The Political Scientist

The Political Scientist

I completed my PhD in Political Science at Boston University in 2013. My primary research interest is in exploring how changes to the nation's communication and information system affect the political process. Given that my primary hypothesis is that changes in the former often produce dramatic change in the later, my research agenda is quite broad. It includes work in, among other things, individual attitude formation and change, group behavior, party systems, the formation and evolution of both formal institutions and informal political processes, the conduct and outcome of local and national campaigns and elections, the evolution of public policy in response to communication change, and, of course, the study of the political media system.


Over the next few years, I plan to add a second area of interest to my research agenda: an examination of the role the creation and evolution of the National Park System played in the political development of the American West. In the early years of the NPS, Americans arrived in their parks by one of two methods: trains and automobiles. Although the former was crucial to the early development of the system, by 1920 it was the later that served as the primary vehicle through which most Americans came to know their parks. To encourage the system's growth, the service worked to develop the National Park-to-Park Highway, a 5000+ mile loop that connected all 12 parks into a single avenue of exploration. This road system, rough as it was, served as the nation's first true interstate system, and had, I believe, an enormous impact on the development of both the political culture and institutions of the intermountain West. But that story, as they say, is for another time...

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DISSERTATION PROJECT

Information, Communication, and Infrastructure:  How Citizen Activists Use Information Technology to Transform American Party Politics
BOSTON UNIVERSITY, 2013, 438 pages

Communication infrastructure underlies all group interaction in an extended republic, yet the role of its evolution in the development of American political parties remains relatively unexplored. Rather than examine how attributes of this infrastructure might act as variables shaping organization and behavior, traditional models of party development assume it to be a neutral element of the larger context within which partisan actors operate. The model developed here brings the evolution of infrastructure into the foreground, exploring its role in shaping American political parties over time.

The most widely accepted models of parties locate the source of change with the actors who create and control party institutions, but by viewing control itself as a potential variable, the model developed here is able to isolate how infrastructure development itself alters power relations over time. The central contention of this work is that changes to the nation's communication and information infrastructures alter the opportunities and constraints for political action, driving the evolution of parties over time. As new infrastructures are deployed, the patterns of partisan interaction throughout society change, opening windows of opportunity during which party leadership is more likely to change hands. Particularly important are decentralizing infrastructural changes, which can provide previously marginalized actors with the tools necessary to challenge their exclusion from party activity. Citizen involvement in party politics is thus demonstrated to vary with both the nature of the available infrastructure and the content that infrastructure carries.

This new infrastructure-driven model of change is tested through an examination of party development in two eras: 1790-1835, between the expansion of the post office and the development of the telegraph; and 2000-2012, when the Internet first became an important infrastructure for organizing party activity. The model is found to be quite useful in explaining the evolution of party conflict in both eras, highlighting similarities that demonstrate how the decentralization of communication infrastructure creates opportunities for political outsiders to drive change.

 

Video Project

Inspired by Thomas Paine, the original Crack Brain Zealot For Democracy: "An army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot."

On August 25, 2009, Edward M. Kennedy, the youngest sibling to brothers President John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, died after a year-long battle with brain cancer. Ted Kennedy was first elected to the United States Senate on November 7, 1962. Since that day nearly half-century ago, he tirelessly served the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and of the United States of America. As the third-longest serving Senator in this nation’s history, he could lay claim to having represented its people in more than one out of every five days that have passed since the nation’s founding. 

Sen. Kennedy, like the man whose name and spirit I have borrowed for this new project, believed in the equality of man. Like him, he believed that religious duties “consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.”

I didn’t know the Senator personally, and if the stories around Boston in the days immediately after his passing are to be believed, I may be the only Bay Stater to not have been directly helped by Teddy at some point in my life. Nevertheless, I quickly discovered that his passing had affected me personally, the first time in my life the death of a celebrity or politician had hit me on anything more than a superficial level.

As is so often the case, the search to understand the meaning of what I was feeling took me into my music. This project is the result of that search. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed making it.