The New Town Hall
Why We Engage Personally with Politicians
by Gina M. Masullo
September 2020, 171pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-6689-0
$39, £29, 34€, A53
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-6690-6
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Today’s political climate is increasingly divided. Toxic online conversations threaten democratic norms. Trust in the media and political leaders is plummeting.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with a wide variety of people, this book answers two questions: How and why do we personally engage with elected officials online and offline? What influence does this personal political engagement have on our democracy?

Never before has it been so easy for Americans to make their personal views known to their elected officials. Citizens can tweet their opinions to their political representatives or respond to a Facebook post on politicians’ pages to convey their approval or dislike for policies. They can engage politically through virtual town halls or show up in person at a protest easily organized through digital platforms. But this mediated relationship also makes it easy for politicians to push back against the opinions of their constituents by deriding their views or even blocking them online.

The New Town Hall gives readers a firsthand look at personal political experiences through vivid stories from a variety of Americans. Researcher and former journalist Gina Masullo documents how Americans feel when they are blocked on social media and demonstrates how political talk with elected officials—both online and offline—leads to more involved types of political participation, such as protests or campaigning for political candidates. She contextualizes these personal political experiences with an eye toward understanding how these interactions influence the democratic process.

Features

  • Includes data and examples from a wide variety of interviews with citizens about their on- and offline interactions with politicians
  • Explains how political talk with elected officials online and offline leads to more involved types of political participation, such as protests and campaigning
  • Shows how politicians' refusal to communicate with citizens affects the democratic process
  • Demonstrates an accessible and down-to-earth tone
Gina M. Masullo, PhD, is associate director of the Center for Media Engagement and associate professor in the School of Journalism, both at The University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on how the digital space both connects and divides people and how that influences society, individuals, and journalism. She is author of Online Incivility and Public Debate: Nasty Talk and coeditor of Scandal in a Digital Age. Her research has also been published in a variety of peer-reviewed academic journals, such as Communication Research, New Media & Society, and Computers in Human Behavior.


Reviews

“Gina Masullo describes a set of improbable citizens—those who want to talk directly to the people making their laws. She patiently tracks their reasons for doing so, reasons ranging from outright detestation to genuine fandom. The result is a delightful tour of real democratic engagement, a tonic surely needed in an age of rampant political cynicism.”— Roderick P. Hart, Shivers Chair in Communication and Government, University of Texas at Austin

“Politics has always been personal. Yet it is increasingly mediated, in ways that mimic the personal, leaving voters disillusioned. In The New Town Hall, Masullo makes a compelling case for how we can resurrect a political culture that has left us tired and weary. Personal engagement with politicians matters, and as Masullo explains, helps us understand citizens as people, not just votes. An excellent read for those who want to understand and change what is wrong with democracy today.”—Zizi Papacharissi, Professor and Head of Communication, University of Illinois-Chicago

“With this insightful contribution, Masullo reminds us how central personal connections are to political life. The memorable accounts in this book excavate the deeply meaningful and politically potent implications of seemingly small interactions between politicians and the public. The New Town Hall is a must read for those working to understand contemporary American political culture.” —Sarah Sobieraj, Tufts University
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