Prof. Dr. Barbara Pfetsch

Principal Investigator

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).






Portrait FU

Freie Universität Berlin (FU), Fachbereich Politik- und Sozialwissenschaften
  • Positions

    Principal Investigator (PI):

    Research Group "Digitalisation and the Transnational Public Sphere"

  • ©© David Ausserhofer
  • Committees and functions
    • Professor at Freie Universität Berlin, Department of Political and Social Sciences
    • Member of the International Communication Association (ICA)
    • Member of the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA)
    • Member of the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR)
    • Member of the International Political Science Association (IPSA)
    • Member of the German Communication Association (DGPuK)
    • 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 Scientific Advisory Board and ombudsperson for good research practices at the Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI)
    • Member of the working group “Digitalization and Democracy” of the Leopoldina – National Academy of Sciences
    • Confidential counselor 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 the editorial board, Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media
    • Member of the editorial board, Communication Theory
    • Member of the editorial board, International Journal of Press / Politics
    • Member of the editorial board, Central European Journal of Communication
    • Member of the editorial board, Journal of Global Mass Communication
    • Chair of the Finnish Academy Selection Committee – Communication and Media Studies Selection Committee, 2020-21.
    • Member of selection committee and assessor of projects, BMBF funding guideline “Zusammenhalt in Europa” (Cohesion in Europe)
  • Fields of research
    • Media and online public spheres
    • Political communication processes and cultures in international comparison
    • Digital issue networks
    • Agenda-setting
    • European public sphere
    • Methods of quantitative media research


Political agenda-building under the conditions of a hybrid media system – a comparison across countries and issues (DFG)

The impact of online communication on the political public sphere – comparing agenda-building processes across countries and issue fields, Projekt im Rahmen der Forschungsgruppe Politische Kommunikation in der Online-Welt (DFG)



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.