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My interdisciplinary scholarship intersects the fields of political communication, mediatization theory, political culture and identity, Latin American studies, Human Rights discourse and memory, Chicana/o studies, border studies, and the media production of social movements. My comparative, mixed-methods work centers on Latin American and U.S. “media practices” as an object of analysis, to examine how communication technologies reconfigure democratic norms and political culture within the context of late neoliberal capitalism. My conceptual framework draws from three fields of communication research — Latin American traditions of critical media scholarship, Western European mediatization theory, and Eastern European/North American concepts related to Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT).

During the 1980s, television emerged as the dominant medium across Latin American, while the regional experience with authoritarian neoliberalism was recast as a “third wave” renovation of transnational political culture. Within that context, Latin American scholars anticipated the need to broaden traditional methods of textual media analyses to include media-centered dynamics of cultural production and consumption. Jesús Martín Barbero and his contemporaries focused their attention on the relationship between cultural change, consumption, and media practices as a unit of analysis, to the degree that their theories of the media became a distinct field of communication research (Barranquero, 2011; Barranquero Carretero & Saez Baeza, 2017; Szurmuk & Waisbord, 2011; Martín Barbero, 1987). Martín Barbero’s seminal work, De los Medios a las mediaciones: Comunicación, cultura y hegemonía, is the most prominent example of these Latinamericanist conceptualizations. In this 1987 book, he explained the Latin American origins of this sociocultural turn:

Communication as culture 

We were convinced that the field of communication should also inform a theory — sociological, semiotic, or informational — because only through such a theory is it possible to demarcate the field and specify its objects of analysis. (. . .)  We had needed to lose our “object” in order to reveal the movement of the social within communication; communication as a process. (. . .) Within the convergence of new understanding gained through the political costs of transnational processes, a profoundly new valuation of cultural life emerges in Latin America. (. . .) something radically different occurs when a culture is confronted with unprecedented dimensions of social conflict, the formation of new subjects — regional, religious, sexual, generational — and new forms of rebellion and resistance. Then there is a reconceptualization of the culture that confronts us with the existence of other people’s cultural experiences, with its multifaceted and active existence, not just its memory of the past, but in its conflicted and creative present. When we begin to think about communicative processes from that perspective, a cultural one, it signifies that we have stopped thinking about them from the perspective of our disciplines, and from the perspective of the media itself. It signifies a break from the security provided by reducing questions of [human] communication to technological questions. (pp. 220–227)

This markedly Latin American approach predicted what is now recognized as the globalized meta-process of “mediatization” (Scolari & Rodriguez-Amat, 2018). Mediatization research began as a Western European and North American line of inquiry that set out to capture “the broad consequences for everyday life and practical organization (social, political, cultural, economic) of media, and more particularly of the pervasive spread of media contents and platforms through all types of context and practice” (Couldry & Hepp, 2013, p. 191; Couldry and Hepp, 2017). In 2017 Nick Couldry and Andreas Hepp broadened their definition of mediatization as “shorthand for all the transformations of communicative and social processes, and the social and practical forms built from them, which follow from our increasing reliance on technologically and institutionally based processes of mediation (. . .) [it] is not just one type of thing, one ‘logic’ of doing things; indeed it is best understood as not a ‘thing’ or ‘logic’ at all, but as the variety of ways in which possible orderings of the social by media are further transformed and stabilized through continuous feedback loops” (2017, p. 4). 

Finally, the sociocultural work of early Soviet Russian psychologists that serves as the foundation for Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) offers uniquely robust conceptual tools for comparative examinations of media artifacts and practices. Here, the work of Lev Vygotsky, Aleksei N. Leontiev, and Alexander Luria figures prominently, as well as the more contemporary work of Michael Cole, Yrjö Engeström, and James Wertsch. Throughout Europe and North America, sociocultural theories such as CHAT center on how cultural-historical practices and artifacts mediate human learning and development. CHAT provides what mediatization theory lacks in well-developed conceptual tools that support empirical examinations of mediated practices and cultural change. 

CHAT scholars describe their work as focusing on the “(. . .) cultural organization of human life. Implied by the dual emphasis on mediation and activity is the centrality of culture in human life.” (LCHC, 2008). CHAT conceptualizations presume the primacy of the “social,” foreground historical change, and the vital significance of sociocultural context — dimensions that are often outside the scope of traditional textual media analysis. Above all, CHAT conceptualizations render mediation and social activity a viable unit of analysis; one that is necessary to structure comparisons of the relationship between media texts, media practices, and sociocultural change.

My sociocultural-mediatization analysis does not presume a causal, media effects framework. Instead, this framework provides a researcher with conceptual tools necessary to track and compare dynamics that are common within contemporary media practices. The framework brings variations in the arrangement of mediated to natural manifestations of a phenomenon into sharp relief, facilitating an analysis of the differentiation and disassociation of mediated representations of culture from natural, experiential, cultural life. Empirical, comparative assessments of the dynamic relationships between these dimensions reveal otherwise indiscernible linkages between media practices and cultural production. By placing Latin American critical media scholarship, mediatization theory, and CHAT into conversation, I advance my own comparative, Chicana/o/x, Latina/o/x, Global South, critical political communication research agenda. 

For instance, when looking at the dynamics of “fake news,” instead of looking at this issue through the lens of “media literacy,” a sociocultural theorization of “fake news” begins with the process-centered question, how do artifacts of digital political communication emerge as a primary field for socio-political action, even when they are unsubstantiated in the corporeal, natural world (sometimes referred to as “IRL – in real life”)? 

The introduction of mediatization and CHAT concepts to ongoing comparative examinations of Latin American political communication resulted in my 2018 book, Television, Democracy, and the Mediatization of Chilean Politics. In this book, I employed qualitative and quantitative research methods to examine the 1988 Franja de Propaganda Electoral as a “media artifact of Chilean political culture.” The Franjas were a month-long political advertising campaign that included the first oppositional political messaging allowed on national television in the 15 years since Pinochet’s 1973 coup d’état. During the late 1980s, the Chilean military regime intended to extend its rule over the country, and in 1988 it authorized the uncensored broadcast of the Franjas as part of an effort to legitimate its control over Chile’s negotiated transition from military dictatorship to civilian rule. 

By first situating the Franjas within Chilean political history, I conducted a textual reading of selected Franjas programs and a quantitative assessment of the audiovisual material as a complete series. I demonstrated how the nationally televised Franjas became a pivotal and qualitatively democratic experience within Chilean political culture, while simultaneously ratifying the undemocratic continuity of dictatorial military and economic power. In other words, what I characterized as the “mediatization of Chilean politics” centered on the Franjas as a “media artifact” of Chilean political culture that instantiated an otherwise impossible reconciliation between the supporters of the Pinochet regime and the majoritarian opposition.

The micro-analysis of Franja segments that I developed for my book (informed by my multimedia production experience) convinced me that sociocultural/mediatization investigations of digital non-linear post-production techniques that are unique to highly evocative media artifacts (and the corresponding audiovisual markers) constitute a new methodological approach with the potential to render media intentionality a category that is quantifiable on scale. A method that supports the viable quantification of media intentionality can help “big data” researchers generalize analyses that might otherwise center on specific “algorithmic outputs,” or be limited to a particular digital platform.

My second book project, No Walls For Donald: The Vilification of Latin America in U.S. Political Culture,​ provides a comprehensive account of the strategic excoriation of Latin American people as the cornerstone of the Trumpian movement. It includes comparative, mixed-methods examinations of 2020 Latina/o/x electoral outreach strategies, digital media practices within the 2018 Central American migrant caravans, politicized media representations of immigration, and racialized social media advertisements used to intervene in the 2016 and 2020 elections.

After the Spanish edition of my first book is published in Chile, I intend to focus on another manuscript, Marketing Democracy: The Political Ascendency of Latin American Television. This research draws from my 2018 book on Chilean political advertising during the 1988 Plebiscito and will include comparative examinations of televised political communication during three contemporaneous cases of televised political interventionism:

  • the Mexican TV behemoth Televisa’s conspicuous support for the 1988 presidential candidacy of Carlos Salinas de Gortari and open hostility to the candidacy of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas;
  • the 1989 Brazilian presidential election of Fernando Collor de Mello that set a new benchmark for the political influence of TV Globo; and 
  • the critical role of television within the rise of the Bolivarian movement in Venezuelan, beginning with the failed 1992 coup d’état led by Hugo Chávez.

Looking ahead, I will publish my examination of the dynamics of “fake news” and a comparative assessment of digital media practices within sociopolitical movements such as Black Lives Matter, the 2017 “Marichuy” presidential campaign, #MeToo, Occupy Wall Street, Trumpism, and QAnon.

Barranquero, A. (2011). Rediscovering the Latin American Roots of Participatory Communication for Social Change. Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, 8(1). 154–177.

Barranquero Carretero, A., & Sáez Baeza, C. (2017). Latin American critical epistemologies toward a biocentric turn in communication for social change: Communication from a good living perspective. Latin American Research Review, 52(3). 431–445.

Couldry, N., & Hepp, A. (2013). Conceptualizing Mediatization: Contexts, Traditions, Arguments. Communication Theory, 23(3), 191–202. doi: 10.1111/comt.12019.

Couldry, N., & Hepp, A. (2017). The Mediated Construction of Reality. Cambridge, England: Polity Press.

LCHC, Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition (2008). Qualitative research: Cultural-historical activity theory. International Encyclopedia of Education. New York: Elsevier.

Martín Barbero, J. (1987). De los medios a las mediaciones: Comunicación, cultura,
hegemonía. Barcelona: Editorial Gustavo Gili, S.A.

Scolari, C., & Rodriguez-Amat, J. R. (2018). A Latin American approach to mediatization.
Communication Theory, 28(2), 131–154.

Szurmuk, M., & Waisbord, S. (2011). The intellectual impasse of cultural studies of the media in Latin America. Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, 8(1), 7–38.

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