Posts in category Faculty News

Bad News Good Democracy: Stuart Soroka

sorokaStuart Soroka is Michael W. Traugott Collegiate Professor of Communication Studies and Political Science. He is also a Faculty Associate in the Center for Political Studies at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. His research focuses on political communication, the sources and/or structure of public preferences for policy, and the relationships between public policy, public opinion, and mass media.

Communication Studies: Tell us about your research. Can you also give us an overview of your February 10th lecture – “Bad News Good Democracy”?

Stuart Soroka: I’ve just been in Chile running an experiment in which we monitor heart rate and skin conductance while participants watch television news. This is the seventh country in which we’ve run these experiments, and our aim is eighteen countries in total, over the next three years. The end goal is a cross-national study of the human tendency to react more strongly to negative news than to positive news. There already is evidence of ‘negativity biases’ in economics and psychology, but not very much work in communications and political science. And there is very little work outside the US. So we currently understand relatively little about where negativity biases in political communication come from, how they vary across individuals, or whether they vary in interesting ways across cultures.

CS: Can you tell us what you were doing prior to joining the faculty at U of M?

SS: I was awarded my PhD in political science at the University of British Columbia, spent a few years as a postdoc at Nuffield College, Oxford, and then was a professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, for twelve years before joining the U of M faculty.

CS: What motivated you to pursue research in Communication Studies?

SS: I am interested in how people learn about politics and policy – how they develop, or change, their ideas about the political world around them. This necessarily involves a good deal of information from newspapers, from television, and increasingly from social media as well. So I started with an interest in politics, and that led me to an interest in mass media.

CS: Was there something in particular that was attractive to you about coming to the University of Michigan?

SS: The University of Michigan has been, for many years, a leading center for the study of public opinion, political behavior and political communication. The Communication Studies Department includes a number of scholars working in areas similar to mine. The same is true for the Political Science Department, and the Center for Political Studies at the Institute for Social Research. So for me, the research community at the University of Michigan is really very extensive. The opportunity to be a part of that played a large role in my decision to join U of M.

CS: How is your research relevant today? What are the implications for today’s society?

SS: There are increasing concerns about negativity in the news, and negativity in politics in particular. The common complaint is that too much negativity turns people off politics – it leads to declining political participation and engagement. I am not sure that this is the case, however. I have an interest, first, in understanding the relative impact of negative versus positive information on our attitudes about politicians, parties, and policies. But I am very interested in the possibility that a focus on negative information in news content reflects the human tendency to be more interested in that kind of information. A steady flow of negative information may be central to political accountability. It might also increase rather decrease attention to politics. Understanding whether this is the case matters for our expectations of news coverage in mass media; it also matters for our objectives in media policy, in political campaigns, and in political journalism. Should we be trying to change the balance of positive versus negative information in news content? Are we well-served by journalism that focuses so strongly on politicians’ errors rather than successes? What is the impact of negative political campaigns on participation? These are all current questions not just in academic work in political communication, but in the public sphere as well. And these are the questions on which my ongoing work is focused.

Prof. Stuart Soroka delivered the Inaugural Lecture for the Michael W. Traugott Collegiate Professor of Communication Studies and Political Science February 10th in the Rackham Amphitheater. stuart

State Power, Digital Technocrats, and Internet Freedom Promotion: Muzammil Hussain

muazmmil3Muzammil M. Hussain is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies and Faculty Associate in the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Hussain conducts research at the intersection of global communication and comparative politics. This past summer Hussain was a visiting scholar at Cambridge University’s Digital Humanities Network and Oxford University’s Program on Comparative Media Law and Policy, while conducting fieldwork in London to understand how the private sector has participated in, and been affected by, recent digitally-enabled protest cascades, and online surveillance and censorship of citizens worldwide.

Communication Studies: You just finished conducting research over the past summer. Can you give us an overview of the topic?

Muzammil Hussain: In January 2010, then-Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton and now runner-up Democratic Presidential nominee launched the US-backed coalition to promote internet freedom. Since then, advanced industrialized Western democratic states from the Global North have been working to promote the Freedom Online Coalition. The international regime is currently the most organized effort by mostly democratic countries to combat risks to internet freedom, especially as internet controls are pervasive around the world, especially in authoritarian countries, but also in democratic countries. Furthermore, recent revelations that many countries, especially democratic countries, have been conducting pervasive and illegal surveillance of their own citizens, and global citizens, have complicated efforts to promote and secure internet freedom. Since 2012, after the Arab Spring revolutions of 2010-2011 and the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011-2012, I have been researching the post-protest “information war” taking place between digital rights activists and governments — both are struggling to control digital infrastructure and online communication. In 2012, my fieldwork focused on the Middle East and North Africa, investigating how digital activists used ICTs to mobilize against repressive governments; in 2013, my fieldwork focused on Western Europe and North America, investigating how policy entrepreneurs informing democratic governments were collecting and synthesizing lessons from recent political events about the utility, impacts, and risks of ICTs. My most recent, and final, period fieldwork has focused on the final piece of this unfolding puzzle: the role of the private sector and political technologists that produce the surveillance, censorship, and circumvention tools used by both governments and activists, and increasingly by journalists covering critical issues and operating in risky environments.

CS: You joined the Comm Faculty last year, what were you doing previously?

MH: Before joining the Department of Communication Studies at Michigan, I was a post-doctoral research fellow at the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) in Doha, where I was doing social computing research — this area of research exploits the vast amount of analytics data collected from global populations towards addressing social issues and problems. While at QCRI, I consulted with Al Jazeera Online, the Brookings Institution, and other media and policy units, to develop new research methods to address issues relating to studying political formations and news media consumption in emerging countries. Prior to QCRI, I was a pre-doctoral fellow in Sweden at the Jonkoping International Business School and in Switzerland at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, where I completed research fellowships in media management and transformation, and comparative and international studies, respectively.

CS: What motivated you to pursue research in Communication Studies?

MH: My research draws from and contributes to three arenas, including international political communication, complexity and causality in comparative research, and science and technology studies. I was motivated by these areas in communication studies because ours is a cutting-edge field that draws from multi-disciplinary environments and synthesizes a variety of intellectual practices to produce inter-disciplinary results. I am a strong supporter of this discipline because it is defined by epistemological pluralism and methodological pragmatism. This means that if you are interested in studying the real world in all its complexities, this is one of the best disciplines in allowing you to develop multiple ways of thinking about critical issues and finding the best tools available to investigating them. We are an open-minded and forward-thinking discipline and it’s a very exiting space to contribute to.

CS: Was there something in particular that was attractive to you about coming to the University of Michigan?

MH: Coming to Michigan was an important and foundational choice in my career. While I was comparing tenure-track invitations from similar research and teaching intensive institutions, Michigan stood out, and this department’s culture and orientation made the conclusive mark in many ways. First, Michigan is by far one of the most important centers for social scientific research — some of the most important classical approaches, and the current cutting-edge strategies for social research are being formulated here. Second, while many departments of communication studies can be described as specializing in specific modes of inquiry or ways of thinking, ours stands out instead by organizing itself in clusters of interdisciplinary scholarship that draw from multiple ways of thinking, all contributing to the discipline of communication studies. I was encouraged to choose Michigan above other institutions because I was offered the resources and the encouragement to be creative and interdisciplinary in doing and teaching communication research.

CS: How is your research relevant today? What are the implications for today’s society?

muzammil4MH: I have two major tracks of research. My first area of research centers on helping to extend the sub-discipline of political communication to inform non-democratic countries. The central research question here is, “How do ICTs and digital media enable democratization and/or authoritarianism?” This body of work helps us understand how political communication practices and structures are organized and relevant in places we tend to overlook when examining formal politics and communication. It turns out that thinking outside of the 15 percent of the world that lives in advanced industrialized Western democracies to include 85 percent of the rest of the world that lives in developing and emerging societies allows us to both extend existing political communication concepts and theories, and identify new issues in political communication that have been overlooked. My second area of research, as described earlier, revolves around the central question “How are powerful actors—like governments, activists, and technologists—building political opportunities and affordances into ICTs and digital media?” This is very relevant to both the future of authoritarian and democratic countries at large, because the experts and designers shaping the communication tools that we communicate with, and regulating these socio-technical spaces we communicate in, can have a significant impact in the quality of democratic governance and political culture created. For example, surveillance, censorship, and circumvention tools and policies shape both citizens’ and journalists’ ability to communicate about and report on the affairs of governance. In many ways, internet infrastructure at large has provided new safe spaces and opportunity structures for citizens and journalists to do the important work of reporting on and holding our governments accountable. However, we are currently watching and documenting that governments, both democratic and authoritarian, are learning and re-configuring these ICT tools and digital environments to be more closed and perhaps risky to engage in democratic activities.

CS: What were some of the challenges you experienced in conducting this research? Did the research yield any unexpected results?

MH: There were some professional and personal challenges in doing this kind of research. For example, studying the kind of experts and activists working in this intersection is quite challenging — they are located around the world, and reaching them to conduct interviews and observations is very difficult. Several grants and fellowships have supported my ability visit and live in the Middle East, North Africa, Western Europe and North America to do ethnographies, observations, and interviews. Furthermore, because this research requires traveling to places that are undergoing political transformations and upheaval, there were times when personal safety has been risky. For example, some internet freedom activists work in places like Beirut, Tunis, Dubai, where researching political and social issues is challenging both for the researcher and especially for the research subjects. So this requires developing human-subjects protection compliant methods and tactics, especially when collecting data in unstable regions with sensitive populations. So far the results have been both unexpected and very exciting. I have found, contrary to early expectations, that the kind of individuals formulating internet freedom activities are quite niche and well-networked. For example, the digital activists in the Global South are connected to elite policy makers in the Global North often within less than 2-3 degrees of separation. This means that there is in fact a dense global network of digital technocrats who are designing tools and policies with close affinity and awareness of each other’s concerns, even though they are distributed over several countries across regions. At the same time, these observations are reflective of existing studies on the power of epistemic networks and communities of practice, which have found that small groups of expert individuals can have significant impacts on the world we live in.

CS: What course are you most excited to teach this winter?

MH: This winter I will be offering a graduate-level seminar on the international-political economy of global ICT Innovation. Technology and innovation is a topic covered in many social and especially applied sciences, but it’s important to recognize that communication studies has been one of the most important fields that has contributed to, and continues to do cutting-edge work in the area of global communication technologies. This course will offer graduate students the opportunity to build from the foundations of this research area in communication studies, drawing on core-communication thinkers like Wilbur Schramm and Everett Rogers, to current research in the field at the intersections of national development, communication innovation, and data citizenship. Most importantly, we will draw on the latest case studies from around the world, from the Silicon Valleys and Roundabouts of the Global North to the Silicon Savannahs and Prairies of the Global South, to unpack how significantly interrelated communication technology industries are in organizing and disrupting the efforts of international states in governing their populations.

CS: Tell us your plans for future research, teaching, or other academic opportunities.

MH: Since 2014, I have been part of the Digital Middle East Initiative at the School of Foreign Services at Georgetown University. This initiative has brought together a team of international experts from around the world to programmatically research the intersections of “the digital” and “the Middle East,” and this community of interlocutors at Georgetown SFS’ Center for International and Regional Studies has been foundational in defining my future research trajectory which is at the intersections of bio data and social data mergers and in the Global South. This refers to the multi-billion dollar industries centered on launching research and development startups operating in spaces like India, China, Indonesia, that alongside Silicon Valley outfits, are in the business of marrying bio-informatics with social-informatics, and applying these data and analytics practices towards governance challenges facing emerging states and their massive populations. My next multi-year project, housed in the project for “Bio-Social Data, Innovation, and Governance” (Big-DIG) at the Institute for Social Research and the International Institute, is a comparative study of “very-large countries” (countries with populations much larger than the global average of 30 million) and their high-tech data-intensive industries, and the implications of these industries for formulating and instrumentalizing new methods for managing their citizen populations. Principal fieldwork on this project is scheduled for the summers of 2016 and 2017 in East Asia, and South Asia. This project presents several upcoming opportunities for interested graduate and undergraduate students to contribute to the research by means of international travel for field research, and analysis of complex datasets to study organizations and practices in these new communication industries.

CS: After having gone through the process, do you have advice for students that are looking to pursue a doctorate program?

MH: Yes — research, especially doctoral research, requires both professional training and ongoing apprenticeship. If you are interested in undergoing doctoral training, it is never too soon to start. For undergraduate students, universities like Michigan offer amazing opportunities to learn by doing and experience the process of discovery. This department’s independent and directed research credits are a fantastic avenue for getting a taste of the research experience, as are the Honors Program and the UROP opportunities. Research-and-development is a very rewarding and enriching arena for professional and intellectual development, and communication studies is an intersecting hub for many epistemologies and methodologies. At the very least, hands-on research experiences give students the opportunities to confront course knowledge with applied practice and test out ideas. This kind of applied curiosity is very much valued by both academia and industry alike.

CS: Since you are in the Communication Studies industry, are you able to disengage from thinking critically about the media-saturated world and if so, how?

MH: It’s difficult, but absolutely necessary. It’s difficult because it’s incredibly enriching to be in the profession that is also your chosen hobby: I get paid to think critically about international media industries and global politics and teach about it all to my students. The poet Khalil Gibran wrote, “Work is love made visible,” and I can’t think of a more enjoyable profession to work in. But it’s necessary to take breaks from doing this because it’s easy to over-indulge, and a well-lived life is a balancing act – my favorite methods for doing what I’m passionate about and being balanced are by disconnecting to travel and enjoying the wilderness, or to cook (sometimes terribly!) for family and friends over b-level sci-fi and 90s action cinema.

Conducting fieldwork in London.

Conducting fieldwork in London.

More fieldwork in London.

More fieldwork in London.

Communication Studies Fall Convocation Confirmed Comm Is The Place To Be – Morgan Cullen

With midterms picking up and fall recruiting in full swing, many students are trying to decide on which major or career path is right for them. Attendees of the Communication Studies Fall 2015 Convocation would enthusiastically report the answer is Comm.

The Communication Studies department welcomed newly declared majors with Pizza House, new Communication Studies T-Shirts, and the opportunity to network with department leaders, GSIs, professors, and fellow students. It was refreshing to hear from department leaders and distinguished faculty that Comm is a coveted major that often ensures recent graduates a competitive advantage in the job market.

Chair Coleman and Roni Stein, an executive member of MACS, participating in the "Go Blue" chant

Chair Coleman and Roni Stein, an executive member of MACS participating in the “Go Blue” chant

The event opened with a rowdy, interactive “Go Blue” chant from new Communication Studies Department Chair, Robin Coleman. Her encouraging speech reminded all the newly declared Comm students of the “world-class education” we are receiving “right here, right now.” Coleman described Comm students at the University of Michigan as critical thinkers and advocates for change who are continuously “busting stereotypes wide open.” She went on to discuss many successful Comm Studies alumni, like Jane Viventi of Riot Games, and encouraged us to continue to be leaders and elicit change.

Next, Associate Chair Professor Harrison approached the podium. Professor Harrison highlighted three critical skills for the workplace that the Communication Studies major helps develop:

1. Literacy: not just reading, but also the ability to read deeper into messages

2. Numeracy: understanding how to unpack arguments in media messages

3. Ecolacy: the ability to see the whole picture as well as how all the components work together to compose that picture

Harrison went on to outline communication studies career paths and their corresponding classes within the department; these suggestions are listed on a handout students can pick up from Comm department at any time. She ended by explaining the heavy reliance on media citizens have today. This reliance, according to Professor Harrison, makes Comm students a hot commodity in the job market.

Last to speak was Hannah Schiff—the President of the Michigan Association of Communication Studies (MACS). Hannah highlighted how helpful MACS has been to her professional development and encouraged all Comm students to get involved. From recruiting events to professional development events like Resume workshops, cover letter reviews, and LinkedIn seminars, there is a MACS event for everyone. Whether you are a Comm student or any rising professional MACS has something to offer. Schiff called the students to follow MACS and the Comm Department on social media for updates.

• Instagram and Twitter: @MACS_umich
• Facebook & LinkedIn:”MACS: Michigan Association of Communication Studies”
Comm Department
• Twitter: @UM_CommStudies
• Facebook: “University of Michigan Department of Communication Studies”
• LinkedIn: University of Michigan Communication Studies

After the speeches concluded, Comm Department Faculty distributed the new Communication Studies T-Shirts and the pizza party ensued! An array of Pizza House pizzas, desserts, and drinks were gobbled up as students mingled with professors, GSIs, and department leaders. From expressing gratitude for excellent Comm studies curriculum to chatting about favorite hobbies, the room was abuzz.

Declared majors and faculty attended the event

Declared majors and faculty attended the event

Faculty handing out t-shirts to students

Faculty handing out t-shirts to students

Welcoming the New Department Chair: Robin Means Coleman

Project Humanities Launch WeekThursday night panel.Happy autumn! Fall is one of my favorite seasons, bringing with it colorful foliage, cooler temperatures perfect for outdoor activities, and tasty apple cider. Poet John Keats aptly described autumn as a season of “mellow fruitfulness.”

In Communication Studies, fall marks the beginning of a bustling academic year that is most certainly “fruitful,” but whose energy is far from “mellow.”

These are exciting times as we just completed an external review of our department. We are benefiting from a new, comprehensive department governance structure. More, we are enlivened as we continue to chart innovative scholarly and pedagogical routes. These intellectual pathways will enhance our already stellar reputation as globally recognized disciplinary leaders.

Our department is celebrating new faculty arrivals. I am absolutely thrilled to welcome three new faculty members to the department. Reighan Gillam, an Assistant Professor, joins us from the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, here at the University of Michigan, where she completed a research fellowship. Reighan’s research focuses on Afro-Brazilian racial politics in commercial television. She is completing a book on the development of a Black television network—TV de Gente—in Sāo Paulo, Brazil. Katherine Sender, a Full Professor, arrives from the University of Auckland in New Zealand bringing her expertise in gender, sexuality, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer representation. Her current research focuses on sex museums and transnational sexual mobilities. Brian Weeks, an Assistant Professor, comes to us after completing a research fellowship at the University of Vienna. His research focuses on political communication with particular attention to affect, misperceptions, misinformation, and rumor. He is concerned with how inaccurate political beliefs emerge.

Our ranks continue to grow as we also welcome one of our larger doctoral student cohorts. I extend greetings to Sedona Chinn, Stewart M. Coles, Dia Das, Ian Hawkins, Dan Hiaeshutter-Rice, Sage Lee, Sriram Mohan, and Emily Saidel. At the undergraduate level, we continue to be one of the most popular majors on campus. Our new Associate Chairs, Kris Harrison (undergraduate program) and Aswin Punathambekar (graduate program) are directing their respective programs with an eye toward advancing cutting-edge curricula, fostering diversity, and supporting students with their professional development goals.

Our halls will be teeming with visitors who will be joining us for several stimulating events. These events include, but are certainly not limited to:

• Fall Convocation (October 6) in which we welcome our new and returning majors.

• Global Media Studies Initiative (October 8-9). This inaugural symposium kicks off the formal establishment of the Initiative in the department. Guest speakers Wendy Willems (London School of Economics and Political Science) and Michael Curtin (UC Santa Barbara) will discuss where the field of global media is heading, as well as the globalization of media production.

• Entertainment Media Career Forum (November 13), which brings back alumni to provide career mentoring for our students.

• The Marsh Lecture (date TBD), presented by Louisa Lim, the Marsh Visiting Professor of Journalism. Lim is author of the award-winning book The People Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited.

• Colloquium (Thursdays, 4-5:30), in which we hear from a range of presenters about new scholarly inroads.

• And, of course, we are already looking ahead toward the Department’s Commencement (April 29, noon) where we celebrate our graduates and shake the rafters with cheers of “Go Blue!”

Finally, we are in the process of completing some welcome renovations. The 7th floor has been sound-proofed to support the inventive research being conducted in our various research labs. The graduate student lab is in the process of receiving a major overhaul, to include new paint and furniture. We look forward to an open house celebrating our graduate students’ recent achievements and showcasing the lab’s new look. Finally, the 5th floor will be brought to life with artwork, furniture, and other enhancements.

In short, Communication Studies is the place to be if you want an intellectually dynamic, far from mellow environment.

Professor Susan Douglas, My Time as Chair


Douglas_165On June 30 I stepped down from serving as Department Chair after 11 years.  Many faculty think that being chair is an administrative duty best avoided at all costs, but I have really enjoyed it because we have been able to build and enhance so much for our faculty and our students.   It also helps to have really strong support from the College and the Deans, which we have had.


I became chair of the Department in July of 2004.  We were housed in the Frieze Building—the old Ann Arbor high school, built in 2007—where North Quad is now located.  To say that the building was antiquated and falling apart would be an understatement—nothing, the heating and cooling, the plumbing—worked properly and some of the windows were starting to fall out onto the sidewalk.  So we hoped against hope that something might finally be done about the Frieze Building, but we had been told repeatedly that it was low on the priority list of upgrades or replacements.  But then, that fall, President Mary Sue Coleman announced that the Frieze Building would be knocked down and a brand new building, combining academic offices and a new residential building, would replace it.  Over several years of planning, College and University officials determined that the building would house units that focused, in the broadest terms, on communication, media and information. In 2010, Communication Studies, Screen Arts and Cultures, the School of Information, the Sweetland Writing Center and the Language Resource Center all moved into the building now known as North Quad.  During the planning period, the Chairs, Directors and Deans got to play a major role in the design of their departments, from the layout to choosing furniture, which I had never done before and was fun.  We were able to include some small meeting rooms and alcoves which our students use all the time for meetings or to hang out while waiting for advising appointments and the like.  And we established a lab to support the research of our faculty, grad students and honors students.


In 2004 we had 11 faculty and hundreds of concentrators because the major was—and remains—very popular.  So we really needed to hire more faculty in a host of areas.  In my first three years as chair, with strong support from the college, I launched a very aggressive hiring campaign that I know tired the faculty out—for each person you hire there are at least three job talks, dinners and individual interviews, which is a lot of work especially for a small faculty.  But during that time, the Department hired seven new faculty, and continued to interview and hire multiple people every year; as of September 2015, the Department will have twenty-four faculty and two lecturers.  We’ve added faculty with expertise in the following areas:  media effects, particularly on political attitudes and participation; on health behaviors, body image, children and obesity; and on attitudes about race and gender; history of the mass and emerging media, including radio, television, the Internet; the uses and effects of social media and mobile communications; media and globalization and comparative media studies; media and the environment; media industry studies; and journalism studies.  By this point the Department had become home to one of the most sought-after majors in LSA.


I also wanted to strengthen the connections between currently enrolled students and the Department’s alumni, and in 2005 established the Alumni Connection, which brings in Communication Studies alumni working in a variety of fields—marketing, advertising, public relations, journalism, new and social media—to talk to current students about what they do in their jobs, how they got their jobs, and to offer advice on internships, networking and job hunting.  This event now happens once every year.  In 2006, we established the Entertainment Media Career Forum that, in cooperation with an alumni organization, the University of Michigan Entertainment Coalition, brings in alumni who work in the entertainment industry to talk to students about their jobs, networking and job hunting.   This event happens every fall and these events are enormously popular with and helpful to students as they seek internships and careers.


In the late 1990s, the department had begun holding its own commencement exercises so students could have a more intimate and personal experience beyond the giant spectacle in the Big House, and it was typically held in one of the larger rooms in the Union.  But with so many concentrators, we were outgrowing those spaces and had to limit the number of students’ family members who could attend, which was not what we wanted for this event.  So we moved our graduation to the Michigan Theater and redesigned it so that it would include a keynote speaker and two student speakers.  The venue is beautiful and now we can welcome as many family and friends who want to attend.


Improvements also came about in the Department’s graduate program, which, until the late 1990s, had been small and managed interdepartmentally. The Department brought the program squarely under its own the management in 2004; enrollment was increased to produce five to seven Ph.D. candidates each year; and a program of study was developed in which students would be well trained in, able to apply and interweave theories and methods from the field’s social science and humanities traditions. Our Ph.D. students have the opportunity to study in Oxford for the summer, or to participate in COMPASS, of which we were a founding member.  The COMPASS program sends Ph.D. candidates to participate in public policy internships in Washington, DC over the summer.


U of M Alumni are some of the most dedicated and passionate alums in the country, and they do so much to support our students, our departments and the college.  They have certainly played a key role in the vibrancy of the Department.  In 1997, John Evans (U-M, 1966, in Speech) established the John Derby Evans Chair in Media Technology.  In 2000, Arnold (U-M, 1948, History) and Connie Pohs (U-M, 1949, Spanish) established the Constance F. and Arnold C. Pohs Professorship of Telecommunications to support a faculty member whose research would focus on the uses and impact of mobile communications, with an emphasis on cell phones.  In 2006, the Constance F. and Arnold C. Pohs Research and Technology Endowment fund was established to support research in a variety of areas and to help support the outfitting of new lab space in North Quad.  Mickey Luckoff  (U-M, 1958, Speech) established a scholarship program to support a student doing an unpaid internship in commercial radio broadcasting. Kara Sundlun House (U-M, 1997, Communication Studies and Political Science) established, in 2005, an award to fund a student wishing to do an unpaid internship in the area of broadcast journalism.  Mark Foote Dalton, whose grandfather was an alumnus and longtime leader in journalism, serving over forty years as a national and international news correspondent for Booth Newspaper Syndicate in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Washington, D.C., has been enormously generous to the Department.  The family established, in 2003, the Mark Foote Distinguished Thesis Award for the most outstanding senior thesis in terms of scientific rigor and theoretical contribution. The family also established a comparable award for the best Ph.D. dissertation.  In addition, Mark Foote Dalton has donated annually to our strategic fund, enabling the Department to bring in speakers, co-sponsor events with other departments, and support various related activities.  More recently, alums Adam Mesh (1997, Communication Studies) and Ken Davidoff (1993, Communication Studies and English) established paid internships for our students, and so many alumni—Tracy Wolfson, Jessica Kleiman, David Berson, Val Boreland, Tom Keaney, Peter Jayson and many, many others—have given back through donations or coming back to campus to talk to, advise and inspire our students.


In academic year 2014-15, we had an External Review conducted by four eminent scholars from peer institutions.  We were extremely gratified by their assessment that we are “one of the top Communication departments in the country” and “a program that is justly recognized as among the best in the field.”  It has been so gratifying to work together with our deeply dedicated, hard-working and impressive faculty to make our department what it is today.  I will return to teaching and research and am excited about exploring new writing projects.  Go Blue!

Get to Know Julia Sonnevend

Julia  photograph

For Julia Sonnevend, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan, success looks like the opportunity to explore and create. In her words, “Success is dedication and freedom. The possibility that with passionate work you can fly to new ‘planets.’ I feel the happiest in settings where there is a lot to learn and a lot to reach. I cannot imagine a life without ambitions and I have a hard time handling intellectual spaces that are limited; where there is no place to ‘move’.”

To reach the success Sonnevend has achieved, she has traveled the world and adopted a global perspective throughout her work. Sonnevend studied German literature, aesthetics, law and communications in Budapest, Berlin, New Haven and New York before starting teaching at the University of Michigan in the fall term of 2013. After completing her Master of Laws degree at Yale Law School, Sonnevend went on to earn her PhD in Communication Studies at Columbia University in the City of New York

“Exploring new spaces and especially spaces of ‘in-betweenness,’ I believe, are essential both for me and for my work. Frequent intellectual and geographical travels or relocations strongly shape my thinking,” said Sonnevend. As a result of these academic and geographic shifts, Sonnevend’s research has emerged as focused on the cultural aspects of globalization with a special interest in media events, rituals, icons and performances.

Jerusalem pic

Sonnevend in Jerusalem

Sonnevend’s approach to research connects disciplines and institutions from multiple countries in order to achieve a unique global perspective. Sonnevend expanded on this idea, explaining, “For the first half of 2014, I was in Israel as a Lady Davis Postdoctoral Fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, working on a book entitled Stories Without Borders: The Making of a Global Iconic Event. My book examines how we can tell the story of a news event in a way that people remember it internationally and over time. Focusing on the fall of the Berlin Wall as central case study, I show how the confusing events of November 9, 1989 gradually condensed into a simple phrase (“fall of the Berlin Wall”), a short emotional narrative of freedom, and a recognizable visual scene. I argue that this “package” of phrase, narrative and image now travels across multiple media platforms and has currency from China to Hungary to the United States, providing us with a contemporary myth.”

It seems only fitting that with Julia Sonnevend’s interest in intellectual cross-pollination, the inspiration for some of her best work comes from some unexpected sources. Sonnevend explains, “Somehow, I get the best ideas when walking around in art museums because the visual representations from various centuries speak to me. I think the best ideas come when you do not focus on finding them. For instance, a few months ago I was walking around in Jerusalem and suddenly saw a digital sign at a bus station: “Communication Failure.” And I thought: what if I write a book on why communication (often) fails in families, in international relations and in media? Well, will this playful idea become a book, an essay or a paper? I am not sure yet, but I have certainly found this project at the least expected moment.”

Communication Failure sign in Israel

When not working or traveling, Sonnevend enjoys much of what Ann Arbor has to offer. Her favorite aspects of to town include, “The vibrant classical musical scene – I have just received an email about the fantastic 2014/2015 season! And conversations with friends in The Last Word also add to my Ann Arbor experience… The city quickly felt like home. I find the place culturally exciting and whenever I have to be abroad at a conference, in half an hour I can be at the Detroit airport. I also like visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago.”

When asked what advice she would give to incoming Communication Studies students, Sonnevend bequeathed some very valuable advice, “Do not go with the trend! Try to find your own interests, your own niche. I strongly believe that if your ideas are exciting, the world and the job market will be interested in them. This advice, I believe, is useful for all disciplines, but especially for communication studies, which tends to focus only on things that are happening right now.  But the past and the future are just as important as the present. A successful academic discipline has to include careful historical writings and imaginative grand theories of the future.”

Get to Know Katie Brown

As 2013-2014 Howard R. Marsh Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow, Katie Brown brings a fresh perspective and a diversity of experience to the position.

By creating her own major centered on filmmaking, film history, and business, Brown’s undergraduate studies at Rice University fueled her fascination with the power of the mass media. After graduating from Rice in 2006, Brown entered the Ph.D. program in Communication Studies at the University of Michigan. Since finishing her Ph.D. in the Fall of 2012, Brown has gone on to create and teach classes within her field of expertise. As a lecturer within the Communication Studies department, Brown has taught for a number of classes, including Arab-American relations in the Media, Media & the Politics of the Extreme, and Satire, Media & Politics. READ MORE »

In Brief: April 2014


Congratulations to all of our graduating Communication Studies students! READ MORE »

In Brief: March 2014

We are proud to announce the recent successful dissertation defenses of Seung Mo Jang, Soo Young Bae, and Yioryos Nardis.

Dr. Jang has accepted a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of South Carolina, Columbia that will begin in the fall.

Dr. Bae will be leaving us in the fall to accept a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The Huffington Post published an article featuring the work of Assistant Professor Sol Hart last week.

Continuum: Journal of Media Cultural Studies published an article by Communication Studies doctoral student, Monique Bourdage. The article draws on research she conducted in her first year project.

Introducing Assistant Professor Muzammil Hussain

Written by Olivia Avery, in coordination with Muzammil Hussain

mQA4ryAlAssistant Professor Muzammil Hussain has lived his life in a series of nine year segments, starting in South India, then relocating to Midwestern Ohio, and since then traversing the globe through his studies, research, and writing. His field research on comparative media studies and digital politics has included time in Western Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. But it was his foundational and contrasting experiences between Bangalore and Cleveland that have also shaped his line of inquiry.

In beginning his next adventure, he has found himself right here, in Ann Arbor as a new Assistant Professor of Comparative Media Studies. Hussain’s academic interests were seeded for four years at the University of Wisconsin’s undergraduate program in Journalism, and then shaped for another five years at the University of Washington’s masters and doctoral program in Communication. He has done extensive research in Comparative Media Studies and Political Communication. Additionally, he teaches courses concerning information networks, digital media and politics, and research methodology. READ MORE »