Media and Society

Steffen Burkhardt examines the social interrelationship of private and public media use. The focal points of his research on the interface between public and private communication are: social conflicts, digital activism, media ethics, and social media.

With numerous publications and lectures at internationally leading scientific institutions, Steffen Burkhardt is a proven expert in the study of scandals. In his research project "Scandal and Society," he examined in an array of empirical studies what influence scandals have on social upheavals and to what extent they are indicators of social transformational processes. Since the close of the 20th century, scandals have evolved into media sensations in which, firstly, a grave breach of social mores is asserted, and secondly, this assertion leads to widespread public outrage. The greater the political topicality and explosive force, the stronger the public reaction generally is. In communication studies thus far, scandals have not been considered to be acceptable as self-contained narrative frames. In an array of discourse-analytical case studies, the function of scandals in the media is examined with respect to the political culture of modern publicity and their potential for social innovation. The research project reconstructs to what extent scandals influence social developments and to what degree they are indicators of social transformational processes. Through the perspectives offered by the sociology of knowledge, the structural principles of scandal communication can be explained. These can be broken down into three topical groups:

 (1) How scandals stage-manage the narrative of alleged transgressions and update social self-understanding in periodical phases.

 (2) How social interest groups struggle for political influence, moral authority, and economic gains through mass-media communication.

 (3) How scandals come about, how they are controlled, and how they can possibly be avoided.

The aim of this systematic fundamental research is an improved understanding of the social functions of scandals on the basis of an interdisciplinary research model that integrates journalistic production processes, and strategies of thematization and politicization in the public media.