Since the publication of W. Lance Bennett and Shanto Iyengar’s 2008 critique of the state of the field, more and more political communication researchers have called for a move beyond the testing and extending of existing theories and towards theory-building aimed at improving our understanding of processes of political communication in rapidly changing social and technological contexts. While we agree with this call, we will argue that too little attention has been paid to the methodological issues that plague the field, and suggest that the dominance of quantitative methods—despite all their analytical and empirical contributions—to the exclusion of other ways of investigating social phenomena may have contributed to the problems confronting the field today. In this paper, we sketch out the history of an older tradition of interdisciplinary and mixed-methods research on political communication in the United States from the 1930s to the 1960s and chart the rise of the currently dominant methodological consensus from the 1970s onwards. We do so to highlight key examples of how this older mixed-methods tradition used field research as an integral part of both empirical work and theory-building during a time of rapid change, and to outline ways a new wave of field research can contribute to the study of contemporary political communication, supplement quantitative work, and move the field forward.
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International Communication Association 2013 Conference