Michael J. Christensen

Assistant Professor in the Department of Law and Legal Studies, Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada)

Resident at the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften:
July 2019

Research topic at the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften:
»Practices of Promoting Democratic Media: Paradoxes of Legitimacy and Institution Building in the Disinformation Era«

Project outline:
Is online disinformation an existential threat to global democracy? Is it a symptom of corporate media concentration, or is it just a new iteration of an ever-present feature of political communication? Whatever the answer, scholarly debates about ‘fake news’, disinformation and media manipulation have reached a fever pitch. Recent scholarship has focused on coordinated disinformation campaigns targeting the United States and the United Kingdom, partly in reaction to the 2016 Brexit referendum and the US Presidential election, but this research project argues that fake news is a smaller part of a much larger story. Since the Cold War era, Western democracies have waged global information campaigns extolling the virtues of free elections, free markets and free media. Governments in Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom eventually institutionalized these campaigns in the form of organizations promoting and assisting the development of democratic institutions around the world. Now these democracy promotion organizations are facing a crisis as networks of authoritarian governments, far-right political parties, internet trolls and social media personalities have leveraged popular social media platforms to undermine the legitimacy of democratic institutions. This research project looks at how formal democracy promotion organizations work to counter anti-democratic narratives by mobilizing international aid in the service of developing »independent media«. (Michael J. Christensen)

Funding of the stay:
Excellence Cluster »The formation of normative orders«

Research partner:
Michael Christensen follows the invitation of Jens Steffek (Professor of Political Science at the Technical University of Darmstadt) and the Cluster of Excellence »The Formation of Normative Orders« of Goethe University.

Scholarly profile of Michael J. Christensen

Michael Christensen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Law and Legal Studies at Carleton University. He was previously a postdoctoral fellow at York University’s Global Digital Citizenship Lab and he held a research fellowship with the Democratic Resource Center at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, DC.

Please find more information about Michael Christensen here.

Main areas of research:
Democracy and digital culture; international organizations; law, science and technology; social and political theory; qualitative research methods; histories of human rights and humanitarianism

Selected publications:
  1. »Interpreting the Organizational Practices of North American Democracy Assistance«, in: International Political Sociology, 11(2), 2017.
  2. »A Critical Sociology of International Expertise: The Case of International Democracy Assistance«, in: Kurasawa (ed.) Interrogating the Social – A Critical Sociology for the 21st Century, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.
  3. »Re-establishing ‘the social’ in research on democratic processes: Mid-century voter studies and Paul F. Lazarsfeld’s alternative vision«, in: Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 51(3), 2015.
  4. »The Social Facts of Democracy: Science meets politics with Mosca, Pareto, Michels & Schumpeter«, in: Journal of Classical Sociology, 13(4), 2013.