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project findings | PROJECT OUTLINE |

Media Consumption and the Future of Public Connection

Low voter turnouts have intensified UK government concern about declining public engagement with the democratic process. Meanwhile the multiplying range of digital media risks fragmenting the national audience. What does everyday media use contribute to people’s sense of themselves as connected to a public world, where issues of shared importance are resolved? This is the question we set out to explore by asking people across England to produce a diary for three months during 2004, interviewing those diarists on a number of occasions, and then conducting a nationwide survey in 2005 on the emerging themes.  

This project ran from October 2003 to March 2005

visit the project's own web pages>>

image illustrating findings

view the summary findings sheet for this project [pdf]

Project team
Nick Couldry award holder
Sonia Livingstone
Tim Markham


Professor Nick Couldry
Department of Media & Communications
Goldsmiths College
Lewisham Way, New Cross
London SE14 6NW

+44 (0)20 7919 7600

Publications include:

book cover image

Media Consumption and Public Engagement
Beyond the Presumption of Attention
by Nick Couldry, Sonia Livingstone and Tim Markham
(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)

Contemporary democracies are based on the belief that media can deliver the attention of the voting populations. But in an age of multiplying media, political disillusionment, and time-scarcity, is this plausible any longer? This book addresses this major question head on, drawing on the voices of people from the UK who were asked to write diaries about their experiences (or not) of 'public connection', as well as survey data and comparative research in the USA and elsewhere.

For further information visit the book's page with Palgrave

Couldry N. ‘Culture and Citizenship: The Missing Link?’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, 9(3)(2006), pp. 321–339.

Couldry N., and Markham T. ‘Public Connection through Media Consumption: Between Oversocialization and Desocialization?’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 603 (2006).


Project outline

The following is the text of the project's original proposal


Governments are increasingly concerned with the future of politics and citizenship. Underlying many views of democratic politics is an assumption that shared media sustain people's connection to the public spaces where politics goes on and citizenship is enacted. But how is that connection sustained, and how do individuals think about the ways in which they are, or are not, connected to wider public spaces? This project seeks to provide answers to these questions by generating detailed insights into what particular individuals do and think, as well as offering broader-based survey information on these questions. A key aim is to contribute to the developing policy debate about the conditions of citizenship in an age of increasingly diverse media consumption.

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If we are steadily learning more about the complex and varied ways in which people use the range of media (including new media) now on offer to them, we know much less about how, if at all, they connect that media consumption to their lives as citizens. In this area of uncertainty, a research agenda converges with a growing policy agenda: the concerns of governments and social groups that people are less engaged with traditional spaces of citizenship and that, as media consumption becomes increasingly tailor-made for individuals, shared connections to public spaces through media can only decrease.

Against this background, this research will explore how changing practices of media consumption may be allowing for new forms of connection, citizenship, and participation, but with a specific focus on how individuals themselves understand the relationship between their lives as media consumers and their lives as citizens.

We certainly cannot make simple assumptions about how, and whether people consider that their media consumption provides them with the resources for citizenship that they feel they need. We can expect that individuals will, through reflection and practice over time, reach a wide variety of conclusions and this project is aimed to give a better sense of the fine grain of how people understand and resolve these issues.

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The project seeks to answer several related questions:

  • in what ways are people's practices as media consumers connected (or not) to their practices as citizens?
  • how do individual consumers themselves understand the relationship between consumption and citizenship?
  • On what basis do they judge whether particular forms of consumption cross over from personal leisure to public participation or action?
  • How far do consumers regard their media consumption as providing them with the resources for citizenship that they feel they need and ought to have?

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The project will explore these questions through a two-phase approach, which is designed to generate both qualitative and quantitative data.

Phase One will involve recruiting a panel of 30 diarists from a range of socio-economic backgrounds and regions, and with a range of media resources (from the 'media rich' to the 'media poor'). Diarists will be asked to write over a six-month period diaries that describe their media consumption and their practices as citizens, and reflect on the relationship between these. The diarists will then be interviewed individually and focus groups will be conducted involving them, their families, work or school colleagues and friends. Phase One is due to be completed in December 2004.

Phase Two in early 2005 involves a national survey of 1000 people that aims to produce generalisable conclusions on the detailed issues about consumption and citizenship raised by Phase One, with the survey design tracking in detail those issues.


A fruitful collaboration has developed between LSE and Professors Bruce Williams and Andrea Press of the Institute of Communication Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA who are now applying the LSE project’s methodology (of diaries linked to interviews and focus groups, followed by a nationwide survey) to the US. Recruits in Urbana-Champaign are currently writing a three month diary for the period immediately before and after the 2004 Presidential election.

Possibilities for joint publications and further joint research projects are currently being explored between LSE and University of Illinois.

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Through this two-phase research approach, a final report will be written that will combine broad, statistically significant conclusions about the relations between media consumption and citizenship, supplemented by the detailed insights of individual practice and reflections from Phase One (details which a survey in itself could not have generated).

Through a series of seminars, the importance of the project's research, both to ongoing policy initiatives on citizenship at national and local government level, and the possibilities for follow-up research, will be explored.

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