Polarization is Not the Problem: A Post-Civic Culture

Increasingly, the dilemmas facing politics in the United States if not worldwide are being portrayed as outcomes of polarization. It is an attractive topic for discussion, because there is undeniably a great deal of polarization, if defined as wildly different (polar opposite) viewpoints on one or more issues. Moreover, it seems to be tied to popular conceptions of the role of the Internet in enabling individuals to find support for their views online, even if extreme. Conceptions of echo chambers and filter bubbles are tied to this perspective. While I have argued that echo chambers and filter bubbles have been over hyped and under researched, I also can’t believe that polarization has not been prominent throughout the history of American politics.

So what is the problem? What has changed?

Perhaps it is the degree that proponents of different viewpoints have begun to take more ideological, righteous, or even sectarian positions. Their opponents are not wrong, they are seen and portrayed as bad if not evil.

What is surprising about this in the context of American politics is our history of being the model of a so-called ‘civic culture’ (Almond and Versa 1963: 8), defined by a culture based on “communication” and “consensus” in which diverse opinions are moderated by the structures and process of the political system, such as the two-party system and our system of checks and balances. This view was roundly criticized as simply a description of American politics post-World War II, as contrasted with less stable democratic systems leading up to the second world war, such as the Weimar Republic. However, there has been some face validity to this civic culture notion, at least up to the divisions surrounding the Vietnam War. Today, the idea of a civic culture seem ludicrous. 

So I don’t think we should be as focused on the dynamics of polarization, or a diversity of opinions, but more on the dynamics of this politically sectarian righteousness. Maybe it is the nature of the issues being considered, such as the right to life, the environment, and immigration, that have connections with deep ethical or religious principles. But the search for answers to this question will lead in different directions than the search for the dynamics of polarization on the issues of the day.

There is a thoughtful letter to the editor of USA Today by David Engen of Spokane, Washington, that focuses on the decline of civil discourse. I find myself in agreement with him and others who are focusing on the decline of civility in American politics as absolutely central to fixing or mitigating what seems to be a decline of our political processes. Yet even the discussion of civility in American politics has been steeped in claims that one or another sectarian group is to blame, such as a recent story about whether voters see the Democrats or President Trump as more responsible for a decline in civility (Wise 2018).

Are we lost in what I would call a post-civic culture?

References

Almond, G. A., and Verba, S. (1963), The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Dutton, W. H. (2017), Fake News, Echo Chambers and Filter Bubbles: Underresearched and Overhyped, The Conversation, 5 May: https://theconversation.com/fake-news-echo-chambers-and-filter-bubbles-underresearched-and-overhyped-76688

Engen, D. (2018), ‘We’re all Americans. Let’s be civil, please.’, Your Say section of USA Today, 2 July: page 5A.

Wise, J. (2018), ‘Poll: More Voters Blame Trump than Dems for Lack of Civility’, The Hill, 3 July: http://thehill.com/homenews/395371-poll-more-voters-blame-trump-than-dems-for-lack-of-civility

ICA Award for Applied Research Went to …

Since 1992, Peter Clarke, my former dean at USC, and Susan Evans, a Research Scientist at the Annenberg School for Communication, have been conducting a systematic program of applied research to bring massive quantities of healthy food onto the plates of hungry and malnourished adults and children. Their work is evidence-based throughout, and is exemplary of the potential for applied research in communication to address a pressing human need, promoting food practices that build physical health and wellbeing, and that are the bedrock of strong communities.

Their team had a clear and strong case for the applied research award. Before this occasion, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture named their project a “Hero of Food Recovery”, and the UPS Foundation recognized Clarke and Evans with its Distinguished Services Award for their accomplishments. So it is timely and wonderful for the ICA to acknowledge their research through its Applied Research Award for 2018. Their decades of focused collaboration have really raised the bar for this award. 

Below is a photo of Peter and Susan at ICA with a winner of the best paper award, and former Annenberg student, Professor Arvind Singhal, the Samuel Shirley and Edna Holt Marston Endowed Professor and Director of the Social Justice Initiative in the Department of Communication, University of Texas – El Paso. And another photo tied to their research on the use of a mobile app that helps people receiving vegetables to find good healthy recipes. Here is a link to a 15-minute demonstration of the app’s features. My own research on the use of the Internet in Detroit illuminated the degree of mobile dependence in distressed urban areas, which makes this innovation particularly relevant. This app is available in both Android and iOS platforms, and has been subjected to a randomized controlled field trial among nearly 300 families who patronize 15 pantries.

Congratulations!

 

Source: news.usc.edu

The Bad Collaborator

A good colleague of mine asked: Has anyone ever told you that you were a difficult colleague to collaborate with? I said “no”, as he was the first to explicitly suggest that. But the more I thought about this question, it is probably true that I am difficult as a colleague. But does that make me a bad colleague or bad collaborator? (I should add that in academia, it is ‘good’ to collaborate. You are not a traitor or defector – a collaborator in a bad way – but a colleague.)

I immediately recalled one of the earliest and most valuable collaborative projects I was involved in – an evaluation of Urban Information Systems (URBIS), which was conducted by a team of researchers at the University of California, Irvine’s former Public Policy Research Organization (PPRO). I was one of five principal investigators, led by Ken Kraemer, but including James Danziger, the late Rob Kling, the late Alex Mood, and myself. We worked together from 1974 through 1979, leading to a couple of books in the early 1980s.* Ken was a management scientist trained in public administration and architecture. Rob was a computer scientist focused on artificial intelligence. Alex Mood was a major statistician and co-author of the famous Coleman Report.** Jim and I were political scientists.

Most of us were difficult to collaborate with. We debated every substantive and methodological decision and every idea developing out of the project. While we would let each other have time to explain their position on an issue, most of us would give real time reactions through making faces, changing our posture, yawning, grimacing, rolling eyes, and subvocalizing if not muttering sounds of disapproval. We would write memos to each other to make our case or critique another’s. We had to fight for each forward step in the project.

Courtesy of Elsevier.com

I should say that not all of us were difficult. Alex mainly gave advice when asked. Ken was always the best listener and translator across disciplinary boundaries. He would explain that Rob was saying this, and Jim was saying that, and enable us to better understand each other’s points. Moreover, while we disagreed and debated nearly every point, we liked and respected each other. We took each other seriously.

That said, the difficulties in collaborating contributed to the best aspects of our work. For example, we would never be able to settle on the first good idea that emerged unless it survived repeated challenges. Most often, we ended up with better ideas downstream that combined features of several contributors. Also, when we met with research teams evaluating our project and the final outputs, we found that we had already addressed every argument and counter argument that could be raised about our work. We had already raised and settled them ourselves. As a consequence, we had no surprising critique of our project and found only a surprising degree of support for our work.

Ever since that experience, most of my collaborations have been difficult but successful. In short, it is possible that a difficult collaborator is not necessarily a bad colleague. Harmony sounds good in all walks of life, but harmony often emerges at the end of a lot of discord and struggle. Certainly in academia, it is not always the case, but quite often, a difficult colleague can be valuable to your work.

References

*Kraemer, Kenneth L., William H. Dutton, and Alana Northrop (1981), The Management of Information Systems,New York: Columbia University Press; and Danziger, James N., William H. Dutton, Rob Kling, and Kenneth L. Kraemer (1982; 1983 paperback), Computers and Politics: High Technology in American Local Governments, New York: Columbia University Press.

** Coleman, James S., Ernest Q. Campbell, Carol J. Hobson, James McPartland, Alexander M. Mood, Frederick D. Weinfeld, and Robert L. York. 1966. Equality of Educational Opportunity. Washington: U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Office of Education.

 

Networked publics: multi-disciplinary perspectives on big policy issues

https://policyreview.info/articles/analysis/networked-publics-multi-disciplinary-perspectives-big-policy-issues

The editors of the Internet Policy Review are pleased to announce the publication of our newest special issue, bringing together the best policy-oriented papers presented at the 2017 annual conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) in Tartu, Estonia. The issue – on the broad theme of networked publics – was edited by guest editor William H. Dutton, Professor of media and information policy at Michigan State University.

The seven papers in the special issue span topics concerning whether and how technology and policy are reshaping access to information, perspectives on privacy and security online, and social and legal perspectives on informed consent of internet users. As explained in the editorial to this issue, taken together, the papers reflect the rise of new policy, regulatory and governance issues around the internet and social media, an ascendance of disciplinary perspectives in what is arguably an interdisciplinary field, and the value that theoretical perspectives from cultural studies, law and the social sciences can bring to internet policy research.

This special issue is the first major release of Internet Policy Review in its fifth anniversary year. The open access journal on internet regulation is a high-quality publication put out by four leading European internet research institutions: The Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG), Berlin; the Centre for Creativity, Regulation, Enterprise and Technology (CREATe), Glasgow; the Institut des sciences de la communication (ISCC-CNRS), Paris; the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3), Barcelona.

The release of this special issue officially kicks off the Internet Policy Review anniversary series of activities, including both an Open Access Minigolf during the Long Night of the Sciences (Berlin) and the IAMCR conference (Eugene, Oregon) in June, a Grand anniversary celebration (Berlin) in September and a participation in the AoIR2018 conference in October (Montreal). For up-to-date information on our planned activities, please kindly access: https://policyreview.info/5years

Papers in this Special Issue of Internet Policy Review

Editorial: Networked publics: multi-disciplinary perspectives on big policy issues
William H. Dutton, Michigan State University

Political topic-communities and their framing practices in the Dutch Twittersphere
Maranke Wieringa, Utrecht University
Daniela van Geenen, University of Applied Sciences Utrecht
Mirko Tobias Schäfer, Utrecht University
Ludo Gorzeman, Utrecht University

Big crisis data: generality-singularity tensions
Karolin Eva Kappler, University of Hagen

Cryptographic imaginaries and the networked public
Sarah Myers West, University of Southern California

Not just one, but many ‘Rights to be Forgotten’
Geert Van Calster, KU Leuven
Alejandro Gonzalez Arreaza, KU Leuven
Elsemiek Apers, Conseil International du Notariat Belge

What kind of cyber security? Theorising cyber security and mapping approaches
Laura Fichtner, University of Hamburg

Algorithmic governance and the need for consumer empowerment in data-driven markets
Stefan Larsson, Lund University

Standard form contracts and a smart contract future
Kristin B. Cornelius, University of California, Los Angeles

Link to Special Issue
https://policyreview.info/articles/analysis/networked-publics-multi-disciplinary-perspectives-big-policy-issues

Frédéric Dubois | Managing editor, Internet Policy Review
 Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society

 Französische Strasse 9 · 10117 Berlin · Germany · hiig.de ·

Vint Cerf at MSU on 10 May at 3:30PM: Join Us!

Vint Cerf speaking for the Quello Center at MSU in Communication Arts & Sciences Rm 147, 3:30PM

Vint Cerf is internationally recognized as “an Internet pioneer” – one of the “fathers of the Internet” – in light of his work with Bob Kahn in co-inventing Internet protocol (TCP/IP). He will be in East Lansing, Michigan, giving a Quello Lecture in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the Quello Center. The Center was founded at MSU in 1998 to recognize the importance of James H. Quello’s contributions as one of the longest serving and most distinguished Commissioners of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). 

Arguably, over the first twenty years of the Quello Center’s existence, there has been no greater development shaping media and information technology, policy, and practice than the rise of the Internet and related information and communication technologies such as the Web, social media, and mobile Internet. But will the Internet play as central a role over the next twenty years?

To stimulate and inform debate around this question, we’ve asked Vint Cerf to provide his perspective on the Internet’s role in shaping media and information over the past twenty years, and in the coming decades. It is difficult to imagine another person who could provide such an authoritative perspective on twenty years in Internet time.

His lecture will be followed by questions and discussion as well as a reception. Join us on May 10thto celebrate and reflect on the most significant development shaping communication, media, and information over the life of the Quello Center, and also welcome Google’s Internet Evangelist to MSU.

 

An Inspiring Graduation: Congratulations to MSU

I had the good fortune of attending the 2018 graduation ceremony at MSU. I always find these occasions to be a reminder of the importance and responsibility of an academic career. However, this celebration on 4 May 2018 was particularly significant to me. First, it was my last, before I head off to Britain for whatever awaits me there. Secondly, I was proud to be asked to hood one of our graduating doctoral students, Ruth Shillair, who I’ve been working with since my arrival in 2014. Ruth participated in the Oxford Internet Institute’s summer doctoral programme, and has helped me with several papers in collaboration with the Oxford Martin Cyber Security Capacity Center. Ruth has many more academic achievements to look forward to.

Advanced Degree Ceremony at MSU 2018

Finally, I was inspired by the wonderful set of honorary degree recipients. Every year, MSU is able to bring in distinguished individuals, many with close ties to MSU, but during a year of troubles for the university, this year’s honorees were particularly welcome and inspiring. They included:

Marcia McNutt, who gave the commencement speech at the advanced degree ceremonies, is President of the National Academy of Sciences, and former editor-in-chief of the Science journals. She spoke about her role with the U.S. Geological Survey in helping to contain the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

After the ceremony, at an event for the honorary degree recepients, who spoke at other commencement ceremonies, I was able to hear from others, including:

Akinwumi Adesina, an agricultural economist, who is president of the African Development Bank Group, and former Nigerian Minister of Agriculture;

Bethany Beardslee, a soprano, who rode her bike to MSU, where she majored in music in the early 1940s, when MSU was the Michigan Agriculture College [that is the origin of M.A.C. Street]. She is widely acclaimed, receiving the Laurel Leaf Award for ‘fostering and encouraging American music’ from the American Composers Alliance;

Wanda Herndon, who has held senior-level positions at a number of major companies, including vice president of Global Communications for Starbucks Coffee Company. She now has her own consulting firm, W Communications. Ms Herndon has been named one of the top 12 African-Americans in public relations as well as one of the ‘Top 100 Black Professionals in Corporate America’.

Albert “Albie” Sachs, a judge and legal scholar, who was appointed to the Constitutional Court by Nelson Mandela in 1994, after devoting much of his life since 1952 as a human rights advocate in South Africa.

My thanks to all of those who organized the 2018 graduation ceremonies for bringing such brilliant people to the attention of our students and faculty.

Students Graduating 2018 from MSU

 

Bill Dutton and Ruth Shillair 2018

 

Last Class at MSU

I met for the last time with my last class at MSU in the Department of Media and Information. In a university with over 50,000 students, I am still able to teach a small class with three students – a virtual small tutorial. This one was on media and information policy with students doing papers on the moral panic over fake news (or is it warranted), whether there is a knowledge gap in understanding search algorithms that is shaped by socioeconomic factors, and a study of how to bridge broadband divides in Michigan.

So thanks to the Department and the College as well as the students for such an enjoyable way to conclude my teaching at MSU. I began as an undergraduate at the University of Missouri by tutoring the athletes in political science. I think I’ve always learned more than the students in my classes, but they always humor me. Thank you.

Media and Information Policy Class