There is no immediate or absolute relationship between the media and democracy in the sense that, without media, there could be no democracy. Similarly, it does not follow that with the (modern) media comes democracy. Autocracies exist wherein the media supports a political system, and likewise, democracies exist wherein the media works to undermine a political system. However, most often the media and democracy are viewed as supporting each other. This connection is the product of a long historical development, one peculiar to European (and North American) societies, involving not only institutions and practices directly linked to the media-based and democratic processes, but numerous other institutions (such as education, the political system, religion, etc.) as well.
The media are not the only institutions that promote (or do not promote) democratic legitimacy. Other major institutions of such influence include education, religion, public authority, cultural institutions, and political systems, among others. From a wider societal viewpoint, the role of the media is rather reduced in influence. If, for example, an education system is based on ethnic or other forms of segregation, or if there is widespread religious intolerance, or if public authority suffers from corruption, it is obvious that the media has only so many resources to encourage systemic legitimacy. The fundamental interrelatedness of different social institutions makes it difficult, or even impossible, to study the media as a phenomenon isolated from the rest of society. For this reason, we should be careful when making comparisons between the media in different countries, even the media outlets within liberal democracies.
In addition, there is no consensus as to the right balance of media and other social institutions in a democracy. Throughout the history of democracy, the relations between institutions (the political system, economy, media, and civil society) have undergone renegotiations and adjustments during times of crisis. Over the past few decades, this relationship appears to have reached a new crisis, one that continues to this day and still lacks a clear solution. In many countries, civil society–based media reform movements have been established with clear goals to further democratize media systems. One of the key arguments of these movements has centered on the contradiction between the constitutional obligations of democratic countries and the reality that, in practice, these rights do not apply equally to all. There remain major differences today between different social groups in terms of open access to and the unrestricted availability of information, the ability to utilize information according to one’s needs, having a voice represented by decision-makers, and respect for privacy and personal integrity.
Norms are regularized patterns of attitudes and behavior that characterize a group of individuals, separate the group from other groups of individuals, and prescribe and describe attitudes and behaviors for group members. Relying on social identity theory and self-categorization theory, the role played by group norms within groups and the processes by which such norms are promulgated within groups are discussed. Norm talk or the communication of normative information within groups is explored, as a major proportion of communication within groups is dedicated to clarifying ingroup identities and group attributes such as attitudes and behaviors that characterize the group. Group members can glean normative information by attending to norm talk for instance, by listening to the content of fellow group members’ communications, from their behavior, and from influential or prototypical sources within the group.
According to self-categorization theory, once individuals categorize themselves as members of a salient group or category, they represent normative information cognitively as ingroup prototypes. Prototypes are a fuzzy set of group attributes (such as attitudes and behaviors that characterize the group) and simultaneously minimize differences within groups while maximizing differences between groups. Thus, clear group prototypes help create distinct identities that are clearly demarcated from other groups. Group members should be especially attentive to information that flows from prototypical sources within groups—such as leaders and ingroup media sources—while efforts should be made to differentiate from marginal or deviant members who deviate from the prototype and reduce clarity of ingroup prototypes. The processes through which attending to information communicated by different sources within groups—both prototypical and non-prototypical—help group members seek normative information and clarification of ingroup prototypes are discussed.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
The term “political entertainment” refers to a broad category of literature, media, and performance art in which politics and entertainment are comingled. Because of its varied and complex nature, there is no singular definition for political entertainment. However, to be considered as such, the content should have a primary or secondary political focus and generally include implicit or explicit references to socio-political issues. Within political entertainment expository, rhetorical and narrative structures are used to offer socio-political information, commentary, or critique. The content ranges from historical accounts to contemporary issues and often includes some type of moral imperative, civics lesson, policy preference, or desired outcome. Sometimes the purpose is simply to entertain, while other times the purpose is to engage, inform, or persuade mass audiences. Moreover, political entertainment is multi-functional, offering audiences a variety of ways to consume hedonic and eudaimonic political content.
In recent decades, there has been a marked increase in political entertainment such as documentaries, fictional dramas, historical reenactment films, political music, animated series, and online videos. These forms range from short films, one-time events, and single audio tracks to feature length films, serial productions, and full television series. On a global scale, political podcasting has become increasingly infused with entertainment. Sometimes referred to as alternative or emergent media, political satirists and public opinion leaders use online formats to offer entertaining political commentary and social critique outside the bounds of traditional media systems. Additionally, made-for-cable, online, and on-demand outlets such as original HBO and Netflix series are quickly gaining ground as alternative political entertainment formats. The mixing of entertainment and news has also created a popular form of political entertainment known as soft news, infotainment, or news hybrids. These take the form of morning and daytime talk shows, online and cable news programs, radio, television, and podcast opinion shows, etc. With the increase in partisan political news and the proliferation of subscription-based outlets, it has become increasingly difficult to separate traditional news and opinion from news hybrids and related forms of political entertainment.
The roots of political entertainment can be traced back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, wherein satire (the earliest known form) was found in literature, graphic, and performing arts. Satire, as the forbearer of political entertainment, was traditionally studied from a humanist tradition and remains an important aspect of literary studies. Contemporary political entertainment research has broadened to include multiple disciplinary perspectives, mediated formats, cross-cultural orientations, and international viewpoints. Modern political entertainment literature traverses the humanities and social sciences, offering critical, qualitative, and quantitative assessments of the nature, content, and impact these media have on different democratic societies.
Lindsay H. Hoffman
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
Political knowledge is a concept of central importance in political communication research, yet exactly how it should be operationalized has been a long-running conversation among scholars. The study of political knowledge is rooted in democratic theory, which suggests that citizens should be informed if they are to participate in a democratic society. Political knowledge is also referred to as political sophistication or political expertise. Generally, political knowledge is defined as holding correct information. However, the type of information can vary dramatically from study to study—from civic knowledge, to issue knowledge, to candidate information, to the structural relationships among cognitions.
Because political knowledge is so often seen as a bedrock of a democratic society, scholars often examine what cultural, economic, and political antecedents play a role in increasing or decreasing political knowledge. However, knowledge can also be examined as a predictor of behaviors like voting, a moderator in the study of framing effects, or a mediator between communication and political behavior. But the problem that plagues political knowledge research, just as it has plagued scholars of general knowledge for centuries, is how to measure it. Like general knowledge, which is often measured in exams or through IQ tests, political knowledge isn’t directly measurable. Political knowledge cannot be fully captured in a series of test questions. The challenge facing scholars interested in this important variable is one of measurement and interpretation, which means that there are many ways to measure political knowledge.
João R. Caetano and Alexandra F. Martins
Politics is a field of interaction between a multiplicity of actors—both individual and collective—with different interests operating in the so-called public space and trying to influence the outcomes of the state’s (or groups of states’) action, typically public policies. In politics, people do not defend their interests alone but within groups and in relation to other groups, which presupposes a communication strategy and tactics. The diversity of political and social groups has not ceased to grow in recent decades throughout the world, particularly in democratic systems, with implications for the way politics and democracy are depicted by the media, as well as the way the make-up of public policies is analyzed. This important issue gets at the essence of politics and of society, in relation to communication processes, and is subject to new interdisciplinary approaches and developments in social science, particularly in political communication (the study of the connections between politics and citizens and the interactions connecting groups).
Political and social groups are groups composed of two or more people who interact and maintain relations of interdependence in order to obtain power, stay in power, or influence policy makers, in their own interest. Every day, people see the action of political and social groups when they watch television, listen to the radio, access the Internet, or simply talk with other people, in different situations. In fact, an isolated person would not need politics. Only the necessity of regulating relations between people in society explains the creation of politics and the action of political and social groups through the use of communication tools.
Political and social groups can be categorized in different ways, according to their structure, functions, and types of activity. According to a structural perspective, political and social groups can be classified as political institutions, political and social (nonstate or public) organizations, and social movements. One can distinguish between permanent and nonpermanent groups, depending on their expected or usual time of duration, and based on function there are: public and private groups, interest aggregation groups, and interest articulation groups. Lastly, according to their activities, there are institutional and noninstitutional groups, taking into account their role in political decision-making processes.
During the early 21st century, the use of technology has revolutionized the way people conceive of politics. Networks brought with them new social demands and forms of public scrutiny. As a result political and social groups have been experimenting with new ways of doing politics as they break with the past. These new facts require social scientists—facing a new and demanding scientific challenge—to rethink the politics of today in relation to society. Communication is important because it relates to many of these political dynamics.
This article discusses the various ways in which political concerns among government officials, scientists, journalists, and the public influence the production, communication, and reception of scientific knowledge. In so doing, the article covers a wide variety of topics, mainly with a focus on the U.S. context. The article begins by defining key terms under discussion and explaining why science is so susceptible to political influence. The article then proceeds to discuss: the government’s current and historical role as a funder, manager, and consumer of scientific knowledge; how the personal interests and ideologies of scientists can influence their research; the susceptibility of scientific communication to politicization and the concomitant political impact on audiences; the role of the public’s political values, identities, and interests in their understanding of science; and, finally, the role of the public, mainly through interest groups and think tanks, in shaping the production and public discussion of scientific knowledge. While the article’s primary goal is to provide an empirical description of these influences, a secondary, normative, goal is to clarify when political values and interests are or are not appropriate influences on the creation and dissemination of scientific knowledge in a democratic context.
Nathan A. Crick
When John Dewey announced that communication was the most wonderful of all affairs, he recognized the centrality of communication within the tradition of American pragmatism. In other traditions of philosophy, such as idealism or empiricism, communication certainly played a role, but usually it was a secondary function of transmitting ideas from one mind to another. In idealism, ideas were discovered through intuitive revelation of the whole and only later expressed through transcendent eloquence, whereas in empiricism, particular data was attained purely by the senses and communication served a kind of documentary function of fact gathering. Pragmatism, however, inverted this traditional hierarchy. By arguing that the meaning of our ideas was only found in their effects and consequences in experience, particularly those consequences brought about through shared experience, pragmatists made communication both the origin and consummation of knowledge—regardless if that knowledge was practical, scientific, aesthetic, or social. Consequently, pragmatists believed that improving the quality of communication practices was central to improving not only the state of knowledge but the quality of our experience living together in a common world.
Mikaela L. Marlow
Discourse analysis is focused on the implicit meanings found in public discourse, text, and media. In the modern era, public discourse can be assessed in political or social debates, newspapers, magazines, television, film, radio, music, and web-mediated forums (Facebook, Twitter, and other public discussion). Research across a variety of disciplines has documented that dominant social groups tend to employ certain discursive strategies when discussing minority groups. Public discourse is often structured in ways that marginalize minority groups and legitimize beliefs, values, and ideologies of more dominant groups. These discursive strategies include appealing to authority, categorization, comparison, consensus, counterfactual, disclaimers, euphemism, evidence, examples, generalizations, rhetorical questions, metaphors, national glorification, and directive speech acts. Evoking such discourse often enables prevailing dominant groups to reify majority social status, reinforce negative assumptions about minorities, and maintain a positive public social image, despite deprecating and, sometimes, dehumanizing references.
Paul W. Speer and Leah Marion Roberts
Agents of change serve as catalysts for stimulating social change, particularly at community and societal levels of analysis. We often think about the characteristics of individuals who act as change agents, such as their capacity to motivate others or their training skills. However, organizations and disciplinary fields can also serve as agents of change. There is an emerging awareness in the fields of public health and community organizing as to how these respective fields can collaborate to leverage their collective insights and skills to become effective agents of change for community health outcomes. Importantly, while public health is concerned with the social determinants that shape health inequities in all communities, community organizing is focused on community issues that residents confront as constraints or problems in their daily lives. There is an inchoate understanding within the fields of public health and community organizing that the social determinants addressed in public health are often the same issues identified and addressed by community organizing groups.
Both disciplines work as agents of change through their traditional efforts; however, there is promise in the evolving collaborations between these two fields. Recognition that both fields are addressing the same community phenomena is an important step, but whether collaborations and shared practices become distributed and institutionalized is an open question. Public health possesses research and analytic sophistication capable of identifying different social determinants and the pathways through which such determinants contribute to poor community health outcomes. In contrast, community organizing supplies an understanding of social change that requires the exercise of power through the participation and active engagement by those most directly affected by local issues or social determinants. One tension in this emergent collaborative practice stems from the fact that, at times, these different disciplinary skill sets are at odds. Whereas public health has a deep value of data analysis and expertise, community organizing prioritizes the participation and self-determination of those impacted by community problems. Fundamentally, the tension here is between the value placed on expertise versus the value placed on public participation. Neither value is inherently superior to the other; understanding how these two values can complement one another to address social determinants that shape community health outcomes is critical for realizing the promise of these organizational agents of change.
Patricia S. Parker, Jing Jiang, Courtney L. McCluney, and Verónica Caridad Rabelo
Difference in human experience can be parsed in a variety of ways and it is this parsing that provides the entry point to our discussion of “race,” “gender,” “class,” and “sexuality” as foci of study in the field of organizational communication. Social sorting of difference has material consequences, such as whether individuals, groups, organizations, communities, and nations have equal and equitable access to civil/participative liberties, food, clean water, health, housing, education, and meaningful work. Communication perspectives enable researchers to examine how difference is produced, sustained, and transformed through symbolic means. That is, communication organizes difference. In the field of organizational communication the communicative organizing of race, gender, class, and sexuality is examined in everyday social arrangements, such as corporate and not-for-profit organizations, communities, and other institutional contexts locally and globally. Topics of central concern in organizational communication difference studies are those related to work and the political economy of work, such as labor, conflicts between public and private domains, empowerment, and agency.
Research on race, gender, class, and sexuality as communicatively structured difference has progressed in the field of organizational communication from early top-down functionalist approaches, to bottom-up and emergent interpretive/critical/materialist methods, to poststructuralist approaches that deconstruct the very notion of “categories” of difference. More complex intersectional approaches, including queer theory and postcolonial/decolonial theory, are currently gaining traction in the field of organizational communication. These advances signal that difference studies have matured over the last decades as the field moved toward questioning and deconstructing past approaches to knowledge production while finding commensurability across diverse theoretical and research perspectives. These moves open up more possibilities to respond to societal imperatives for understanding difference.