DFG Research Group “Political communication in the Online World”: Aim. Strategy. Programme


The research group “Political communication in the online world” has taken up its work in the spring of 2011 – as the first DFG research group in communication studies and as the first to deal with questions of political communication. It consists of seven subprojects and combines the work of ten communication scholars from Germany and Switzerland. They have developed a mission statement for internal and external information.


Aim: What is the research group supposed and designed to do?


Explore fundamental questions of political communication in the online world!

The focus is on research. The central aim is the systematic search for answers to the research group’s guiding question: In what way can political communication be proven to change due to online media and what consequences does this have on politics?
The research group tries to answer this question with the help of empirical projects in which theoretical approaches to political communication research in the field of online media are examined and modified. The research group wants to build up a modularized theory of online political communication by the gradual integration of those subprojects. To achieve this, individual theoretical elements will be combined into an explanatory model that has been empirically tested. Linking micro, meso and macro perspectives will be one main focus. The research group’s ultimate task is to analyze, with the help of such a theory, in how far political changes can be ascribed to a change in the media. In doing so, it will also contribute to strengthening the German communication science community’s position within the framework of international scientific communication.


Qualify for research!

The research group is one of the places where young academics are qualified for international political communication studies – in the form of doctoral and professorial dissertations. Qualification mainly takes place in empirical research for the individual projects. In addition, a qualification programme is offered which is adapted to the circumstance of regional spread as well as the needs of the Ph. D. candidates.


Research cooperation!

Furthermore, the research group will, in and through their work, develop a pattern for organizing cooperative research under conditions where participants and resources are regionally spread – as a prototype for cooperative research in smaller disciplines. This is meant to yield conclusions for research organization.


Strategy: How does the research group want to reach its aims and what are its guiding ideas in doing so?


Integration on six levels is the path to success that the research group has chosen in view of the conditions they are working under and their research ethical principles. They see potential for development for the individual projects as well as for the research group as a whole in each of these integration processes.

  • Integration of analytical perspectives: The research group sees itself as one of the centres of the communication scientific part of political communication studies and is closely linked to political science. It combines different perspectives under which online political communication can be examined, namely micro, meso and macro perspectives. The guiding idea behind this is that the perspectives are fundamentally on a par. The research group is aware of the necessity of examining the common question with different approaches.
  • Integration of methods: The research group combines highly and hardly standardized empirical methods. The guiding idea behind this is that methodological pluralism is required for understanding complex communicative processes. However, the research group also emphasizes the necessity of general methodological standards for the social sciences, and in particular the rule that all methods must guarantee that the results are intersubjectively valid.
  • Integration of established researchers and young academics: The research group is comprised of researchers who have long years of experience, scholars who have not long ago made their first steps in independent research and academics who will be qualified to do independent research in the framework of the research group. The guiding idea here is the concept of the equality of the participants in a scientific discourse in which nothing but the better argument should be the decisive factor. In a rapidly changing field like online communication it is of particular importance that digital immigrants and digital natives work together.
  • Integration into international scientific communication: The research group has its roots in German-speaking countries and will also have its focus there in the future. At the same time, it will also establish a network of international cooperation partners and is geared towards international scientific communication. The guiding idea behind this is that scientific communication is inter-national, i.e. that it depends on the variety of national contexts.
  • Integration of locations: The research group keeps its various locations connected with the help of a complex communication structure, in which communication via web-based platforms and simultaneous presence at conferences are combined. The guiding idea here is the acceptance of regional spread. This opens up the chance of integrating different local conditions into their work, e.g. cooperating with different disciplines at the respective universities and attracting young academics from different disciplinary cultures.
  • Integration of coordination and independence: The research group knows about the advantages a research group offers. It is only by coordination that the added value of joint research can be realized. However, the individual researchers’ freedom needs to be maintained as well. The guiding idea is that a productive research network needs both strong knots and strong links.



Programme: What is planned to be finished when?


The research group has converted its integration strategy into a programme in which reaching the aim is planned in two phases.

In the phase of theory testing 2011 – 2014 the research group will examine whether the traditional theoretical approaches of communication studies and related disciplines are suitable for an analysis of the online world. It will record theories, methods and empirical findings in an inventory and indicate which connections exist between the analytical elements.
Towards the end of this first phase, members of the research group will document their work in project-specific publications and contributions to international conferences. They will also be able to show that the qualification theses are coming along. So the research group believes that, in three years’ time, it will have reached a point where they will have made good use of their time and have results to show for it in both subprojects and the group as a whole. This will also be verified at the annual internal conferences, which will serve as milestones. At the end of this phase, at the end of the year 2013, the research group will undergo an assessment of its work, on the basis of which the decision about a continuation of the project until 2017 will be made.


At the end of the second phase, the phase of theory construction 2014 – 2017, the concept of a modularized theory of political communication will be specified and substantiated. For this, it is not only required that work on the individual subprojects will be completed and documented in articles and qualification theses, but it is also necessary to integrate the various individual findings into an overall picture of online political communication. This will make it possible to give empirically tested answers to the guiding question. Based on a fundamental evaluation of its way of organizing research, the relationship between effort and results in this form of research organization can also be assessed.
In the spring of 2017, a decision will have to be made as to whether and how the work of the research group should be continued. In principle, the research group sees itself as a hub of cooperative research even after 2017. This prospect will have to be specified between the first and second phases of this project.