New Directions in Political Communication: A Resource Book

David L. Swanson

Dan Nimmo

A decade ago Dan Nimmo & Keith Sanders achieved a brilliant summary and synthesis of the developing field of political communication in the Handbook of Political Communication (Sage, 1981). In New Directions in Political Communication, editors David Swanson & Dan Nimmo have put together a volume that consciously seeks to continue in the tradition of the earlier Handbook --to define where the field of political communication is and where it is headed, as well as to review the major research activities in a number of distinct areas.

Prior to presenting an overview of the contents of New Directions, allow me to offer some comparative comments on the two volumes. Differences far outweigh similarities. First, with the exception of co-editor Nimmo, only Michael Gurevitch and Jay Blumler have contributed to both volumes. Second, the 1990 volume is a bit over half as long as its predecessor, with 10 as opposed to 22 chapters. As well, material in New Directions is not presented as neatly packaged into discrete theoretical areas, subject areas and methods of study, as was the case with the Handbook. While I personally find the scheme of organization used in the Handbook preferable, the altered organizational format follows from the editors' conception of how the field has developed, and my comment is not meant to imply any deficiency in the organization of New Directions.

New Directions in Political Communication begins with a lengthy and strong introductory chapter by the co-editors, which first analyzes the diverse and interdisciplinary field by what gives it unity: "Directly or indirectly, discovering something about production, character, consumption, or consequences of the messages that constitute "political communication' is the goal of every instance of communication research" (p. 16). The chapter goes on to explore the "fragmentation" of the field. This is discussed mainly in terms of "mainstream" research, i.e, that focused on various aspects of political campaigns (the "voter persuasion paradigm"), as opposed to "alternative" approaches (those generally subsumed under the label "critical theory"), focusing on the more indirect or conditioning role of mass media. The editors see the field as a good deal more fragmented than it was a decade ago, making meaningful understanding between practitioners of different research approaches difficult. To bridge this gap the editors see it necessary to refocus the field away from campaign communication to one which explores the "basic questions about the nature of political communication" (p. 12).

The book is organized accordingly, as five chapters explore the "fundamentals" of the field in areas such as the use of political language (Paul Corcoran); political learning associated with campaigns (Richard Joslyn); political communication as it is manifested in everyday situations (David Morley); news and politics (Dennis Davis); and popular culture (Bruce Gronbeck). Three further chapters emphasize communication within political institutions (Craig Smith & Kathy Smith); in decision-making (Michael Mansfield); and comparatively, between political systems and cultures (Michael Gurevitch & Jay Blumler). The final chapter, by Anne Johnston, reviews in a readable and more conventionally organized format, major pieces of research which have been done during the decade of the 1980s.

New Directions in Political Communication, as did the Handbook which inspired it, will have an impact on the type of research that is being done in the field. My estimation is that the publication not only chronicles the fragmentation experienced by the field, but will serve to legitimize more "non-conventional" research in the decade of the 1990s. The book is a must for any serious scholar in the area of political communication.



  •  Announcements
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Current Issue
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Thesis Abstracts
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo

We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

SSHRC LOGO