Proposal for a Program in Political Communication

4 Jun

Forces that govern people’s behavior in politics are diverse, a diversity that is not always appreciated by scientists stuck in disciplinary bunkers. While occasional interdisciplinary philandering by scientists otherwise faithful to their disciplines has contributed enormously to our understanding by fruitfully leveraging knowledge across disciplines, formalizing such interdisciplinary training may prove to be a good catalyst for increasing this salutary (though non-virtuous) behavior.

Training for academia should include logic, philosophy, methodology, writing, teaching, skill in using tools for statistics (R), typesetting (Latex), and other miscellaneous but important skills like project management, how to present, etc. In addition, a student needs training in the specific specialization.

Given the extent of training needed, a student needs both time and strong mentoring.

Here below, I expand upon three particular aspects of training –

Methods Training
Methods training in Political Science, Communication, and Psychology (the three parent disciplines of Political Communication) is generally unsatisfactory, hobbled by incompetent teaching, if not incompetence. The only compensatory aspect is that the courses are fairly applied in nature. For firmer foundations in methodology, required for scholarship, training in the statistics department is a sine-qua-non.

Courses: statistical inference, modeling and causal inference, stochastic methods, parametric and non-parametric analysis, Bayesian analysis; Applied: time series analysis, data mining, sampling, programming, and optimization.

Statistics covers one part of methodology. A separate important part of methods includes courses on measurement—what to measure and how best to measure it. Recommended courses: survey design, and psychological measurement.

A course devoted to content analysis may prove useful as well.

There exist at least three fields that directly relate to Political Communication – Psychology, Communication, and Political Science.

Psychology: group psychology, social psychology, cognition, neuropsychology, evolutionary psychology.
Communication: News and Politics, Political Communication (an assimilative course), Political Economy of the Media, Media and Communication.
Political Science: historical, institutional, theoretical, and behavioral aspects of politics.

Courses in law and sociology would be useful as well.

Regardless of the efforts to the contrary, there is still considerable variation in the students admitted. Students vary in their level of mental maturity, specific skills that they may excel in, etc. A proper and early assessment of weaknesses and strength of a student can allow the faculty to develop a specific plan crafted to address each. Directed reading courses in the initial year(s) with one’s advisor provides an excellent opportunity for the student to learn, and for an advisor to address concerns above and beyond those discovered in reading.

Seminar series provide excellent places to learn from others – care in thinking, presentation skills, research questions, etc.