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Prof. Dr. Barbara Pfetsch

Principal Investigator
Barbara Pfetsch

Prof. Dr. Barbara Pfetsch is Professor of Media and Communication Science at the FU Berlin and head of the Division of Communication Theory and Media Effects Research.

Her research and publications focus on international comparative studies of political communications and media, on the contents and structures of online issue networks and debates on the internet, on digital communication spaces and on the transformation of the public sphere due to digital communications. Barbara Pfetsch holds a doctorate in political science from the University of Mannheim and a habilitation from the FU Berlin.
She was previously a senior researcher at the WZB and in 2001 accepted a professorship at the University of Hohenheim. Fellowships and research grants took her to Hebrew University Jerusalem (Israel), the Center for Advanced Studies (CASBS) at Stanford University, the Shorenstein Center and the Minda de Gunzburg Center at Harvard University, and Georgetown University in Washington D.C. (all in the USA).


Positions at Weizenbaum Institut

Principal Investigator (PI) since 15 September 2022

Research Focus: Digital Markets and Public Spheres on Platforms

Research Group: Dynamics of Digital Mobilization

Principal Investigator (PI) until 14 September 2022

Research Group: Digitalisation and the Transnational Public Sphere

Committees and functions

  • Professor at Freie Universität Berlin, Department of Political and Social Sciences
  • Visiting Professor at the Helsinki Institute for Social Sciences and Humanities
  • Principal Investigator at the SFB 1265 Re-figuration of Spaces at TU Berlin
  • Principal Investigator at the Berlin University Alliance Research Center on Social Cohesion
  • Faculty member of the Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies
  • Advisory Board member of the Center for Advanced Internet Studies (CAIS)
  • Advisory Board member at the Düsseldorf Institute for Internet and Democracy, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf
  • Member of the working group “Digitalization and Democracy” of the Leopoldina – National Academy of Sciences
  • Ombudsperson at the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society
  • Co-editor of the book series “Politische Kommunikation und Demokratische Öffentlichkeit” (Political Communication and Democratic Publics), Nomos-Verlag, Baden-Baden
  • Member of editorial boards of international journals: Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media; Communication Theory; International Journal of Press / Politics; Central European Journal of Communication; Journal of Global Mass Communication
  • Member of associations: International Communication Association (ICA); European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA); European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR); International Political Science Association (IPSA); German Communication Association (DGPuK); German Association for Political Science (DVPW)

Fields of research

  • Media and online public spheres
  • Political communication in international comparison
  • Digital issue networks
  • Agenda-setting and political mobilisation
  • Transnational and European public sphere
  • Methods of quantitative media research



Knüpfer, C. B., Pfetsch, B., & Heft, A. (2020). Demokratischer Wandel, dissonante Öffentlichkeit und die Herausforderungen vernetzter Kommunikationsumgebungen. In M. Oswald & I. Borucki (Eds.), Demokratietheorie und Demokratie im Lichte des digitalen Wandels. Wiesbaden: Springer.

Pfetsch, B., Heft, A., & Knüpfer, C. B. (2019). Transnationale Öffentlichkeiten in der Digitalen Gesellschaft: Konzepte und Forschungsperspektiven. In J. Hofmann, N. Kersting, C. Ritzi, & W. J. Schünemann (Eds.), Politik in der Digitalen Gesellschaft. Zentrale Problemfelder und Forschungsperspektiven (pp. 83–101). Bielefeld: transcript Verlag.

Maier, D., Waldherr, A., Miltner, P., Wiedemann, G., Niekler, A., Keinert, A., Pfetsch, B., Heyer, G., Reber, U., Häussler, T., Schimd-Petri, H. & Adam, S. (2018). Applying LDA topic modeling in communication research: Toward a valid and reliable methodology. Communication Methods and Measures, 1–26.

Mayerhöffer, E., & Pfetsch, B. (2018). Media Elites. In H. Best & J. Higley (Eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Political Elites (pp. 417–437). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Pfetsch, B. (2018). Dissonant and Disconnected Public Spheres as Challenge for Political Communication Research. Javnost - The Public, 25(1–2), 59–65. also published in S. Splichal (Eds.), The Lique-faction of Publicness Communication, Democracy and the Public Sphere in the Internet Age.

Pfetsch, B., Löblich, M., & Eilders, C. (2018). Dissonante Öffentlichkeiten als Perspektive kommunikationswissenschaftlicher Theoriebildung. Publizistik, 63, 477–495.

Schmid-Petri, H., Adam, S., Reber, U., Häussler, T., Maier, D., Miltner, S., Pfetsch, B., & Waldherr, A. (2018). Homophily and prestige: An assessment of their relative strength to explain link formation in the online climate change debate. Social Networks, 55, 47–54.

Bennett, W. L., & Pfetsch, B. (2017). Rethinking Political Communication in a Time of Disrupted Public Spheres. Journal of Communication.

Maier, D., Waldherr, A., Miltner, P., Jähnichen, P., & Pfetsch, B. (2018). Exploring Issues in a Networked Public Sphere. Social Science Computer Review, 36(1), 3–20.

Pfetsch, B., Maier, D., Miltner, P., & Waldherr, A. (2016). Challenger Networks of Food Policy on the Internet. A Comparative Study of Structures and Coalitions in Germany, the UK, the US, and Switzerland. International Journal of E-Politics, 7(1), 16–36.

Pfetsch, B., Miltner, P., & Maier, D. (2016). Old and New Dynamics of Agenda Building in a Hybrid Media System. In G. Vowe & P. Henn (Eds.), Political Communication in the Online World: Theoretical Approaches and Research Designs (pp. 45–58). New York, NY / Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Pfetsch, B., & Heft, A. (2015). Theorizing Communication Flows within a European Public Sphere. In T. Risse (Ed.), European Public Spheres. Politics is Back (pp. 29–52). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pfetsch, B., Adam, S., & Bennett, W. L. (2013). The Critical Linkage between Online and Offline Media: An Approach to Researching the Conditions of Issue Spill-Over. Javnost - The Public, 20(3), 9–22.


Freie Universität Berlin (FU), Fachbereich Politik- und Sozialwissenschaften
+49 30 838 57530