My interdisciplinary, mixed-methods research intersects the fields of critical political communication, mediatization theory, digital political culture and identity, Latin American studies, Human Rights discourse and memory, Chicana/o/x – Latina/o/x studies, and border studies. My scholarship tends to be comparative and centers on Latin American and U.S. media practices, particularly the digital media production of social movements. I am especially interested in how communication technologies influence collective identities, democratic norms, and political culture within the context of late neoliberal capitalism.
To conduct this type of research, I have elaborated a sociocultural-mediatization framework that draws from three fields of communication research — Latin American traditions of critical media scholarship, mediatization theory, and Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT). While broadcast television emerged as the dominant medium across Latin America during the 1980s, the regional experience with authoritarian neoliberalism was recast as a transnational “third wave” renovation of political culture (Huntington, 1993). Within that context, Latin American scholars anticipated the need to broaden traditional methods of textual media analyses to include process-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 emerged as a distinct field of communication research (Barranquero, 2011; Barranquero Carretero & Saez Baeza, 2017; Martín Barbero, 1987; Szurmuk & Waisbord, 2011). Martín Barbero’s seminal work, De los Medios a las mediaciones: Comunicación, cultura y hegemonía, is the most influential example of these Latinamericanist frameworks. In this 1987 book, Barbero explained the regional 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 was among the earliest articulations of what is now recognized as a 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). In 2017 Couldry and 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 media practices. Sociocultural theories such as CHAT center on how cultural-historical practices and artifacts mediate human learning and development. 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. 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 often outside the scope of traditional media analyses. Most importantly, CHAT conceptualizations render mediation and social activity a viable unit of analysis, one that is necessary to structure comparisons of the process-centered relationship between media artifacts, media practices, and sociocultural change.
My sociocultural-mediatization framework draws from these fields by enlisting conceptual tools necessary to track patterns and common dynamics within contemporary media practices. The framework brings variations in the arrangement of mediated to natural manifestations of a phenomenon into sharp relief, revealing otherwise indiscernible linkages between media artifacts, practices, and cultural production. These variations facilitate empirical, comparative assessments of the differentiation and disassociation of mediated representations of culture on the one hand, from experiential, natural forms of cultural life on the other. The differentiation, or gap, between these two dimensions signals a disjuncture between political culture and the corporeal configuration of political and economic power most representative of the mediatization circuit.
I continue to advance my comparative, Global South, critical political communication research agenda by placing Latin American critical media scholarship, mediatization theory, and CHAT into conversation. For instance, in my current book project, No Walls For Donald: The Vilification of Latin America in U.S. Political Culture,I examine the political marginalization and balkanization of Chicana/o/x- Latina/o/x communities within the United States and the Latin American geographies of political influence that perpetuate the status quo. The book centers on the instrumentalization of ethnic and racial conflict and flows of disinformation as increasingly salient aspects of U.S. political communication and civic culture that betray the ordering logics of this type of anti-Latin Americanism. In this project, I demonstrate how the most egregious trumpian attacks against Latin American communities and the political economy of border enforcement function as media artifacts rooted in legacies of U.S. interventionism. Indeed, the strategic excoriation of Latin America is better understood as not just a bigoted tactic for short-term political gain but also a medium-term, bipartisan strategy to maintain the balkanization and political marginalization of Latin American communities within the United States. No Walls For Donald includes various comparative, mixed-methods examinations of Latina/o/x electoral outreach strategies, the 2020 census, COVID mortality rates, the U.S. bilingual media market’s fractured status, politicized media representations of immigration, and the transnational digital media practices within the 2018 Central American migrant caravans and pandemic-related misinformation crisis. The book will be a timely contribution to Chicana/o/x, Latina/o/x studies, Latin American studies, digital media studies, and critical political communication studies. It will interest students and scholars in the social sciences and humanities, and the general public interested in ethnic studies, social justice, and U.S. race relations.
After No Walls For Donald is published, I intend to apply my sociocultural-mediatization framework to a comparative examination of the dynamics of digital fake news, misinformation, and disinformation. I will expand my current work on COVID-19 & Transnational Misinformation into a sociocultural theorization of the current pandemic-related infodemic. Rather than looking at the problem through the remedial lens of media literacy and journalistic professionalism, or the technical lens of content moderation and the role of algorithms, my work begins with a process-centered question: how do digital media artifacts emerge as a primary field for socio-political action in the natural world (what our students refer to as “IRL – in real life”), even after they are wholly unsubstantiated and actively debunked? This expansive research agenda points to potential comparative examinations of identity formation and digital media practices within sociopolitical movements such as Black Lives Matter, anti-mask/vax protesters, the 2017 “Marichuy” presidential campaign in Mexico, #MeToo, #NoDAPL, Occupy Wall Street, Trumpism, and QAnon.
I first developed this sociocultural-mediatization framework in my 2018 book, Television, Democracy, and the Mediatization of Chilean Politics. I employed qualitative and quantitative research methods in this book 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 permitted on national television in the 15 years since Pinochet’s 1973 coup d’état. By first situating the Franjas within Chilean political history, I conducted a textual reading of selected Franja programs and a content analysis of the audiovisual material as a complete series. Using a mediatization framework, 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 book was well received within the U.S. and internationally. Nick Couldry called it “a landmark in our understanding of media’s role in Latin American politics and an important contribution to debates on mediatization globally.” Silvio Waisbord described it as “a nuanced, learned, and meticulous analysis… [that] combines state-of-the-art theorizing about the dynamics of mediated politics and a granular examination of electoral communication.” A Chilean edition of my 2018 book is being worked on through a collaboration with the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, and I am particularly proud of my role in overturning the Pinochet regime’s residual censorship of this content.
With the appropriate institutional support, I am sure this sociocultural approach applies to a range of investigations. For instance, the micro-analysis of Franja segments that I developed for my Chilean work (informed by my extensive 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 approach to coding a/v content with the potential to render media intentionality a scalable, quantifiable category. The viable quantification and scalability of media intentionality can provide “big data” researchers with a new media practices approach to addressing online disinformation by generalizing human process-centered analyses that might otherwise prioritize specific “algorithmic outputs,” or be limited to one particular digital platform.
Looking ahead, I hope to complete another manuscript I have neglected, Marketing Democracy: The Political Ascendency of Latin American Television. This project draws from my 2018 book and will involve a comparative, transnational examination of political communication during four contemporaneous cases of televisual political interventionism:
- The 1988 Franja campaign in Chile;
- 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 Venezuela, beginning with the failed 1992 coup d’état led by Hugo Chávez.
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.