Interview with @MariaNordbrandt about her research

The winners and runners-up of the Environmental Politics Best Article of the Year Award have just been announced. We’re inviting the individuals/teams to say a little bit more. First cab off the rank is one of the runners-up, Maria Nordbrandt.

  1. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to be interested in the subject of the article [“Do cross-cutting discussions enhance proenvironmental attitudes? Testing green deliberative theory in practice“]

I have been working on my Ph.D. thesis called “Modern Talking: On the Democratic Roles of Cross-Cutting Communication in a Polarized World” for the past six years. I defended it (successfully) on January 14th this year. As of January, I am working as a researcher and teacher in political science at the Department of Government at Uppsala University, Sweden (which is also where I did my Ph.D).

When I started my Ph.D studies, I was really interested in green political theory (Dryzek, Goodin, Eckersley, Barry and others) and especially the nexus between green politics and deliberative democracy, but I was kind of struggling to articulate my own contribution. When I suddenly came across Diana Mutz‘s seminal work on cross-cutting communication in “Hearing the other side” and her argument about informal cross-cutting communication in relation to theories of deliberation, it only took a few pages in order for something to fall in place for me. All of a sudden, I understood what I had been trying to articulate for some time – that it is important that political theory and empirical research cross-fertilize each other and why it is important. Moreover, I could completely identify with her self-proclaimed epithet as ”the accidental theorist”. The concept “cross-cutting communication”, which was sort of popularized with that book, allowed me to fuse two previously unconnected literatures – the literature I call “green deliberative theory” and the empirically oriented literature on cross-cutting communication. That’s basically the origin of the article and its specific contribution. As an anecdote, it was actually the first article I ever wrote and the first one to be published in a scientific journal.

  • What was the first thing you did when you found out the article had received the recognition it has? Punched the air and started singing “We are the champions”? Made yourself a celebratory drink? Downed tools for the day?

Haha, Swedes are not known for their grand gestures to celebrate their achievements. Our happy-screams are often turned inwards. I probably did some subtle noise and then went to tell my husband. I am however working on trying to be less modest and better at celebrating success – hence my Tweet about itJ. This kind of recognition is of course very important and encouraging for me as a junior scholar and a confidence boost.

  • If you had the undivided attention of policymakers for five minutes, what would you say to them about your topic – what needs to happen (or not happen) around the issue you raised, in your opinion.

That’s a good question. In my thesis, I discuss the implications of increasing stratification in many societies across economic, social, and political lines – polarization if you will – which risks making cross-cutting interactions less common and more difficult. Obviously, there is no quick fix to this. But if I could say one thing it would concern policies aimed at facilitating points of contact between people with different living conditions and experiences – especially spaces where people meet for other reasons than a shared social status or “the number on their bank accounts” as Christopher Lasch has put it, and that this happens from a young age. To be more concrete, policies aimed at reducing residential segregation and diversity in schools should be important from this perspective. 

4. What next? Are you working on further articles/books on this topic? If not, what ARE you working on?

I am currently in the start-up phase of three new exciting projects that recently received funding.

One project focuses on how climate policies can be packaged together with welfare policies to increase legitimacy for, for instance, higher taxes on fossil fuel – especially among vulnerable groups.

Another project will take advantage of the rich and rather unique register data in Sweden in combination with new survey data to appraise the gap between climate attitudes and carbon footprints among different citizen groups. My role in the third project is to investigate the interplay between national identity and affective polarization in Denmark and Sweden in the context of the Covid pandemic.

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