In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Normative Analysis of Political Communication

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals

Communication Normative Analysis of Political Communication
Eike Mark Rinke
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0215


Political communication researchers who want to understand the empirical possibilities of democratic political communication need to engage in normative analysis. Normative analysis of political communication, in the sense used in this article, refers to research that explicitly connects empirical (or “positivist”) inquiry into communication phenomena as they are with normative inquiry into communication phenomena as they ought to be. Such connections have always been made in political communication scholarship, but researchers in the early 21st century have become increasingly aware of the need for systematic procedures to connect the empirical and the normative sides of political communication. Any sound normative analysis of political communication must rest on three components: a set of well-developed criteria against which to judge the quality of political communication, plausible procedures for putting them to use in empirical research, and empirical data relevant to these criteria generated by such research. The body of work devoted to an integrated view of the development of criteria in normative theory, the procedures for employing them in empirical research, and their application in empirical studies is not itself well integrated. This article includes relevant contributions from diverse literatures ranging from classic works to contemporary applications of normative analysis. In doing so, it presents normative analyses of the way in which both journalism (colloquially known as “the media”) and ordinary citizens communicate about politics and public affairs. Together, the collected literature illustrates the way in which normative analysis, rather than being intrinsically normative in a political sense, enables a structured two-way exchange between the normative theory and empirical study of political communication in any given society.

General Overviews

Given that the body of literature on strictly normative analysis is scattered, it is surprising that the discussion of how normative and empirical research could benefit each other to produce critical empirical research was present at the onset of the behavioral revolution in communication research. In the first half of the 20th century, Lazarsfeld 1941 explained the necessity and ways of combining critical and empirical research. It is a useful starting point for considering the possibilities of such a combination in normative analysis. Gerbner 1958 is a similar early and surprisingly ecumenical statement that continues to be instructive in its presentation of an empirical communication model informed by insights of critical theory; it also is a call for more of such empirical-normative integration. Beyond these early forerunners, contemporaneous overviews of the role of normativity in communication research are also available. Karmasin, et al. 2013 is wide in scope and illustrates the varied ways in which communication research is, and should be, related to normative questions, be it through the particular foci of its subdisciplines or the nature of its objects.

  • Gerbner, George. 1958. On content analysis and critical research in mass communication. Audio-Visual Communication Review 6:85–108.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF02766931

    In this programmatic statement, Gerbner describes how content analysis may be used in critical social research and points out how normative thinking can and should inform the creation of empirical research questions, hypotheses, and models of communication.

  • Karmasin, Matthias, Matthias Rath, and Barbara Thomaß, ed. 2013. Normativität in der Kommunikationswissenschaft. Wiesbaden, Germany: Springer VS.

    English title: Normativity in communication studies. This volume showcases the multiple ways in which normative aspects pervade communication and communication scholarship. Part 1 discusses normative concerns connected to different types and consequences of communication; Part 2, distinct normative perspectives of communication subdisciplines; and Part 3, the relevance of normativity in various areas of contemporary communication research.

  • Lazarsfeld, Paul F. 1941. Remarks on administrative and critical communications research. Studies in Philosophy and Social Science 9:2–16.

    In a surprisingly ecumenical fashion, a pioneer of behavioral-positivist political communication research explains the uses of normative theory for empirical (“administrative”) research and outlines procedures for conducting critical research. Lazarsfeld presents a case for the greater integration of critical and empirical work that is highly relevant in the early 21st century.

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