Christian Pentzold

The digital public sphere is characterized by seemingly paradoxical tensions between centers and peripheries: While some actors leverage the affordances of digital platforms to garner attention and gain prominence in public discourse, others prefer to seek out a role of relative obscurity, or even attempt to evade observation. These tensions challenge established public sphere theories that assume a uniform orientation and attraction towards a center. In this article, we argue that in the digital public sphere, four distinct modes of recognition emerge: attention, resonance, allegiance, and engagement. These modes induce persistent yet contingent center-periphery distinctions among actors, issues, and even entire arenas. Since modes of recognition can carry positive or negative valence, they can prompt a purposive orientation towards peripheries rather than centers. We discuss how digital platforms afford, manifest and manipulate modes or recognition, and how actors leverage positions of relative centrality or peripherality within and across digital arenas.

This essay aims to study how subjectivity, autonomy, agency, and empowerment become defined and reconfigured in novel human-machine encounters and, more broadly, in societies which in large parts are kept going and sustained by complex digital infrastructures. With a view to communication, automation converts the production of content, the distribution of information and messages, the curation of media use, and the governance of our networked lives into machine operations. All of these areas are increasingly shaped by algorithmically-driven processes and automated agents. They help to automate the selection and filtering of news feeds and search engines, they attribute relevance and popularity, perform content moderation and fact-checking. Automated agents like social bots participate in organizational communication such as customer service and, as a potential force of manipulation, also seem to intervene in election campaigns. The most recent iteration of technologies and products labeled as AI are driven by ambitions to delegate physical motoric functions, cognitive processes, decisions, and evaluations to increasingly autonomous and capable technology. At the same time, we need to acknowledge that automation is not a one-way transfer from humans to machines. Rather, we also witness environments where people come to act in an automatic fashion, where human contributions feed into processes of automation and help to improve technological systems and optimization processes that we have become used to call “machine learning”.

There has been much enthusiasm around the use of digitally networked information and communications technologies to foster political participation. Given their potential to engage citizens in rural development via online tools and processes, there are particularly high expectations that these technologies will mitigate some disadvantages of nonurban places. Yet, even if these hopes are reasonable, there is still little knowledge about the enduring establishment of digital political participation for rural development. In response, our study centers on six exemplary regional case studies in Germany concerning the obstacles to and catalysts of digital political participation. The public administrators; members of associations, businesses, and nonprofits; and citizens we interviewed pointed to the importance of administrative infrastructures, tailored offers, and resourceful citizens. What these factors could, however, not achieve was a culture of participation that may inspire attitudes and lived practices. This has implications for understanding and facilitating digital political participation for rural development. By locating the incentives and barriers to civic engagement within a culture of participation, our work underscores the need for holistic, long-term endeavors to develop and encourage politically involved citizenship.

In digital culture, visualizations are a prevalent and ubiquitous form of communication. A veteran journalistic tool, and an increasingly popular one in digital politics, visualizations offer informative value, attract readership, and increase engagement. Visualizations’ multimodality allows them to convey rhetoric through informative, narrative and visual strategies. Arguably, the complex and pliable communicative range of visualizations makes them particularly suited for future-oriented discourse. Indeed, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, visualizations like the waves of upcoming infections were used to inform the public about possible future realities and relay information about potential next steps and their implications. Despite the rise of visualization-focused scholarly work in the past decade, several analytical lacunas remain, due to visualizations’ multimodal nature and their rich array of actors, contexts and usages in the digital world. Specifically, no scholarly approach examines forward-looking visualizations comprehensively, addressing the ways in which their rhetorical layers coalesce to broker knowledge in multimodal predictive discourse. To fill this gap, our paper proposes a holistic framework for their analysis, addressing knowledge-brokering functions, predictive components, and rhetorical strategies. Thus, we ask, ‘How are predictive visualizations rhetorically constructed to mediate the future?’ and answer through conceptualization complemented by qualitative analysis of predictive pandemic visualizations from journalistic and social media. We combine perspectives from data-journalism studies, projection studies, and visualization scholarship and amalgamate existing tools into an integrative analytical framework that encapsulates each visualization’s rhetorical strategies, its knowledge-brokering functions, predictive structure, and their interrelations. We further refine the tool with empirically-founded specifications and use our empirical applications to offer a new understanding of rhetorical complexity in predictive visualizations. Our analytical framework will serve upcoming studies to examine and define styles of predictive visualization rhetoric across different national contexts, media, and platforms, narrowing scholarly gaps relating to future-oriented visual communication. Read the full OA article here.

“Learning or Aligning” is a project that explores the way in which political identity affects the learning of citizens from graphs and political visualizations. The focus groups examine the way in which discussions develop regarding visualizations. The project is carried out by a research team at the University of Groningen and the University of Leipzig, led by the lead researcher Eedan Amit-Danhi from the Department of Media and Journalism at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. The team also includes Thomas Rakebrand from Leipzig University and Alma Kalisky from Hebrew University Jerusalem.

The project is funded by a personal grant to Eedan Amit-Danhi from the National Science Foundation of the State of Israel (The Israel Science Foundation Grant no. 96/23), as part of the foundation’s postdoctoral grants program for outstanding doctoral students in the social sciences.

Although YouTube explanatory videos are a successful video genre, there has been little research into the ways they form part of adolescents’ collective learning practices. To address this gap, the article examines the social relations and forms of collective interaction by which young people come to use explanatory content on YouTube. Our study of German pupils aged between 14 and 20 examines how and to what extent they engage with, view, recommend, and communicate about user-generated audiovisual instructions and explanations that cover school subjects and hobbies. The results show that the potentials of YouTube for collectively using learning- and education-related content often remain untapped, especially for school-related content. While YouTube videos occupy an important place as a source of information for hobbies, they have not prompted equal engagement with school subjects. Read the full article here.

In this article, we take issue with an idea of autonomous and efficient automation that is upheld through the paradoxical conjunction of a flawed vision of the technological fix and the under-acknowledged human work required to fill in the gaps between machines and users. Our argument is based on two case studies that sit at opposite tails of automation processes: the frontend of self-service checkouts and the backend of content moderation. This juxtaposition allows us to surface three themes on how the hype around automation is enabled by human intervention: the ad-hoc sociality in situated practices of automation, the capture of mundane expertise, and the inverted assistance of humans to machines. We argue that this human fix is not a temporary repair of malfunction, but a permanent and constitutive feature of automated systems. The full OA article can be read here.

The article attempts to clarify what today constitutes communicative remembering. To revisit this basic mnemonic concept, our theoretical contribution starts from available approaches in social memory studies that assume a binary distinction between cultural and communicative modes of memory making. In contrast, we use concepts that treat them not as structural, historically and culturally distinct registers but as a repertoire of retrospection that hinges on the evoked temporal horizon and media usage. To further interrogate this practical articulation of memories, we direct our attention to the habitual, communicatively realised engagement with the past. We finally turn to the ways communicative remembering is done in digitally networked environments, which provide us with a pertinent mnemonic arena where rigid dichotomies of communicative memory versus cultural memory are eroded. The article can be read here.

Memory is a communicative affair. It is inherently intertwined with communication, representing a complex interplay that has evolved throughout history. An expanding array of symbols and communication genres has played a pivotal role in influencing the ways in which we remember and forget the past. The significance of memory truly comes to the forefront when it is communicated: individuals establish connections with a collective past, revisit personal reminiscences, and resurrect bygone moments. Concurrently, the act of communication has the power not only to enhance and revive memories but also to impair, inhibit, or even prevent them. Communication serves as the primary mode through which the past is brought to life in the present, thereby rendering it meaningful and relevant for the future. Full text can be read here.

Whistleblowers have been instrumental in revealing the massive investments in state-sponsored and corporate digital surveillance and disinformation. Their personal accounts of what went on behind the scenes are usually presented in popular books marketed as offering insider stories. By interrogating the recapitulations of veteran data consultants, our article is interested in the way in which whistleblowers configure their role and place themselves in the context of their story in terms of agency and accountability. We examine and compare three recollections: Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record (2019), Christopher Wylie’s Mindf*ck (2019), and Brittany Kaiser’s Targeted (2019). Our analysis shows how these high-profile memoirs offer a look that is both intimate and distant. They at once promise to get close to and even behind what has escaped public scrutiny and in return try to dissociate themselves from their former trade. Their position of privileged precarity, which results from the casualization of digital labor, allows these data consultants to quickly become insiders whilst staying uncomfortable with many of the taken-for-granted ideological convictions and organizational orders. Rationalizing their involvement as disoriented diligence affords the whistleblowers the capacity to craft a story of enchantment, delusion, and subsequent awakening. Both their experiences and their position enable these disenthralled renegades to style themselves as honest moral arbiters in service of the public interest and brokers of exclusive knowledge. Full article can be read here.

Dieser Band ist ein Lehr- und Arbeitsbuch für theoriegenerierendes Forschen. Die Beiträge erklären Prinzipien der Grounded Theory und diskutieren deren methodisch fundierte Durchführung und Darstellung im Rahmen empirischer Vorhaben. An Beispielen aus der Forschungspraxis wird gezeigt, wie sich Methodologie und Verfahrensrahmen der Grounded Theory zur Analyse medienbezogener Lebenswelten einsetzen lassen.

Die Rede von Praktiken ist in der Kommunikations- und Medienwissenschaft weit verbreitet. Eine systematische Diskussion des Potenzials praxistheoretischer Denk- und Forschungsansätze steht dagegen noch aus. Das vorliegende Buch ist eine Einladung zur tieferen Beschäftigung mit Medienpraktiken und wirbt für eine entsprechende Neuorientierung von Kommunikationsforschung und Medienanalyse.

Dazu wird der Status Quo praxistheoretischer Ansätze in der Kommunikations- und Medienwissenschaft kompakt vorgestellt. Interessierte sollen einen Einstieg bekommen und Expert:innen Anschlussmöglichkeiten angeboten werden. Es geht sowohl um Grundprinzipien praxistheoretischen Denkens als auch um die sich daraus ergebenden Haltungen sowie um Zugänge für praktische Untersuchungen. Im Zentrum stehen aktuelle Herausforderungen und die Möglichkeiten, Praktiken in Digitalmedien und vernetzten Medienumgebungen zu analysieren. Read the book here.

Approaching datafication through discourse means to engage with the eminent reality-making power of communication, deliberation, and imagination. It foregrounds the work that goes into rendering datafication a socially relevant phenomenon and problem.

The Special Section we sets out from the idea that in modern societies the public understanding of technology is largely driven by discourses in the media and among policymakers and the imaginaries they evoke. It invites us to look at what datafication is or should be for a variety of publics and speakers and how they discuss, criticize, or envision the collection and use of data at different places, speaking from different situations, and at different times. That way, the Special Theme does not merely interrogate the status quo of big data analytics. Rather, discourses also involve prospective ambitions and normative stances about potential, desirable, or unwanted innovations.

The project pursues a double objective: On the one hand, to systematically survey existing eParticipation offerings and the contextual conditions of their successful use and, on the other hand, to continuously incorporate the insights gained in the process into the future design of participation practice. Thus, the research dimension and the transfer dimension are integrally interlinked and they complement each other: scientific survey and analysis as well as transfer are thought together.

The project is funded by the Mercator Foundation (grant no: 220276). Together with my Leipzig colleague Christian P. Hoffmann I collaborate with Marianne Kneuer (TU Dresden), Maria A. Wimmer (Koblenz University), and Stefan Marschall (Düsseldorf University).

The article extends the study of frames in verbal media discourse. We mobilize insights from linguistic semantics and research in the related fields of cognitive science in order to formulate a frame-semantic understanding of frames as adaptive networks of meaning. It allows us to see frames as flexible scaffoldings whose elements are controlled by contextual configurations. This extension is helpful, we argue, because analyses of public discourse have, to date, mainly operated with a model of frames as fixed ensembles. Understanding frames not as invariant clusters but as adaptive networks has implications for empirical studies, too. Consequently, we outline the applicability of our proposition in an analytical scenario. Find the article here.

Approaching datafication through discourse means to understand and to engage with the eminent reality-making power of communication, deliberation, and imagination. It foregrounds the work that goes into rendering datafication a socially relevant phenomenon and problem.

The conference sets out from the idea that the public understanding of datafication is driven by discourses in the media and among policymakers and the imaginaries they evoke. The event invites us to look at what datafication is or should be for a variety of publics and speakers and how they discuss, criticize, or envision the collection and use of data at different places, speaking from different situations, and at different times. That way, the conference does not merely interrogate the status quo of big data analytics. Rather, discourses also involve prospective ambitions and normative stances about potential, desirable, or unwanted innovations. The conference turns its attention to discourses whose programs of thought actively shape the social constitution of Big Data and translate into practices, organizational forms, policies, and institutions. Discourses are in fact integral to how we come to engage with datafication.

Inquiring into the semantics, interpretations, and cultural values that prelude, accompany, and surround investments and innovations into Big Data requires by definition interdisciplinary work. This includes, among others, critical data studies, STS, sociology, communication, linguistics, political science, cultural studies, geography and education, as well as security studies and gender studies.

Confirmed keynote speaker: Minna Ruckenstein (University of Helsinki). Supported by the German Research Foundation. More info and the full CfP here.