A New Era of Field Research in Political Communication?

by Daniel Kreiss

by Daniel Kreiss

A highlight of a wonderful ICA this year was conversations with a number of scholars and graduate students about the need for more collaboration and resource-sharing among qualitative political communication researchers.  While the boundaries are fuzzy, I take ‘qualitative research’ to be rigorous inquiry into political communication processes through an established set of empirical methods including (but not limited to): participant observation, ethnography, interviewing, archival research, and content analysis.  While the borders around ‘political communication’ are also ill-defined (rightfully so), this term broadly encompasses studies of the institutional (campaigns, legislative bodies, the presidency, the press, civil society organizations) and extra-institutional (movements) actors, events, and processes that constitute democratic life.

I hope that this new, collaborative blog will provide a language for what a diverse community of scholars are doing in the course of their research and create an identifiable community of scholars working on similar substantive concerns and using a shared set of qualitative methods for empirical inquiry.

To this end, this blog will provide a forum for this community to publicize new articles/books, share syllabi and resources, and discuss the field and note developments in theory/methodology in and outside of it.  In addition, I hope this blog will provide others with a sense of the institutions that support and foster this work.

To get things started, I wanted to post my 2013 ICA paper with Dave Karpf and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen that provided the inspiration for this blog, “A New Era of Field Research for Political Communication?” Here is the abstract:

Since the publication of W. Lance Bennett and Shanto Iyengar’s 2008 critique of the state of the field, more and more political communication researchers have called for a move beyond the testing and extending of existing theories and towards theory-building aimed at improving our understanding of processes of political communication in rapidly changing social and technological contexts. While we agree with this call, we will argue that too little attention has been paid to the methodological issues that plague the field, and suggest that the dominance of quantitative methods—despite all their analytical and empirical contributions—to the exclusion of other ways of investigating social phenomena may have contributed to the problems confronting the field today. In this paper, we sketch out the history of an older tradition of interdisciplinary and mixed-methods research on political communication in the United States from the 1930s to the 1960s and chart the rise of the currently dominant methodological consensus from the 1970s onwards. We do so to highlight key examples of how this older mixed-methods tradition used field research as an integral part of both empirical work and theory-building during a time of rapid change, and to outline ways a new wave of field research can contribute to the study of contemporary political communication, supplement quantitative work, and move the field forward.