and indigenous Brahmanical Hindu culture of Bharat.

The invitation to de-westernize Political Communication must contend with these ambivalent resonances and circulations. To respond to the discursive entanglements of illiberal Hindutva politics with progressive academic epistemologies, intellectual vigilance is the task at hand. We must accept the invitation to de-westernize keeping the political and ideological work that this term does firmly in our sights. This in turn means that we clarify the purpose and form of our epistemological choices—why and how we de-westernize—and steer away from the essentialist and exclusionary impulses, and the claims of absolute difference and authentic purity that drive the “right-wing anti-colonialisms” thriving in contemporary India and other parts of the world.

From this perspective, de-westernizing does not mean a quest for “non-Western” or “global South” theory. It does not mean we set up the non-West/the South as a new and alternative theoretical center, that we replace one locational certitude with another. Rather, de-westernizing means that we change our questions and frameworks and not our answers. Through empirical and historical relocations—studying media from India and not only from the United States, for example—we can expand and historicize the terrain of our inquiry and ask differently.

Here are three examples of what de-westernizing as a commitment to new questions, to a way of asking rather than a way of thinking, looks like. In the following section we ask again, from India, about some of the main concerns of Political Communication.

II. Asking Again: New Frames for Political Communication

1. Media and Democracy: Beyond methodological nationalism

The intellectual foundations of Communications are located firmly in Cold War U.S. social sciences with some late-20th-century critical interventions, mostly from British cultural studies and continental social theory (Chakravartty and Jackson 2020). This has translated into a field that has long been peculiarly impervious to addressing colonial histories including the U.S. legacy of settler colonialism and imperialism, despite the global proliferation of the field corresponding to the two decades of U.S.-led “War on Terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan (Aouragh and Chakravartty 2016). Meaningfully “de-westernizing” means we critically revisit these Cold War normative framings of media theory and expand the frame of analysis beyond national borders. This means paying attention to arenas of global governance from the World Bank and IMF to the ITU, that have since the 1980s aggressively pushed for privatization, deregulation, and commercialization of postcolonial media and information infrastructures. For example, from the vantage point of India we see that the Hindu right has successfully co-opted the discourse of decolonization with Islamophobic populist support often mobilized through Facebook and Whatsapp. Hence, we might trace the global push towards liberalization and deregulation over the last three decades that have led to the unchecked reach of platforms like Meta in India alongside the concentration of private ownership of news media with ties to the right-wing ethnonationalist ruling parties. These global neoliberal regulatory reforms that birthed the rise of Big Tech and transformed the role of news media in societies like India must also be seen as attempts to counter anti-colonial anti-capitalist worldmaking attempts of various United Nations bodies and of Afro-Asian, Pan-African and Intercontinental formations from an earlier time (Elsava et. al. 2017; Getachew 2019; Mahler 2018).

Liberal democratic paradigms downplay these transnational anti-colonial institutional histories and continue to privilege the role of the national state and (narrowly) electoral politics in producing and sustaining democratic and free media. As a result, they fail to offer meaningful insights on many of the pressing concerns of our time, the rise of disinformation, for example. Political Communication and Media Studies whether from India or most anywhere that has been shaped by histories of European colonialism and racial capitalism, must reckon with the entanglements and conjoint interests of the state and capital that extend well beyond national borders. To put this very simply, an Indian media studies cannot be limited to the space and agency of the Indian nation-state alone.

2. Media and Society: the institutional legacies of colonial/racial power and capitalist modulations

De-westernizing Political Communication enters messy if not counter-productive conceptual territory without substantive engagement with the institutional legacies of colonial/racial power and the ongoing production of difference under capitalism. This is not something unique to India or to the non-West per se, but rather, speaks to critiques offered by theorists such as Olúfẹ́mi O Táíwò who worry about the “elite capture” of contemporary identity politics within the U.S. context (Táíwò 2022). The common concern here is the political emptying out of the more radical projects of “decolonial” movements based on indigenous and feminist struggles in the Americas (Lugones 2010) or the 20th-century race-conscious anti-colonial internationalism, to simply advocate the pursuit of pluralistic difference.

Across most deeply divided and unequal societies that are also formal political democracies, there are wide divergences between political, economic, and social equality. In India, where the top 10 percent of the nation’s economic elites own 73.4 % of its wealth (Chancel and Picketty 2019; Himanshu 2019), starkly unequal social realities reaffirm the persistence of inequalities of class, caste, and religious community. Media are embedded in these uneven social worlds, and their social constitution and effects must be understood through these refractions. For instance, in the last decade, India, along with its South Asian neighbors, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, has been home to some of the worst incidents of social media-fueled violence against minorities. These run along fault lines of caste, ethnicity, and sectarian and religious difference that were encoded in colonial institutions of rule, and are embedded as well in modern market relations (Mosse 2020). The reproduction of these institutional legacies of colonialism and the ongoing production of difference under capitalism, render unequal and fissured social worlds that must inform any analysis of media’s social ecologies and imprints (Chakravartty and Roy 2013, 2017; Roy 2021). Even when our main analytical attention is on the world-altering effects of new media technologies, the historically patterned pathways and colonial/racial institutional legacies of contemporary social and media worlds should remain in focus.

3. Media and the Populist Problem: From media affordances to the people’s shadows

Media’s “populist problem”—how contemporary media have enabled and extended the hold of populist politics across the globe—is an abiding concern of contemporary scholarship and public discussion. As the “problem” frame makes clear, populism is mostly seen as a deviant departure from liberal democratic politics-as-usual, and its rise is related to the deficits and breakdowns of liberal democratic order (for exceptions, see Laclau 2007; Mouffe 2018; Riofrancos 2017). Demand-side explanations hold that democratic disappointments and failures fuel public support for a populist politics (Roy forthcoming). Supply-side explanations of populism shift emphasis to the distinctive agents and institutions that craft and animate populist political styles and affects. The techno-social “affordances” of new, social and digital media are prominently featured in these accounts (Gerbaudo 2018; Treem and Leonardi 2012), and the study of mediatized populism is mainly framed in presentist terms.

These discussions also advance a common thesis of media mystification. Reviving older (and discredited) “hypodermic needle” accounts of media effects, many explanations for the rise of populism reference the powers of media (particularly digital and social media) to persuade and ultimately distract or delude the voter from their “real” concerns. Contemporary theorists of digital media and democracy bemoan what they see as a recent scourge of disinformation and polarization resulting from algorithmic aberration of our “shared values” (Benkler et. al. 2018; Howard 2022; Persily and Tucker 2020). Most of these scholars account for the rupture to a bleak “post-truth era,” as resulting from a mix of “institutional decline, public sphere disruptions, and the growing attacks on journalism and enlightenment values” (Bennett and Livingston 2018: 134). This scholarship uniformly harks back to a presumed golden age of U.S. or Western journalistic objectivity and professionalism of the mid-20th century, defined implicitly against the pernicious model of Soviet state control and censorship. Setting this aside, we can build instead on critical scholars of political communication (Davis et. al. 2020; Kreiss and McGregor 2023; Kuo and Marwick 2021) who help us move beyond this race-neutral and Cold War framing of 20th-century media theory which remains a default universal normative model of liberal media theory and praxis.

Specifically, when we study media and populism in India, other non-presentist and non-exceptionalist frames become relevant. Populism cannot be explained through Facebook and WhatsApp alone, nor does it necessarily entail a rupture with normal political styles and presumptions. Populism cannot be seen as a result of the failures of liberal democracy given that many world regions where populist politics flourishes at present were not liberal democratic to begin with. There are lineages of populist politics that stretch before and beyond the present moment. Populism is always and necessarily about something “more than populism” (Wilde 2017).

Presentist analyses as well as those that describe new/social media as the prime agent of populist politics obscure how populations have long been politically “prepared” for the mediatized populism that exists today; how older political forms and imaginaries help us explain why the populism of today has found such fertile ground. Thus, if populism is a “thin-centred ideology” or world-view of political and social life as a Manichean moral combat between a pure people and a corrupt elite (Arditi 2007; Laclau 2007; Moffitt and Tormey 2014; Müller 2016), then we need to understand how it both converges and conflicts with other, existing and older, ideas of the people: the central subject of modern political thought and practice. Expanding beyond techno-deterministic accounts of media affordances, we should ask about the varied and contending “shadows of the people” that haunt the political field of mediatized populism. What ideas of the people, and of who counts as “human,” influenced and shaped 20th-century projects of democratization, nation-building, citizenship, and modernization (Chakravartty and Da Silva 2012; Roy 2007)? How have they shaped contemporary political norms of democracy and freedom, or the boundaries of citizenship in drawing the mediatized line between “worthy” and “unworthy” victims of state violence?

Approaching the “populist problem” from vantage points outside Europe and North America,, leads us toward such contextual and genealogical pathways carved out by the compressed political histories of democracy and nation-state formation in the second half of the twentieth century in much of the world. Layered and dense political fields have resulted, in which there is no singular and exceptional populism (or any other political formation, for that matter), that can stand apart as altogether new, regardless of the novelty of enabling media technologies. Belying their dissonant and disruptive effects, political interventions such as populism are better grasped as dialogic, ongoing, sedimented processes that are knotted with and refracted through other, older as well as current, political ideas and formations. Their analysis requires an appropriately wide-angle frame that zooms out beyond the immediate thematic time-space (e.g., “Media and populism in millennial India”) to look clearly at these entanglements.




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Arditi, B. 2007. Politics on the Edges of Liberalism. Edinburgh University Press.

Benkler, Y. et. al. 2018. Network Propaganda: Manipulation, disinformation, and radicalization in American politics. Oxford University Press.

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Brubaker, R. 2013. “Categories of Analysis and Categories of Practice: A note on the study of Muslims in European countries of immigration.” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 36.1: 1-8.

Chakravartty, P. and S.J. Jackson. 2020. “The Disavowal of Race in Communication Theory.” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 17.2: 210-19.

Chakravartty, P. and S. Roy, 2017. “Mediated Populisms: InterAsian lineages.” International Journal of Communication, 11: 4073-92.

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Chakravartty, P. and D.F. Da Silva. 2012. “Accumulation, Dispossession, and Debt: The racial logic of global capitalism—an introduction.” American Quarterly, 64.3: 361-385.

Chancel, L. and T. Picketty. 2019. “Indian Income Inequality, 1922-2015: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj?” Review of Income and Wealth, 65.S1: S33-62.

Davis, A. et. al. 2020. Media, Democracy and Social Change: Re-imagining political communications. Sage Publications.

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Himanshu, 2019. “Inequality in India: A review of levels and trends,” WIDER Working Paper Series wp-2019-42. World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).

Iyengar, S. and D.S. Massey. 2019. “Scientific Communication in a Post-truth Society.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116.16: 7656-61.

Jaffrelot, C. 2021. Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Ethnic Democracy. Princeton University Press.

Kreiss, D. and S.C. McGregor. 2023. “A Review and Provocation: On polarization and platforms.” New Media & Society. DOI: 10.1177/14614448231161880

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Laclau, E. 2007. On Populist Reason. Verso Books.

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Paula Chakravartty is James Weldon Johnson Associate Professor at the Gallatin School and the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University. She is the Co-Director of the Critical Racial and Anti-Colonial Study Co-Lab.

Srirupa Roy is professor and Chair of State and Democracy at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies (CeMIS), University of Göttingen. She is the founding Co-Director of the Merian-Tagore International Centre of Advanced Studies (ICAS:MP).




Awardee Interview: The IJPP Hazel Gaudet-Erskine Best Book Award (2023)

Scott Althaus accepting the 2023 IJPP Best Book Award from Cristian Vaccari at ICA
Scott Althaus accepting the 2023 IJPP Best Book Award from Cristian Vaccari at ICA

Award won:

  • The International Journal of Press/Politics Hazel Gaudet-Erskine Best Book Award, 2023


Name(s) & affiliation:

  • Gadi Wolfsfeld, Reichman University
  • Tamir Sheafer, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Scott Althaus, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


Project title:

  • Building Theory in Political Communication: The Politics-Media-Politics Approach. N.Y.: Oxford University Press.


Publication reference:

  • Building Theory in Political Communication: The Politics-Media-Politics Approach. N.Y.: Oxford University Press.


Tell us something about you/your team and how and why you decided to focus on this research

  • The book project started in 2013 when Tamir and Gadi drafted a coauthored paper for the American Political Science Association conference that proposed using the PMP approach as an organizing principle to help scholars adopt a more comprehensive approach to thinking about political communication. An extended email conversation about that paper with Scott resulted in a rough outline for a coauthored book that was shared among the three of us in October 2013. What got all three of us excited about writing this book was the pressing need in political communication, then as now, to cumulate research insights across specialty literatures, countries, and time periods so that as a field we could develop better theory that leads to more rigorous hypothesis testing. The resulting book is a step in that direction.


In 280 characters or less, summarize the main takeaway of your project.

  • Building Theory in Political Communication presents the first generalizable conceptual framework for political communication that is also falsifiable, explaining how media performance contributes to successful political performance across nations, regime types and information systems. The book adapts, refines, and extends the Politics-Media-Politics (PMP) principle, which states that variations in political ecosystems have a major impact on media systems, values, practices, and resources, which can then have dependent, independent, and conditional effects on political processes. With an emphasis on international comparative studies encompassing diverse political systems, the book’s theoretical argument moves beyond the field’s Western focus to show that PMP is useful in a wide range of contexts and research literatures.


What made this project a “polcomm project”?

  • The times are good for political communication research, and yet the field is also straining under the weight of its own successes. Against the ever-growing variety and scale of empirical studies, the theoretical moorings of political communication research are increasingly overextended and underexamined. The opportunities to conduct innovative research on a wide range of political communication phenomena using diverse and nuanced data sources have never been more promising, and yet our ability to synthesize insights across research literature and make collective sense of what we are finding has never been more wanting.
  • We see three tensions within political communication research that exacerbate theoretical disorientation. First, although media independence from political power is widely seen as important, it remains hazily conceived, is rarely tested, and is itself a major factor in degrading effective communication between citizens and governments. Second, most of the places our field has studied for empirical insights are WEIRD: western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. But most of the world is not. So while we know (or think we know) a great deal about how political communication works in the advanced democracies of Western Europe and North America, we know far less about how any of this applies to anywhere else in the world. Third, the field of political communication has aspired for decades to accumulate empirical insights relevant for the practice of democracy without quite managing ever to get around to building theory. At least, not the kind of theory that could potentially be falsified. Instead, we are good at building interpretive frameworks that pose as theories. These frameworks are necessary steps in theory construction, and there is no shame in building them. But they are intermediary steps. To realize their potential, they must then give birth to claims taking the form of predictions – claims that can be tested and potentially falsified by others. This is basic science. But instead of going the next step to generate falsifiable hypotheses, our field’s interpretive frameworks have tended to bloat outward to absorb any exceptions and anomalies that fail to confirm to initial intuitions.
  • Gaining momentum against these problems requires a few elements that this book aims to supply. First, we need common points of conceptual reference to better align disparate literatures in ways that cumulate, integrate, and synthesize knowledge across specialty areas. Second, we need a clear focus on the larger systems and dynamic processes in which specific political communication phenomena are situated, so we can better see the connections between seemingly unrelated topics. Third, we need clearly defined evaluative criteria for assessing the performance of media and political activity to replace familiar expressions of knowing disappointment when media systems fail to live up to vaunted expectations. Fourth, we need these evaluative criteria to be useful across regime types (not just advanced democracies of the northern hemisphere). Fifth, we need new theoretical vistas for understanding systems of political communication that can move the field past interpretive frameworks and toward development of testable hypotheses. This book aims to start a larger conversation that will gradually supply these needed elements. We sketch a generalizable conceptual map which should have broad utility across multiple subfields, which provides some guidelines for moving beyond WEIRD cases, is agnostic to communication technologies, is capable of stimulating development of testable hypotheses, and holds potential for enduring value to the field.
  • The book’s chapters aim to illustrate this concept map’s basic components, demonstrate how to apply it, and showcase its usefulness. The ultimate goal of this volume is to contribute to the joint effort for building cumulative knowledge in the field of political communication. We do so by adapting, refining, and extending Gadi’s Politics Media Politics (PMP) principle. We think of the PMP approach as an intentionally broad conceptual map that we hope will be adopted and adapted by other researchers working in the field. The book’s chapters aim to illustrate this concept map’s basic components, demonstrate how to apply it, and showcase its usefulness. Taken together, the book’s chapters serve to provide:
  • A general conceptual framework for synthesizing and integrating research findings across disparate strands of the political communication literature;
  • That can be applied cross-nationally and over time;
  • To assess how media performance might usefully contribute to successful political performance;
  • Across a wide range of regime types and information systems;
  • With the purpose of cumulating knowledge across diverse and specialized research communities;
  • To increase the efficiency, relevance, and practical importance of scholarly research on the practices of political communication around the world.


What, if anything, would you do differently, if you were to start this project again? (What was the most challenging part of this project? …& how did you overcome those challenges?)

  • We wish we had been able to finish it in less time! The most challenging part of the project was coordinating things remotely since the three of us weren’t all in the same place. Even though we could organize Zoom meetings and send chapter drafts over email, nothing replaced the importance of “face to face” meetings in developing the theoretical concept map that the book presents. So we took every advantage to meet in person at academic conferences and workshops, and eventually we were able to complete the book. The second most challenging part was developing the language for a conceptual framework that could stand outside particular places and times and communication technologies. We wanted the book’s concept map to be used by political communication scholars anywhere in the world, looking at different aspects of communication ecosystems, across different types of political regimes, and at different points in history. We think we have accomplished this, but it took us a long time to work through alternative concepts and labels before we became convinced that the resulting elements presented in the book had the potential to meet this lofty ambition. We accomplished this by taking time to not rush things prematurely. So in the end, our second most challenging problem was solved by the first most challenging problem, because our delays in moving the book forward gave us plenty of time to refine and revisit our framework until we felt very confident in its utility.


What other research do you currently see being done in this field and what would you like to see more of in the future?

  • Given the complexity of contemporary communication ecosystems, it is far easier today for scholars to do good empirical work than to do good theoretical work, and to focus on narrow superspecialty problems rather than to make our research relevant and understandable to people who aren’t already familiar with the narrow research questions that we’re individually pursuing. We hope that our book will lead more researchers to adapt the PMP approach to their own research, so that we can collectively advance the quality of both empirical and theoretical contributions within the field.


What’s next? (Follow-up projects? Completely new direction?)

  • Because we’ve been thinking about the PMP approach for a lot longer than any of our readers, we’re brimming with ideas about how to apply it to more cases studies and countries. All three of us will probably be adapting it in different ways to our respective areas of research specialization, but we hope that the immediate next step is something much bigger than the three of us will be producing on our own. Our larger aim with the book is to help political communication scholars build globally-relevant theory together. We hope the book sparks a larger scholarly conversation about how to build theory in political communication that overcomes the problems we’ve identified in ways that can move our field onto firmer theoretical (and empirical) ground. This would be the most satisfying follow-up project that we can think of.

Awardee Interview: Walter Lippmann Best Published Paper Award (2023)

Jessica Feezell presenting the Walter Lippmann Best Published Article Award to Patricia Rossini

Award won:

  • Walter Lippmann Best Published Paper Award


Name(s) & affiliation:

  • Patrícia Rossini, Senior Lecturer in Communication, Media & Democracy in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow


Project title:

  • Beyond Incivility: Understanding Patterns of Uncivil and Intolerant Discourse in Online Political Talk.


Publication reference, link (APA 7th):

  • Rossini, P. (2022). Beyond Incivility: Understanding Patterns of Uncivil and Intolerant Discourse in Online Political Talk. Communication Research, 49(3), 399–425. https://doi.org/10/gkfj98


Tell us something about you/your team and how and why you decided to focus on this research

  • This paper summarizes the main findings of my PhD research. I originally started my PhD journey thinking about online political talk in more normative terms, aligned with scholarship in deliberation and the public sphere. Reading the literature on online political talk, though, I was surprised by the intense focus on incivility and lack of ‘respect’ as an inherently undesirable characteristic of political conversations, and realized that scholars were neglecting types of opinion expression that are more problematic in Hence, I decided to develop a content analysis scheme that disentangled tone and substance to understand the different conditions under which antinormative discourse manifests online.


In 280 characters or less, summarize the main takeaway of your project.

  • My work advances a conceptual model that disentangles uncivil and intolerant online political talk, enabling scholars to disentangle discourse that is harmful from expressions that are not, and demonstrates that these two types of discourse occur under different conditions.


What made this project a “polcomm project”?

  • This project considers one of the core concerns of polcomm—informal political conversations—and advances its understanding by advancing a nuanced account of how people express their political opinions online, and how antinormative political talk may be facilitated by platform affordances.

What, if anything, would you do differently, if you were to start this project again? (What was the most challenging part of this project? …& how did you overcome those challenges?)

  • As with any doctoral research, there are things I would have done differently if I knew at the time. I would have tried to develop supervised machine learning models to detect uncivil and intolerant discourse at scale if I had the skills to do so back then—something that I only accomplished more recently, and in English language. I would also have expanded the platform comparisons beyond online news websites and Facebook, which I did not have the resources to do. Looking back, I am proud of what this project accomplished considering the conditions under which I developed it as a PhD student in Brazil.


What other research do you currently see being done in this field and what would you like to see more of in the future?

  • There’s been a lot more work on perceptions of antinormative discourse—including, but also beyond incivility—that goes in the same direction of what I argued in this paper: people are not universally affected by incivility, and incivility alone is not enough to undermine the value of political talk. I would like to see this work on perceptions and differential effects continue to develop, as well as a consideration of how antinormative discourse affects bystanders. There’s been much less focus on more harmful online expressions—which I define as intolerant—, and I think that’s the direction for future work.


What’s next? (Follow-up projects? Completely new direction?)

  • I’ve been doing many related things since this project. I followed up on this conceptual model as part of a collaborative grant funded by Twitter, which enabled me to develop algorithms to detect five subtypes of incivility and two subtypes of intolerance—which is a lot more nuanced than more common binary approaches to this task. I also have another on-going project focused on perceptions of intolerance. More broadly, my research has considered other digital threats to democracy, like misinformation and disinformation.


  • Bianchi, F., HIlls, S., Rossini, P., Hovy, D., Tromble, R., & Tintarev, N. (2022). “It’s Not Just Hate”: A Multi-Dimensional Perspective on Detecting Harmful Speech Online. Proceedings of the 2022 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing, 8093–8099. https://aclanthology.org/2022.emnlp-main.553




Awardee Interview: Kaid-Sanders Best Article of the Year (2023)

le-ri: Greg Chih-Hsin Sheen; Hans H. Tung; Wen-Chin Wu

Award won:

  • Kaid-Sanders Best Political Communication Article of the Year Award (2023)

Name(s) & affiliation:

  • Greg Chih-Hsin Sheen (Assistant Research Fellow, Institute of Political Science, Academic Sinica)
  • Hans H. Tung (Professor, Department of Political Science, National Taiwan University)
  • Wen-Chin Wu (Associate Research Fellow, Institute of Political Science, Academic Sinica)

Project title:

  • Power Sharing and Media Freedom in Dictatorships

Publication reference:

Tell us something about you/your team and how and why you decided to focus on this research

  • Since 2017, we have worked together as a team to investigate various issues surrounding the politics of media freedom in dictatorships on both theoretical and empirical fronts. Up to now, we have collectively published more than five peer-review articles in academic journals. From the very beginning of our collaboration, we all felt there was a lack of enough theoretical discussions as well as solid empirical works on dictators’ commitment problem and how it affected media freedom in authoritarian regimes. Especially, there was a lacuna on how this problem played out in the intra-elite power sharing relationship under dictatorships. We therefore decided to embark on various projects that examined this question systematically.


In 280 characters or less, summarize the main takeaway of your project.

  • The paper develops a new power-sharing theory of media freedom under dictatorships and demonstrates quantitatively that the level of (partial) media freedom in them goes up when the level of their intra-elite power sharing is higher.

What made this project a “polcomm project”?

  • The media politics in dictatorships has received lots of scholarly attention among political communication scholars recently. The topics range from how citizens living under authoritarian regimes have their voices heard or banned on the internet to how media outlets and their reports affect political stability in these regimes. Our endeavor contributes to this larger “polcomm project” by endogenizing dictators’ decisions over media freedom to their power-sharing relationship with their political allies.    

What was the most challenging part of this project? …& how did you overcome those challenges?

  • The most challenging part of this project was to put together a dataset with all the variables needed to test our theoretical propositions. The vast majority of authoritarian countries are very opaque and testing our theoretical ideas nonetheless calls for measures of intra-elite interactions in them such as power sharing or elite cohesion. Thanks to several recent data collection projects on dictatorships and media freedom, we were able to overcome the challenge and find convincing evidence for our theory through thorogh quantitative analyses.

What other research do you currently see being done in this field and what would you like to see more of in the future?

  • Currently, most research in the field of authoritarian politics of media has been centered around the interactions between different mechanics of information/media control and the corresponding state-society relations under dictatorships. Especially, the (partial) media freedom in them is predominantly viewed as its strategy for acquiring information about social reactions to their rule. What we would like to see more of in the future are several new avenues of research our research helps open up.
  • First, while our analyses have taken the first step to disclose the effect of intra-elite power sharing on media freedom under dictatorships, the measures of media freedom in our paper are however all aggregate ones. Since different types of media outlets—e.g., print, broadcast, or internet—might actually have different effects in sustaining intra-elite communications and power-sharing, a natural next step will be more theoretical and empirical endeavors to identify such variegated effects of different media types. Relatedly, as the information and communication technology advances so quickly nowadays, we would also like to encourage the community to investigate how dictatorships with different state capacity adapt to it, not just for meeting new social demands but also for handling intra-elite power dynamics.
  • Second, the findings from our research also add another layer to the recent discussions about digital authoritarianism that mainly focus on how dictators’ newly gained digital power over media freedom enables them to consolidate their social control. However, as far as the survival of an authoritarian regime is concerned, media control is never exclusively about social control, but also about how the regime manages the power sharing relationship among its political elites. More media control might actually undermine the very foundation on which its intra-elite cooperation is based. How do dictators strike a balance between these two objectives? We will need more theoretical investigations and data collections to answer this question.

What’s next? (Follow-up projects? Completely new direction?)

  • Based on our previous publications on the authoritarian politics of media, we continue to broaden our scope of investigation in addition to the directions suggested above. First, based on our new game-theoretic publication where we investigate formally conditions under which the media engage in self-censorship even though the dictator tries to commit to media freedom (Journal of Theoretical Politics, forthcoming), we are designing a lab experiment to empirically test some of its predictions. Second, another collaborative project of ours focuses on how dictators choose between free media and other political institutions to maintain regime stability. This project is also based on the theoretical insights derived from our power sharing project. Finally, our third project tries to find individual-level determinants for ordinary citizens’ support for media censorship in democracies and support for media freedom in autocracies.


Awardee Interview: Best Dissertation Award (2023)

Andreas Nanz accepting the PolComm Best Dissertation Award from Frank Esser at ICA23

Award won:

  • Political Communication Division Best Dissertation Award


Name(s) & affiliation:

  • Andreas Nanz (University of Vienna, Austria)


Project title:

  • Incidental exposure in the online world: Antecedents, mechanisms, and consequences

Publication reference, link (APA 7th):


Tell us something about you/your team and how and why you decided to focus on this research

  • A few months after starting my PhD position in a funded research project, we stumbled upon a call for papers for Journalism about incidental news exposure. Since I had read a couple of incidental exposure papers a bit prior for another paper, we knew the limitations of the current research in this area and had a couple of ideas for future research. Thus, for the CfP, we decided to write a theoretical paper as a first stepping stone. In the end, it was the political incidental news exposure model (PINE). The dissertation was the empirical test of this model.


In 280 characters or less, summarize the main takeaway of your project.

  • The phenomenon of incidental exposure (IE) is much more nuanced than previously expected. We should distinguish different levels of IE (brief scanning vs. thorough scanning) and not forget that there is a lot of non-political information which might also distract from politics.


What made this project a “polcomm project”?

  • The literature about incidental exposure very much sits at the intersection between communication and political science. Often studies ask the question how media exposes individuals to political content they did not intend to see and what kind of consequences this incidental exposure has for politically relevant variables such as political knowledge or participation. In the final study of the dissertation, we tried to shift this frame a bit by focusing on the impact of non-political incidental exposure on political information processing.


What, if anything, would you do differently, if you were to start this project again? (What was the most challenging part of this project? …& how did you overcome those challenges?)

  • Since I consider writing a dissertation also as somewhat of a “learning journey”, I would do many things differently. For example, I would not try to field a study in schools in the first weeks after the school year starts. Of course, I would also get rid of the typo I recently found in one of my published studies. Regarding challenges, the global pandemic was certainly a bump in the road.


What other research do you currently see being done in this field and what would you like to see more of in the future?

  • I think that this sub-field of political communication research has done a big step with and also since the special issue in Journalism in 2020. I’m also thrilled to see that some ideas and approaches from this dissertation found their way into studies by other scholars in the field. In the larger field of political communication, I very much enjoy reading the small but growing bulk of experimental studies that try to recreate or simulate the complexity and fuzziness of contemporary real-life information environments.


What’s next? (Follow-up projects? Completely new direction?)

  • The question “what’s next” I have not fully answered yet. But I’m currently involved in multiple projects with colleagues from my team, some also related to political communication. And, there are still two follow-up studies related to the dissertation’s topic in the making. So, stay tuned!