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Challenging Communication Research


Edited By Leah A. Lievrouw

Communication scholarship has not enjoyed the same kind of theoretical cohesion or ontological security as some disciplines. The field’s intellectual «roving eye» and resistance to establishing a single core body of knowledge has inspired serial rounds of soul-searching and existential doubt among communication scholars, on one hand, and celebration and intellectual adventurism, on the other. The theme of the 2013 ICA annual conference thus raised an interesting question: For a field that is perpetually in flux and «decentered», what exactly is, or should be, challenged? How, and by whom?
The chapters in this collection, chosen from among the top papers presented in London, suggest that the challenges themselves are constantly being reinvented, broken down and reorganized. The communication discipline undergoes continuous change rather than following an orderly, stepwise path toward the neat, complete accumulation of knowledge. The chapters challenge familiar approaches, notions or assumptions in communication research and scholarship and reflect on the field’s multifaceted and increasingly open character in an era of shifting social relations, formations and technologies.
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Chapter Three: A New Era of Field Research in Political Communication?


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A New Era OF Field Research IN Political Communication?


For 40 years, a particular methodological consensus has dominated the study of political communication. Quantitative research methods generally, and content analysis, surveys, and experiments in particular, have defined the core of legitimate research, especially in the United States.1 While some scholars have produced qualitative work—and some of it has been very influential—most political communication research is quantitative, and quantitative methodologies provide the standards by which most political communication research is judged. This methodological consensus not only provides the main tools scholars have at their disposal for empirical work on political communication, it also shapes the very questions they ask, the answers they provide, and the theories they develop.

Since the 1970s, scholars working within this consensus have generated a remarkable body of findings. Scholars have advanced our understandings of agenda setting, the dynamics of public opinion, the influence of news media and campaign communications upon political behavior, and the limits of both citizens’ independent reasoning and elites’ ability to manipulate people. Political communication research has uncovered with increasing sophistication the cognitive and affective processes that underlie many kinds of political attitudes and assessed the relative importance of mediated appeals versus other factors in shaping political outcomes. Normatively, scholars have made forceful arguments, backed by data, about journalistic and political practices, detailing the corrosive effects of negative...

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