Normative theories and communication research – first iteration of a reading list

The below is intended to provide inspiration for background reading for the 2017 ICA Preconference on Normative Theories in Communication Research.

It covers some major discussions in political theory and in media/communication research and is primarily centered on notions of democracy and justice.

It reflects my provincial origins. It is presentist, heavily Western-centric, and Anglophone. It also reflects the gender and racial biases of professional social science. I have not included older classics of political theory (pre-20th century) though many of them have much to offer.

Recommendations warmly welcome. I plan to update this on the basis of input from those interested.

For people interested in internal debates in US/UK liberalism and its critics around media and freedom of expression, I recommend Victor Picard’s Democratic Theories of Media syllabus.

What follows is structured in four major sections—

  • “Mid-century discussions” focused on material from the 1920s-1960s from the foundational period of modern professional social science including media/communication research.
  • “Late twentieth-century discussions” focused on the 1970s-1990s,
  • “Contemporary discussions” (2000s-)
  • “Recent work on normative theory in journalism studies and political communication research”

Sections (1) and (4) are quite engaged with media/communication research, (2) and (3) more with the field of political theory. It is my impression that normative theory was relatively absent from much media/communication research in the late twentieth century. Perhaps I am wrong.

My observation about the shift from (2) to (3) is that many parts of professional political theory has moved from discussions of competing relatively abstract models (liberal, deliberative etc.) to a focus on specific more concrete issues (diversity, globalization, etc.).

For general background, Held (2006) provides a good general overview over theoretical discussions and Keane (2009) an interesting historical account, particularly noteworthy for breaking down the myth that democracy originates in ancient Greece—he in fact finds older roots from many other parts of the world.

Held, David. 2006. Models of Democracy. 3rd ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Keane, John. 2009. The Life and Death of Democracy. 1st American ed.. New York ; London: WWNorton & Co.

The list is not meant to be exhaustive, but to serve for inspiration.


Progressive reformers (for example Addams, Dewey, Park)

Addams, Jane. 2002. The Jane Addams Reader. New York: Basic Books.

Dewey, John. 1991. The Public and Its Problems. Athens, Ohio: Swallow Press/Ohio University Press.

Park, Robert E. 1974. The Collected Papers of Robert Ezra Park. Edited by Hughes Everett C. New York: Arno Press.

Democratic realists (for example Dahl, Lippmann, Lazarsfeld)

Berelson, Bernard, Paul F Lazarsfeld, and William N McPhee. 1954. Voting; a Study of Opinion Formation in a Presidential Campaign. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dahl, Robert A. 1971. Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven ; London: Yale University Press.

Lippmann, Walter. 1997. Public Opinion. New Brunswick, N.J., U.S.A: Transaction Publishers.

Radical critics (for example W.E. Du Bois, C. Wright Mills, early Habermas)

Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt). 2014. W. E. B. Du Bois: Selections from His Writings. Dover Thrift Editions. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications.

Mills, C. Wright. 1959. The Power Elite. Oxford Paperbacks. Oxford University Press: London.

Habermas, Jürgen. 1989. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.


Liberalism (for example Dahl, Rawls, Sen)

Dahl, Robert A. 1998. On Democracy. Yale Nota Bene. New Haven ; London: Yale University Press.

Rawls, John. 1993. Political Liberalism. John Dewey Essays in Philosophy ; No. 4. New York: Columbia University Press.

Sen, Amartya Kumar. 1999. ‘Democracy as a Universal Value’. Journal of Democracy 10 (3): 3–17. doi:10.1353/jod.1999.0055.

Communitarianism (for example Barber, Sandel, Carey)

Barber, Benjamin R. 2003. Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a New Age. 20th anniversary ed. with a new preface. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Carey, James W. 1988. Communication as Culture : Essays on Media and Society. Media and Popular Culture ; 1. New York ; London: Routledge.

Sandel, Michael J. 1996. Democracy’s Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy. Cambridge, Mass ; London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Deliberation (for example Gutmann, Habermas, Fishkin)

Gutmann, Amy, and Dennis Thompson. 2004. Why Deliberative Democracy? Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Fishkin, James S. 1991. Democracy and Deliberation : New Directions for Democratic Reform. New Haven, CT ; London: Yale University Press.

Habermas, Jürgen. 1996. Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Radical democracy (for example Behabib, Mouffe, Ranciere)

Benhabib, Seyla. 1996. Democracy and Difference : Contesting the Boundaries of the Political. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Mouffe, Chantal. 2000. The Democratic Paradox. Phronesis (London, England). London: Verso.

Rancière, Jacques. 1999. Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.



Fraser, Nancy. 2008. Scales of Justice: Reimagining Political Space in a Globalizing World. Cambridge: Polity.

———. 2014. Transnationalizing the Public Sphere. Cambridge: Polity.

O’Neill, Onora. 2016. Justice across Boundaries: Whose Obligations? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Benhabib, Seyla. 2002. The Claims of Culture: Equality and Diversity in the Global Era. Princeton, N.J. ; Oxford: Princeton University Press.

———. 2004. The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents and Citizens. John Robert Seeley Lectures ; 5. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Honig, Bonnie. 2001. Democracy and the Foreigner. Princeton, N.J. ; Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Tully, James. 1995. Strange Multiplicity : Constitutionalism in an Age of Diversity. John Robert Seeley Lectures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Young, Iris Marion. 2000. Inclusion and Democracy. Oxford Political Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Democratic realism

Geuss, Raymond. 2008. Philosophy and Real Politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Shapiro, Ian. 2003. The State of Democratic Theory. Princeton, NJ; Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Williams, Bernard. 2005. In the Beginning Was the Deed : Realism and Moralism in Political Argument. Princeton, NJ; Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Reclaiming representative democracy

Rosenblum, Nancy L. 2008. On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship. Princeton, N.J. ; Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Rosanvallon, Pierre. 2008. Counter-Democracy : Politics in an Age of Distrust. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Urbinati, Nadia. 2006. Representative Democracy : Principles and Genealogy. Chicago, Ill; London: University of Chicago Press.

Participatory/radical democracy and institutional design

Fung, Archon. 2004. Empowered Participation: Reinventing Urban Democracy. Princeton, N.J. : Chichester: Princeton University Press; UPCCP.

Fung, Archon, Erik Olin Wright, and Rebecca Abers, eds. 2003. Deepening Democracy : Institutional Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance. Real Utopias Project (Series) ; v. 4. London: Verso.

Honneth, Axel. 2015. Freedom’s Right: The Social Foundations of Democratic Life. New Directions in Critical Theory. New York: Columbia University Press.

Santos, Boaventura de Sousa, ed. 2007. Democratizing Democracy. London ; New York: Verso.

Wright, Erik Olin. 2010. Envisioning Real Utopias. London: Verso.


Crouch, Colin. 2004. Post-Democracy. Cambridge: Polity.

Hay, Colin. 2007. Why We Hate Politics. Cambridge: Polity.


Journalism studies

Baker, C. 2002. Media, Markets, and Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Benson, Rodney. 2008. ‘Normative Theories of Journalism’. The Blackwell International Encyclopedia of Communication, 2591–2597.

Blumler, Jay G., and Stephen Cushion. 2014. ‘Normative Perspectives on Journalism Studies: Stock-Taking and Future Directions’. Journalism 15 (3): 259–72. doi:10.1177/1464884913498689.

Christians, Clifford G., Theodore L. Glasser, Denis McQuail, Kaarle Nordenstreng, and Robert A. White. 2009. Normative Theories of the Media: Journalism in Democratic Societies. History of Communication. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Coleman, Stephen, and Giles Moss. 2015. ‘Rethinking Election Debates’. The International Journal of Press/Politics 21 (1): 3–24. doi:10.1177/1940161215609732.

Gans, Herbert J. 2003. Democracy and the News. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

George, Cherian. 2013. ‘Diversity around a Democratic Core: The Universal and the Particular in Journalism’. Journalism 14 (4): 490–503. doi:10.1177/1464884912464169.

Josephi, Beate. 2013. ‘How Much Democracy Does Journalism Need?’ Journalism 14 (4): 474–89. doi:10.1177/1464884912464172.

Kreiss, Daniel, and J. Scott Brennan. 2016. ‘Normative Theories of Digital Journalism’. In The SAGE Handbook of Digital Journalism, edited by Tamara Witschge, Chris W. Anderson, David Domingo, and Alfred Hermida, 299–314. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Powers, Matthew. 2016. ‘Beyond Boon or Bane’. Journalism Studies 0 (0): 1–17. doi:10.1080/1461670X.2015.1124733.

Schudson, Michael. 2008. Why Democracies Need an Unlovable Press. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Strömbäck, Jesper. 2005. ‘In Search of a Standard: Four Models of Democracy and Their Normative Implications for Journalism’. Journalism Studies 6 (3): 331–45. doi:10.1080/14616700500131950.

Zelizer, Barbie. 2013. ‘On the Shelf Life of Democracy in Journalism Scholarship’. Journalism 14 (4): 459–73. doi:10.1177/1464884912464179.

Political communication

Althaus, Scott L. 2011. ‘What’s Good and Bad in Political Communication Research? Normative Standards for Evaluating Media and Citizen Performance’. In Sage Handbook of Political Communication, edited by Holli A. Semetko and Margaret Scammell. London: SAGE Publications.

Bucy, Erik P., and Paul D’Angelo. 2004. ‘Democratic Realism, Neoconservatism, and the Normative Underpinnings of Political Communication Research’. Mass Communication and Society 7 (1): 3–28. doi:10.1207/s15327825mcs0701_2.

Nielsen, Rasmus Kleis. 2016. ‘Democracy’. In Digital Keywords: A Vocabulary of Information Society and Culture, edited by Benjamin Peters, 81–92. Princeton Studies in Culture/Power/History. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Peters, John. 1989. ‘Democracy and Mass Communication Theory: Dewey, Lippmann, Lazarsfeld’. Communication 11 (3): 199–220.

Normative theories and communication research – first iteration of a reading list

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