Call for Papers

Communication, democracy and transformative change:
Exploring new intersections between digital media and political engagement

University of Minho
Campus de Gualtar, Braga, Portugal

In face of the continuing uncertainty and limitations associated with the current pandemic, the conference will be postponed to 2021. A new date will be announced this autumn.

Democracies are under threat in many parts of the world. The emergence of authoritarian and illiberal political forces, and the rise of intolerance in political discourse can be linked to a variety of factors. These include mistrust in political institutions, which in turn has been exacerbated by rampant economic inequality and injustice. Also, populist and xenophobic forms of communication in digital spaces are fueling fear and hatred. Declining diversity and pluralism in mainstream journalism and debate also contribute to the fragile condition of both older and younger democracies. Further, decreasing interest in political news renders citizens less effective in dealing with the forces that shape their lives.

In contrast, various new modes of engagement with the res publica have emerged in an ever more complex information and communication environment. Several countries have seen a significant growth of alternative forms of journalism, which are often embedded with activism for social change. Political dissent has been sustained by exchanges in/through digital media and in some cases led to significant disruptions in the prevailing political order. Civil society organizations, groups and social movements are developing alternative modes of organization, self-governance and collective action that can stimulate wider change and political agency, as well as generate new challenges and tensions. At the same time, political engagement on the far right has also spread and intensified, and a new arsenal of anti-democratic practices have emerged on the web, at times threatening to subvert key democratic institutions such as journalism, public debate, and even elections.

While acknowledging the threats to democracy, this conference aims to go beyond them and discuss communication practices that can reinvigorate democratic politics. Against a background of systemic problems that are producing various forms of unsustainability, as well as of widespread discourses promoting progressive transformative change in current societies, important questions arise for communication scholars and other social scientists: How are digital media being used towards structural – and democratic – change? What signs can we find of significant engagement with the politics of transformation? How can our disciplines contribute to these debates and developments?
Assuming that fundamental change is imperative in current societies, radical democratic politics imply opening up the future to what is not yet given. To understand the possibilities and constraints for this symbolic shift, there is a vital need for in-depth research on cases and examples of communication that is political and radical.

The conference welcomes submissions about communication for democratic transformative change addressing (inter alia) the following themes:
- Democratizing uses of digital technologies
- Political engagement in the current communication environment
- Social movements’ communication for transformative change
- Communication practices in organizing for transformative activism
- Alternative forms of journalism and contributions for social change
- Democratic media activism
- Risks associated with the rise of ‘citizenism’.

Abstracts (400-500 words) can be submitted via the following email address:

  • Selected papers will be published in an edited book.


Confirmed keynote speakers:

Natalie Fenton, Goldsmiths College, University of London
Alice Mattoni, University of Bologna

Conference organisers:

Anabela Carvalho, University of Minho
Peter Dahlgren, Lund University

The conference is organized by the PhD programme in Communication Studies: Technology, Culture and Society in collaboration with the Communication and Society Research Centre, University of Minho.

The conference will aim to minimize its environmental impact as much as possible. To that purpose, and to widen access more generally, virtual participation will be possible – with or without a presentation.