Kudos Column: Dr. Wenjie Yan
Background and Current Position
I am an assistant professor of communication in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University (WSU). Before joining WSU in the fall of 2014, I received my M.A. and Ph.D. in Communication Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I completed my undergraduate studies from Peking University and China Foreign Affairs University in Beijng, China.
Guided by my general scholarly interest in citizen engagement, my research revolves around coming to a better understanding of the empirical conditions that may inhibit or facilitate public engagement and deliberation. Specifically, there are two interrelated lines of inquiry in my research program. One concerns the prospect, process, and consequence of public deliberation as a means for citizens to resolve contentions of social import; and the other, the civic and political implications of the Internet and emerging media in contemporary China.
Along the first line of research, my primary focus is on understanding the social psychological mechanisms amid public deliberation. I am interested in how individuals’ egocentric perceptions of others, who hold disagreement on social controversies, may affect the ways that they handle disagreement in conformity with the normative expectations of deliberative democracy. This research shows that no matter how disagreement manifests itself, through either expressed opinion or partisan media selection, individuals readily attribute it to others’ biased reasoning across a variety of debated issues (Yan, 2014). Such egocentric perceptions not only render more favorable evaluation of and higher chance of using confirming information in deliberation and deteriorate individuals’ expectancies of their prospective partner, but also hamper their willingness to deliberate and trigger their more conflictual communicative orientations. Further, I attempt to investigate the factors that might help to mitigate the cognitive barriers to deliberation. It has been demonstrated that, despite a small impact, attitudinal ambivalence has the potential to alleviate the tenacity of egocentric perceptions and thus make people mentally better prepared for deliberation. My colleagues and I are now switching our focus from offline to online deliberation and from psychological processes to discursive texts. Some preliminary findings show that, consistent with early research, the opportunities to expose oneself to cross-cutting political talks are indeed abundant in non-political online spaces. But such talks are not necessarily deliberative. Instead, upon recognizing disagreement, individuals do not generally have a good understanding about the reasons why they disagree. In addition, the more individuals disagree with each other, the more often their exchanges involve uncivil and impolite expressions.
The second line of my research, grounded more in sociological theories, is centered on the impact of new media on civic and political engagement. The projects I have been involved in this research stream are mainly contextualized in China. With a set of large-scale survey studies, my colleagues and I have assessed how the Internet has changed the country’s media ecology, and consequently, affected the discursive repertoires and participatory opportunities available to the public. We take the view that any interpretation of the democratic implications of the Internet needs to be embedded in the current unequal distributions of political, social, and economic resources among different geographic regions and social strata, which may in turn contribute to the SES and regional disparities in Internet utilization and participatory outcomes (Pan, Yan, Jing, & Zheng, 2011).
Teaching has always been important to me and my research interests in social and psychological barriers to public engagement and deliberation have further heightened this awareness. I am currently teaching two undergraduate courses, one in small group communication and the other in persuasion. In both classes, I introduce to students a variety of theories and social scientific studies drawn from communication, political science, and psychology. I am also mentoring a graduate independent study on new media and civic engagement as well as a couple of student projects both related to participation in the Chinese micro-blogosphere. In the coming Fall semester, I will teach a graduate seminar on media psychology. I believe the most rewarding and enjoyable moment in teaching is, as a teacher, to succeed in sparking my students’ thinking and participation, and hopefully their interest and passion for the field.
Recognizing the wide gap between the normative ideal and real practice of modern democracy, I hope, through my work, to contribute to our collective knowledge about the barriers that prevent citizens from effectively engaging in civic and political life; and further, to generate new knowledge that can inform the development of social programs and policies conducive to lowering the barriers and ultimately bridging the gap. As a young academic who has just embarked in her career, I will be working hard to embrace with pride these long-term goals and stay committed to them.
Office phone: 509-335-3699
Address: The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication
PO Box 642530
Washington State University
Pullman, WA 99164