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Preconference: Normative Theorizing in Communication Research

Thu, May 25, 8:00 to 16:00, U of California - San Diego, Village Conference Room A

Session Submission Type: Panel


Normative theories of democracy in political communication and journalism studies research rarely receive explicit treatment. Often, researchers simply imply their normative frameworks through the research questions they ask about things such as ‘civility,’ ‘two-sided information flows,’ ‘knowledgeable citizens,’ ‘rational debate,’ ‘polarization and partisanship,’ and ‘quality information.’ The normative implications of many of these concepts rest on implicit assumptions about democracy, how it works, and how it ought to work. At best, when scholars explicitly discuss normative models of democracy, they tend to be deliberative, following the guiding theorist of the field Jurgen Habermas and rich veins of deliberative work by scholars such as Jim Fishkin. While deliberative theory continues to hold significant appeal, is it the only model? And, indeed, should it be? In the past two decades there has been a tremendous flowering of normative work that casts new light on deliberation and, indeed, democracy itself. Social movement scholars such as Francesca Polletta and James Jasper have argued forcefully for the importance of contentious politics, emotion, identity, and culture to the practice and promise of democracy. Sociologists Andrew Perrin and Nina Eliasoph have argued that ‘civility’ often serves to diffuse politics and critique and ‘frankness’ should be valued. In political science, Jeffrey Green has worked to recast the normative importance of spectatorship, not participation, invoking old communication traditions around media events, while Nancy Rosenblum has worked to reclaim the value of partisanship while showing how the vaunted ‘civil society organization’ is, in fact, extremist in brooking no compromise on single issues. Self-avowed “democratic realists” like Ian Shapiro and Pierre Rosanvallon have tried to re-articulate the case for core tenets of liberal democracy. Post-Marxists like Chantal Mouffe and Jacques Ranciere have strongly argued for the value of agonism as the proper domain of the political. With some exceptions, communications research has not engaged with this flowering of normative work, though it might benefit from it and could certainly contribute to it. In this pre-conference, we seek to bring an interdisciplinary set of scholars together to spark a conversation on the normative foundations of communication scholarship and move the field towards more sophisticated models of democracy. Through a set of invited talks and peer-reviewed papers and responses, we seek to make democracy and normative theories our object of analysis.

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