The Communication Ecology of 21st Century Urban Communities

by Yong-Chan Kim (Volume editor) Matthew D. Matsaganis (Volume editor) Holley A. Wilkin (Volume editor) Joo-Young Jung (Volume editor)
©2018 Textbook XX, 262 Pages
Series: Urban Communication, Volume 6


The Communication Ecology of 21st Century Urban Communities addresses the questions of whether it (still) matters what neighborhood individuals live in and if it is still necessary and possible for city dwellers to build and maintain place-based communities.
The book’s contributors address how urban communities are formed, reformed, and transformed from a communication infrastructure theory perspective. Through the lens of this theory, communication is defined as a fundamental social process by which cities are sustained and changed over time. The chapters in this book elaborate the theoretical and methodological frameworks of the communication infrastructure theory approach; articulate theory-driven and multi-method frameworks for the study of the city; and speak to pressing, contemporary, research- and policy-related challenges (or questions).
The broad array of issues addressed within this volume is expected to draw the interest not only of communication researchers and professionals, but also of students, scholars, practitioners, and policymakers from a variety of backgrounds and with an interest in different aspects of life in the city, including: public health, technology, civic engagement, and urban planning and design.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Figures
  • Tables
  • Prologue: Project History and Introduction (Sandra J. Ball-Rokeach)
  • References
  • Introduction (Yong-Chan Kim / Joo-Young Jung / Holley A. Wilkin / Matthew D. Matsaganis)
  • The Metamorphosis Project and Communication Infrastructure Theory
  • About This Volume
  • References
  • Part One: Theory and Method
  • Chapter One: Communication Infrastructure Theory as an Ecological Theory: Theoretical Framework and Key Concepts (Yong-Chan Kim / Joo-Young Jung)
  • The Storytelling System and Communication Action Context of Urban Communities
  • Community Storytelling
  • Integrated Community Storytelling Network
  • Connectedness to an Integrated Community Storytelling Network
  • Communication Action Context
  • An Illustrative Example of CIT Guided Research
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Two: Toward an Integrated Urban Sociology of Communication: The Research of Sandra Ball-Rokeach and the Metamorphosis Project (Lewis A. Friedland)
  • Introduction
  • Foundations of the Ball-Rokeach Program
  • Media System Dependency Theory
  • Media Power
  • Communication Infrastructure Theory
  • Urban Sociology
  • Urban Communication
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Three: Communication Infrastructure Theory for Collective Problem Recognition and Problem-Solving in Urban Communities: Beliefs, Assumptions, and Propositions (Yong-Chan Kim)
  • Core Beliefs about Urban Local Communities
  • Axiomatic Assumptions
  • Propositions
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Four: Designing Research to Diagnose and Transform Urban Community Communication Infrastructures (Matthew D. Matsaganis / Holley A. Wilkin)
  • Mixed-Methods Research Designs and Approaches to Their Application
  • The Metamorphosis Project: Background and Initial Research Design
  • A Theory-Driven and Multilevel Research Design
  • Themes, Problematics, and Methods in Communication Infrastructure Theory-Based Research
  • The Role of Communication in Civic Engagement
  • Communication Ecologies and Urban Communities
  • Communication, Urban Communities, and Health
  • Communication and Public Space in the City
  • Research Methods to Support Future Communication Infrastructure Theory-Based Research
  • Notes
  • References
  • Part Two: Communication Infrastructure Theory in Different Contexts
  • Chapter Five: Overcoming Silence Through the Neighborhood Storytelling Network: Facing Controversy Over the Restart of the Nuclear Power Plant in the City of Kashiwazaki, Japan (Joo-Young Jung / Risa Maeda)
  • The Debate Over Nuclear Energy Production in Japan
  • Nuclear Issues in the City of Kashiwazaki
  • Willingness to Talk About Controversial Issues
  • Spiral of Silence Theory
  • Willingness to Talk in Local Contexts
  • Communication Infrastructure Theory
  • Research Questions
  • Methods
  • Measures
  • Results
  • Spiral of Silence and Willingness to Talk (RQ1)
  • Connectedness to the Storytelling Network and Willingness to Talk (RQ2)
  • Discussion
  • Implications of the Results
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter Six: Examining the Links between Church and Local Community Engagement: The Case of Korean Immigrants in Los Angeles (Minhee Son)
  • Ethnic Church Engagement: Facilitating or Hindering Community Engagement?
  • Application of CIT in Developing a Model for Church Engagement
  • Study Context: Korean Immigrants and Church Engagement
  • Case Study: A Church for Koreans from “All Walks of Life”
  • Method
  • Research Procedure
  • Measures of Church Engagement
  • Measures of Local Community Engagement
  • Findings and Implications
  • Finding 1: Church Engagement and Neighborhood Civic Engagement
  • Finding 2: Church Participation and ICSN
  • Theoretical and Practical Implications
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter Seven: The Enacted Communication Action Context of Ethnically Diverse Neighborhoods and Its Implications for Intergroup Communication (Chi Zhang / Wallis Motta / Myria Georgiou)
  • Theoretical Underpinning
  • Methods
  • The Enacted Communication Action Context
  • Density and Spatial Morphology
  • Inscription of Ethnicity
  • Spatial Practices
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Eight: Digital Connections: Tracing the Evolving Role of Technology in Local Storytelling Networks (Katherine Ognyanova / Joo-Young Jung)
  • Media System Dependency Theory
  • Communication Infrastructure Theory
  • The Beginning: Conceptualizing and Measuring Internet Connectedness
  • Theory Evolution: Two Approaches to Understanding Technology
  • The Role of the Internet as a Facilitator
  • The Role of the Internet as a Catalyst
  • Key Trends and Directions for Future Research
  • References
  • Part Three: Communication Infrastructure Theory-Based Community Interventions
  • Chapter Nine: The Engaged Communication Scholar: Designing CIT-Informed Engaged Research in Diverse Communities (George Villanueva / Andrea Wenzel)
  • Engaged Scholarship’s Renewal
  • Communication Infrastructure Theory
  • Engaged Scholars as Community Storytelling Actors
  • Project Backgrounds and Methods
  • Connecting to Key Neighborhood Storytellers
  • Telling Community Stories
  • Discussion and Conclusions
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Ten: Implementing Communication Infrastructure Theory-Based Strategies in Community Health Access Interventions: Lessons Learned from Two Projects in Two Cities (Holley A. Wilkin / Matthew D. Matsaganis / Annis Golden)
  • Communication Infrastructure Theory and Health
  • Integrated Connection to the Storytelling Network and Health
  • The Role of the Communication Action Context in Health
  • Intervention Project #1: 9-1-1 Project, Atlanta, GA
  • Strengthening Storytelling Network Connections and Leveraging Them for Outreach
  • Using Communication Hotspots and Comfort Zones
  • Intervention Project #2: Women’s Health Project, Riverton, NY
  • Building and Strengthening Storytelling Network Connections through Interstitial and Liminal Actors
  • Features of the CAC as Intervention-Enabling and Constraining Factors
  • Cross-Site Comparisons: Lessons Learned and Questions for Future Research
  • Advantages and Limitations of CIT-Based Intervention Approaches
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Eleven: The Alhambra Project: A Prototype for Using Communication Infrastructure Theory to Construct and Evaluate a Community News Site (Nien-Tsu Nancy Chen / Wenlin Liu / Katherine Ognyanova / Evelyn Moreno)
  • Introduction
  • The City of Alhambra: Demographics and Media Landscape
  • Communication Infrastructure Theory
  • Multilevel and Multimethod Formative Research
  • Participatory Online News Website as Community Intervention
  • Evaluation of Reader Engagement and Website Outreach
  • Multistage Evaluation
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgements
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Twelve: Communication Infrastructure Theory and Community-Based Program Evaluation: The Case of Media Mobilizing Project and the CAP Comcast Campaign (Garrett M. Broad)
  • Introduction
  • Evaluation Research
  • Communication Infrastructure Theory and Community Interventions
  • Case Study
  • Media Mobilizing Project: A Movement Media Model for Community Change
  • The CAP Comcast Campaign: Theory-Driven Evaluation Findings
  • Discussion and Extensions of Communication Infrastructure Theory
  • References
  • Epilogue: Emerging Issues and Future Directions (Matthew D. Matsaganis / Holley A. Wilkin / Joo-Young Jung / Yong-Chan Kim)
  • Key Contributions of the Volume
  • Future Directions for Communication Research in Urban Communities
  • References
  • Contributor Biographies
  • Index
  • Series index

| ix →


Figure 1.1. Communication Infrastructure

Figure 1.2. Mediating and Moderating Roles of Community Storytelling Network between Communication Action Context (CAC) and Community Engagement

Figure 1.3. General Multilevel Communication Infrastructure Model for Community Engagement

Figure 3.1. Relationships among Collective Problem Recognition, Collective Efficacy, Problem Solving and Communication

Figure 4.1. The Original Metamorphosis Project Research Design

Figure 6.1. Model for Church Engagement and Local Community Engagement

Figure 7.1. Business Ownership by Ethnicity in Alhambra: Main Street versus Valley Boulevard

Figure 7.2. Concentration of Comfort Zones around Green Lanes High Street

Figure 7.3. Dispersal of Comfort Zones in Alhambra

Figure 7.4. Same Location on Main Street, Alhambra in 2007 (Top) and 2014 (Bottom)

Figure 7.5. Change in Signage and Design of Turkish Patisserie on Green Lanes ← ix | x →

Figure 7.6. Preference for different types of spaces in Harringay and Alhambra

Figure 7.7. Areas Focus Group Participants Tend to Avoid in Alhambra

Figure 8.1. Facilitating and Catalyzing Approach to Integrating the Internet into the CIT Framework

Figure 10.1. The 9-1-1 Project in Atlanta, GA: Progression of Storytelling Network Integration

Figure 10.2. The Women’s Health Project in Riverton, NY: Progression of Storytelling Network Integration

Figure 11.1. Channels through which Residents Heard about the Alhambra Source

Figure 12.1. Logic Model for Media Mobilizing Project’s CAP Comcast Campaign

| xi →


Table 3.1. Axiomatic Assumptions and Propositions of Communication Infrastructure Theory

Table 5.1. The Event Timeline of Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Plant

Table 5.2. Zero-order Correlations of All Variables

Table 5.3. Linear Multiple Regressions for the Willingness to Express Opinions on the Nuclear Plant and Radiation Related Issues

Table 6.1. Demographic Characteristics of Survey Participants

Table 6.2. Zero-order Correlations between Church Engagement and Community Engagement

Table 7.1. Key Analytical Questions in Three Dimensions of Enacted CAC

Table 9.1. Community Organizer Gender, Organizations, and their Identified Democratic Spaces in South Los Angeles

Table 9.2. Organizations that made up the Northeast Los Angeles Riverfront Collaborative

Table 9.3. South L.A. Democratic Spaces Data Collection with Community Organizers

Table 9.4. NELA Riverfront Collaborative Project Data Collection Sources and Purposes

Table 11.1. Summary of Formative Research Components

Table 11.2. Summary of Multistage Evaluation

| xiii →


Project History and Introduction


In the communication field, I am most known for my work concerning media and power and, subsequently, a discursive approach to understanding diverse urban communities. Preceding these concerns and as a young sociologist, my attention was focused upon the legitimation of violence—be it in the service of social change or social control—development of a conflict theory of violence, and the relationships between value priorities and sexism, racism, and anti-environmentalism. Throughout these inquiries of the turbulent, yet hopeful 1960s and 70s, my positioning was the challenger of prevailing ways of defining and accounting for these social phenomena.

In the process of challenging, one has to unlearn and experience ambiguity. Perhaps this is why, as Friedland notes in this volume (Chapter 2), the role of ambiguity in social change and social conflict was a constant underlying theme in my work, one that persists to this day. Being a woman in the furiously sexist environment of those times, I had to unlearn sexism—this process led to an understanding of, and an equally persistent thematic focus upon inequality.

Since those more hopeful decades, neo-liberalism has generated changes in American value priorities that legitimate the stark inequalities of contemporary life in and beyond urban communities. To put it most plainly, it is freedom for capitalists and to hell with equality. The exquisite tension between individual freedom (the ‘I’) and group equality (the ‘we’) has been blown away. Robert Bellah and his ← xiii | xiv → colleagues signaled this development for the American context in terms of the loss of civic republicanism (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, & Tipton, 1985).

With the preceding as context, it is little wonder that I had my moment of ambiguity as I sat on my patio in a privileged area with a wide view of South and East Los Angeles watching the fires of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising. I was scared as the fires came closer to my area, but I could count on the Black and Brown private security force that served my White Cheviot Hills area to try to keep ‘their’ fires away from ‘us.’ Much more scary was one of those disruptive questions: What in the hell am I doing studying the injury prevention potentials of traffic reporting—a worthy effort to be sure, if you ignore the social dynamics of what is happening before your eyes and, more important, why it is happening. Once again, I had to unlearn and experience ambiguity, but this time, about my value priorities. I had to direct my challenger persona to myself. As a sociologically trained communication scholar, what could I bring to the Los Angeles that I loved that might, in even a small way, build upon what I had learned from the founders of the Chicago School?

The challenge was not so much to apply what sociologists had uncovered about the ‘urban,’ but to bring what I could add—a communication perspective to the analysis of contemporary urban conflicts and how they might be addressed. My initial thinking focused upon civic engagement. Yet, I knew that the structural facilitators of civic engagement, wherein communities enabled themselves to represent their interests to power, had declined or vanished. As so many other scholars (e.g., Kurt and Gladys Lang) had observed, the devolution of political structures, such as political parties that had roots at the block level, had all but vanished, thereby opening the door to the media to fill the structural vacuum (e.g., Neil Smelser, Jeffrey Alexander, and others).

Another prominent set of scholars was declaring that the onset of globalization and the internet meant that geographic place no longer mattered. My inclination to get to know the places of Los Angeles was mocked by such scholars as anachronistic. For example, I had one recipient of the MacArthur genius award tell me that I was on the verge of being a moron for wanting to conduct in-depth explorations of Los Angeles places, because place-based communities were a thing of the past.

Being an irreverent cuss, I went with my intuition that claims of societal transformation into ungrounded cyberspace communities were a repeat of the utopian and dystopian visions that accompany every communication revolution (Sturken, Thomas, & Ball-Rokeach, 2004). Learning from historical analysts (e.g., Carolyn Marvin), it was more likely that the emerging communication ecology in context of globalization was likely to change aspects of social life, but not fundamentally destroy the importance of place-based communities where we most sensually experience everyday life. ← xiv | xv →

As things would have it, my school was undergoing its own disruption and transformation that eventuated in the appointment of a new Dean, Geoffrey Cowan, and the formation of a separate Annenberg Center. My Dean wanted a keystone project for our school that would be generously funded by The Annenberg Center for a four-year period. Geoff invited faculty proposals and I submitted the outlines of what I called The Metamorphosis Project: Transforming the Ties that Bind. Needless to say, that proposal was selected. Without Geoff’s continuing support, this project would not have gotten off the ground and prospered. His civil rights activist background and his value priorities meant that he understood and appreciated the project we were proposing.

Thus, it was with the formation of the Metamorphosis Project that a small team of doctoral students and I met and set out to explore relevant literatures. Friedland (see Chapter 2) eloquently reviews many of the intellectual origins of this project, so I will limit myself to supplementary remarks about the literatures that influenced how the project’s theoretical and methodological perspective took shape.

Before I do so, I need to clarify the philosophy that guided the creation and running of the Metamorphosis project team from its inception in 1998 and its continuous operation until 2018. Our working relationships were importantly collaborative. The Metamorphosis Project is not my project—it is the fruit born of more than 140 graduate students with whom I have had the joy of working. As all mentors of talented doctoral students know or should know, you often learn as much from your doctoral students as they learn from you. If you build a team on the basis of trust and mutual respect, then doctoral students also learn from and support one another. Thus it was that the Metamorphosis Project “metamorph’ed” with respect to its focus of study and ways of studying with succeeding cohorts of team members.

Getting back to the literatures that influenced our thinking, the first was the literature on civic engagement from a communication perspective. Probably the most vibrant and relevant was the work coming out of the Wisconsin group crafted by Jack McLeod, Lew Friedland, Dhavan Shah and many others. Early on, we asked to meet with these scholars to brainstorm and they generously agreed. Jack’s long and distinguished career included multiple and convincing demonstrations of the importance of local media for engagement. Local media were central to our thinking, though we elaborated the range of local media to include ethnic/geo-ethnic media that were produced by and for racial/ethnic groups (Matsaganis, Katz, & Ball-Rokeach, 2011). Lew’s network and Habermasian work on the conditions for community cohesion sensitized us to thinking in a network fashion and setting that network in its communication action context. Dhavan was younger and, understandably, more interested in how the new media would enter ← xv | xvi → the picture, a challenge that we subsequently took up (e.g., Matei & Ball-Rokeach, 2003).

All of these scholars strove toward multilevel analysis, a way of thinking fully compatible with my ecological orientation. While not a part of the Wisconsin group, Philip Tichenor and his colleagues were among the first communication scholars to create an ecological approach, first reflected in the knowledge gap hypothesis (Tichenor, Donohue, & Olien, 1970), and, later in the structural influence model of communication, developed through the work of Vish Viswanath and colleagues into the interplay of communication inequalities and health disparities (Viswanath, Steele, & Finnegan, 2006).

Walter Fisher, a distinguished rhetorical scholar, also influenced our work. I had the pleasure of getting to know Walt and his work, as he was my colleague at the Annenberg School—an advantage of a school with a multidisciplinary faculty. His classic 1987 book, Human Communication as Narration, sensitized us to the discursive. While his treatise spoke to the features of a story that could create resonance leading to a shared understanding of reality, our focus became the power of storytelling and storytelling agents.

The most important influence beyond the communication field was the work of Robert Sampson and his colleagues on neighborhood effects, work that carried forward the Chicago School of Sociology into the 21st century (Sampson, 2012; Sampson, Raudenbush, & Earls, 1997). The depth of their inquiry into the neighborhood characteristics that enabled informal social control was truly humbling. Out of this inquiry came the focus upon collective efficacy that we subsequently incorporated into our theoretical orientation. Also influential was the multilevel and multi-method approach that came to be one hallmark of our grounded approach. However, one dynamic missing from the Sampson group inquiries was communication (Matsaganis, 2015).

All in all, the challenge was to be informed by, but go beyond the established literature to tolerate the ambiguity of building a fresh communication approach to the transformation of urban community under the forces of globalization, new communication technologies, and population diversity. We began by getting out of our offices and going into our field of inquiry—into a number of the diverse communities of Los Angeles. We were advantaged by the multiethnic and multilingual composition of our research teams, such that our fieldwork could be culturally sensitive. Our selection of areas was based on historical and demographic studies. We connected with community building organizations and therein lay a treasure—the community organizer.


XX, 262
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (July)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XX, 262 pp., 18 ills., 13 tables

Biographical notes

Yong-Chan Kim (Volume editor) Matthew D. Matsaganis (Volume editor) Holley A. Wilkin (Volume editor) Joo-Young Jung (Volume editor)

Yong-Chan Kim is Professor at the College of Communication at Yonsei University, Seoul. Matthew D. Matsaganis is Associate Professor in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University. Holley A. Wilkin is Associate Professor of Communication and Public Health at Georgia State University. Joo-Young Jung is Senior Associate Professor in the Department of Media, Communication, and Culture at International Christian University, Tokyo.


Title: The Communication Ecology of 21st Century Urban Communities