Author Biography

Margaret Jane Pitts (Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University) is an Associate Professor of Communication and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication at the University of Arizona. She uses principles of qualitative inquiry to investigate the role of everyday types of talk in quality of life and well-being across the lifespan. This includes the use of focus group discussions to answer questions about communication processes, but also to create spaces for meaningful public conversations. She teaches courses on qualitative research methods, interpersonal communication, and intercultural communication.

Kate Kenski (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania) is an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Arizona where she teaches political communication, public opinion, and research methods. Her book The Obama Victory: How Media, Money, and Message Shaped the 2008 Election (co-authored with Bruce W. Hardy and Kathleen Hall Jamieson; 2010, Oxford University Press) has won several awards including the 2011 ICA Outstanding Book Award and the 2012 NCA Diamond Anniversary Book Award. Her current research focuses on incivility in online forums and multimedia teaching strategies to mitigate cognitive biases.

Stephanie A. Smith (Ph.D., The University of Arizona) is an Assistant Professor in Virginia Tech's Department of Communication where she teaches courses in public relations. Her current research uses qualitative methods to examine professional and career development of entry-level employees.

Corey A. Pavlich (M.A.) is a Ph.D. candidate in Communication at the University of Arizona. His research focuses on nonverbal signs to deception in various compliance gaining and interpersonal contexts. He received his M.A. in communication at the University of Arizona and his B.A. in interpersonal/organizational communication from the University of Akron.


This study examines the potential that shared political documentary viewing coupled with public deliberation via focus group discussion has for political sensemaking and civic engagement. Specifically, we examine college students’ perceptions of sensemaking, future civic engagement, and benefits of participating in group discussion following the shared viewing of D’Souza’s political documentary 2016: Obama’s America. Focus group participants reported that engaging in discussion served to clarify, affirm, and reinforce some initial impressions while opening their eyes to new insights and information. Focus group participation triggered a desire to seek out and hear additional diverse points of view and offered participants the opportunity to diffuse negative emotions and reflect upon media content. Participants reported that they enjoyed participating in this form of guided discussion, reported increased confidence in their abilities to engage in public political deliberation, and reported feeling a call to future civic action. Our findings show that political documentary viewing coupled with focus group discussions can be a productive site for public deliberation that can lead to enhanced sensemaking and positive future civic behaviors including intentions to extend discussions to personal networks and to research issues raised in the discussion or documentary. We address implications for deliberative pedagogy and focus groups as public deliberation.

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