Civic Infrastructure Lab

The Civic Infrastructure Lab(CIL) is an interdisciplinary, cross-institutional group of researchers based in the Department of Advertising & Public Relations in the College of Communication Arts & Sciences at Michigan State University. The research in our lab examines the physical, social, organizational, and technological structures that enable information about politics, policy, local news, and current events to circulate within communities. Our team currently has collaborators from across the College of Communication Arts & Sciences in addition to Northwestern University, the University of Kansas and the University of South Carolina. 

About CIL

Kjerstin Thorson, Ph.D. established the Civic Infrastructure Lab in 2016 after joining the College of Communication Arts & Science. We have been adding graduate student and faculty collaborators to our circle ever since. 

1. We study civics, media, politics, and platforms.

We use interdisciplinary perspectives and mixed methods to explore the ways tech platforms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Google) shape how civic information moves through communities, from what politicians and non-profits, and news organizations produce, to how individuals' behaviors on these sites shape what become visible to them. Our work broadly focuses on political communication, digital and social media, journalism, platforms and infrastructures, algorithmic literacy and identities. 

2. Interdisciplinarity is our goal

We read far and wide here, from political communication (our home base) to science and technology studies (STS), platform and infrastructure studies, political science, sociology, journalism, history, geography, and information studies.

3. Critical analysis of systems surrounding platforms

Through our interdisciplinary lens and mixed methods approach, we look critically at the flow of information on digital platforms, from the broader systems and societal levels, to individual-level effects. We take care to reflect on our individual perspectives on these platforms and how they may guide our research questions, but also, by bringing forward individual platforms and the roles they play, we demonstrate through our studies impact these platforms – especially Facebook – have.

4. Mixing up our mixed methods

Because we study platforms that limit access to data, we constantly look for new ways to answer our guiding research questions. We've employed a huge range of methods in our projects, from interviews, and grounded theory to surveys, structural topic modeling, and experiments.

5. Connecting to the community

We look at how platforms and the organizations using them shape what information is produced locally. The phenomena we're studying are happening across the US and the world, but also in our own backyard. Both MSU and our lab seek to provide theoretical and practical knowledge to practitioners (government, journalists, politicians, non-profits) in the communities we study, live in, and teach.

6. Collaborative culture

Our goal is to produce quality, innovative research, drawing on a variety of methods and disciplinary traditions. However, this work is made possible by creating a welcoming space for faculty and grad students to collaborate, try out new methods, and learn the professionalization skills necessary to succeed in academia.

Interested in joining our lab?

You're in luck. Our lab is growing!

Would I be a good fit?

  • Are you interested in looking critically at how digital platforms shape the flow of civic and political information?
  • Do you want to incorporate interdisciplinary perspectives into your research, and dive into new literature(s) with each new project?
  • Are you willing to learn new methods (and learn more once you've mastered the first few)?
  • Are you excited to debate theory with a bunch of total theory nerds?
  • Are you committed to presenting your research in interesting, engaging, assessable ways?
  • Are you OK with cold? (We are in Michigan).

We are always open and welcoming of new collaborative members of our community, including current PhD, master's or undergraduate students, faculty and post-docs, members from outside the ComArtSci and MSU community, and prospective PhD students

If you think you might be a good fit and are interested in sitting in on a meeting, feel free to send Kjerstin or Ava Francesca an email!

We are part of the Information & Media (I&M) PhD program, a top-ranked communication PhD program, in Michigan State University's College of Communication Arts & Sciences. The interdisciplinary program brings together faculty from three departments Advertising + Public Relations (AD/PR), Journalism (JRN), and Media and Information (MI) --- to study, understand, design, and teach about mediated communication. The Civic Infrastructure Lab includes PhD students from each of the departments. If you're interested in applying, we suggest reaching out to us first --- the lab, Kjerstin, or some of the students who work here.

How do I apply?

  • Read Information & Media's application instructions
  • Talk to Kjerstin and other faculty in I&M who you might want to work with to figure out which department within I&M you would want as your home department (Advertising & Public Relations, Journalism, or Media & Information)
  • Request letters of recommendation, write your academic and personal statements, and update your resume
  • Submit your application to the Graduate School at MSU
  • Wait (im)patiently