Assistant Professor of Communication
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working with a fabulous multinational team on a paper looking at young people’s perceptions and practices around engaging in political talk, both face-to-face and online. This paper emanates from the project NET (led by Pablo Boczkowski, with Kaori Hayashi, Eugenia Mitchelstein, Keren Tenenboim-Weinblatt and Mikko Villi) that looks at news, entertainment and technology consumption through in-depth interviews with participants in five countries – Argentina, Finland, Israel, Japan, and the U.S. – and in this paper, we are focusing on the 150 interviews conducted with young people (ages 18-29). To me, this paper is a fantastic opportunity to take some of my past work around political talk face-to-face and online in Israel and the U.S., and to examine how these dynamics play out in other national contexts. A teaser: while we thought we’d find marked differences in the political talk dynamics betweencountries, we found that the most salient pattern was actually within-country differences among types of individuals. We identified a typology of five positions towards political talk, face to face and online, that recurred quite consistently across the different countries—though in different countries their salience varied, plus they were infused with specific national flavors. Great fun!
What has been your most memorable project so far, and why?
My most memorable CAM-related project so far has been my work with my wonderful collaborator Dr. Ioana Literat (Teachers College, Columbia University) around young people’s political expression in non-political online spaces. We started by looking at political expression around the Trump election in three affinity spaces that focus on games, fan fiction, and creative collaborative production (see Kligler-Vilenchik & Literat, 2018). Here, we highlighted how distributed creativity enabled young people to express themselves politically. Next, we focused on TikTok (back when it was Musical.ly, see Literat & Kligler-Vilenchik, 2019). Looking at two main hashtags – #makeamericagreatagain and #notmypresident – we examined how young people employed the platform’s affordances to achieve what we term ‘collective political expression.’ Our work on political expression on TikTok spotlighted this phenomenon when it was quite nascent, and thus was helpful to contextualize the recent interest around political expression on TikTok when it was much more salient, around the 2020 election. Ioana and I were very gratified to see this work featured in The New York Times (see Herrman, 2020).
Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?
While my research focuses on the bottom-up experience of everyday youth participants, I am cognizant of the key role played by social media companies in shaping the structures in which much youth online political expression takes place. Based on our work on political expression on TikTok, Dr. Literat and I had a chance to converse with policy executives at TikTok and present back some of our work to them. We found that while their initial approach was one of concern about the negative repercussion of youth political expression on their platform, our research insights helped them consider the value of their platform as a space where youth can experiment with their political voice, in an environment where they feel welcomed and heard. For me it was quite a gratifying experience.
What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics cannot provide a good answer to yet?
How can we help kids and adolescents find a good balance in how they use digital media and social media, in a way that helps promote their social life, their interests, and their personal development? I feel this question is especially hard to answer since we as adults/parents/academics are often struggling with how to find this balance ourselves.
What would be your work motto?
I stole the gist of this motto from a fellow academic on Twitter, but now I can’t find her to give her credit! If you know who this is from, please let me know so I can give her proper credit. She presented it as a way to decide whether to take on a project or not. I’m elevating it to the status of a motto: Do interesting things, that aim to make the world a better place, with nice people.
Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?
It would have to be this one – “From Wizards and House-Elves to Real-World Issues: Political Talk in Fan Spaces” (Kligler-Vilenchik, 2015). This is an ethnographic study of a group of Harry Potter fans who met to discuss how the fictional narratives relate to real-world issues. This is my only publication that’s based solely on ethnographic participation (in other publications this has been a supplementary tool) and is also an example of how sometimes you encounter a phenomenon and you just know you HAVE to study it, even if at first you don’t know what the theoretical value/angle will be. Also, I’m in awe of the organizer of the group, who was 20 at the time, and an admirable activist. And it is also my coolest-titled paper.
If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?
A big question I grapple with is what it would mean to encourage good political expression, in the sense of being the kind of political expression that’s beneficial for democracy. This kind of political expression would inclue taking an active interest in politics, honing an informed view, speaking out on it—but also being open to listening to others, and to acknowledging the legitimacy of their point of view. I’m still grappling with what would be the best way to empirically go about answering this big question. So, with unlimited resources, I would first take the time to do a lot of thinking, reading, and exploratory research, to help me understand what kind of project would be best to address the question
If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?
Don’t shy away from making unlikely connections – between different theoretical approaches, methodologies, contexts or questions. Doing so will surely create challenges for you – both in planning a research project, executing it, and getting it published – but it will also be the way to reach more interesting research and more innovative findings.
Also – try not to work nights and weekends.
Our previous CAMmer in the Spotlight, Dr. Meryl Alper, would like to know if you think that the turbulent events of 2020 (i.e., COVID-19, climate disaster, racial justice protests) have marked a significant change in how youth engage with politics through media and technology, and/or if these modes of participating have been many years in the making.
Thanks again for nominating me Meryl, and what a great question. In many ways, COVID-19 has brought to the forefront trends that have been around, and made them more visible (e.g., how young people use the social media they turn to anyway for political expression as well). On the other hand, this time period and the various economic, social and political challenges it brought with it have really caused many young people to “rise up” politically, because – more than ever – they feel very clearly the ramifications that political decision-making has on their everyday lives.
Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?
I would like to nominate Stephanie Edgerly, Associate Professor and Director of Research in the Medill School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communications (Northwestern University).
Herrmann, J. (2020, June 28). TikTok is shaping politics. But How? The New York Times. Available: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/28/style/tiktok-teen-politics-gen-z.html
Kligler-Vilenchik, N. (2015). From wizards and house-elves to real-world issues: Political talk in fan spaces. International Journal of Communication, 9, 2027-2046.
Kligler-Vilenchik, N. & Literat, I. (2018). Distributed creativity as political expression: Youth responses to the 2016 U.S. presidential election in online affinity networks. Journal of Communication, 68(1), 75-97.
Literat, I. & Kligler-Vilenchik, N. (2019). Youth collective political expression on social media: The role of affordances and memetic dimensions for voicing political views. New Media & Society.