Deliberating Diversity: Race and Gender in FCC Ownership Debates, 2007-2011

Jason Smith

Advisor: John G. Dale, PhD, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Members: Rutledge Dennis, Richard Craig

Johnson Center, #327C
April 11, 2019, 03:00 PM to 05:00 PM


Media representation is a well-worn area of study in the social sciences, while media policy concerns are relegated to niche academic sub-fields. Media policy work has had little engagement with sociological institutionalism as a theoretical framework to assess policy outcomes. Recent scholarship has noted the deliberative turn of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at the start of the twenty-first century, in which media advocacy groups began having a stronger presence in media policy debates. While the FCC has vocalized its support to promote opportunities for minorities and women in relation to media ownership and participation, they have struggled with efforts at engaging policy on these issues. This dissertation looks at the discursive arena of the FCC in relation to the exclusion of minorities and women within the rule-making process of the FCC, paying attention to the processes that shape media policy debates over race and gender inclusion.

Interpretive policy analysis is used to assess two case studies – debates over “Form 323” and “media ownership” – in which the FCC directly asked for comments regarding media diversity. This dissertation focuses on the insights that institutionalism can have toward understanding race and gender as consistent social forces that undermine deliberation within the FCC. In my dissertation I conceptualize deliberative diversity to capture the futility of media diversity efforts by the FCC. Deliberative diversity demonstrates how the rulemaking process excludes minorities and females from the discursive arena while the FCC actively attempts to engage with media exclusion. This is done through three simultaneous, reinforcing acts that expose limits to the FCC’s deliberative model, reaffirm the institutional order, and promote race and gender conscious debates that have no policy conclusions. The deliberative model that has been presented has its faults, but is not without merit or worth reconstructing to include the ways that race and gender are part of the discursive arena within the media policy process.