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Research projects

Performers of the Climate Crisis



 Théo Aiolfi, who obtained this year his PhD in political science from the University of Warwick, will be joining ECHO in September 2023 as part of a Marie Skłodowska-Curie (MSCA) Science and Innovation Fellowship (SIF) which he was awarded through the EUTOPIA alliance of universities. While he will be primarily based at CY Cergy Paris University for the first year of his fellowship, Théo will join ECHO for an internal secondment of six months at VUB during the academic year 2023/2024. In the research group, he will be mentored by Benjamin De Cleen to pursue his project entitled “Performers of the Climate Crisis: Eco-populism and Political Representation in the Anthropocene”. The project, which seeks to examine the specificities in the political communication of new forms of green activism and politics through the frame of populism as a mode of articulation of the global ecological crisis, will strongly benefit from the expertise of ECHO in the fields of populism studies and political communication.

Project Details

Funding: EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie (MSCA) 
Starts on 01/09/2023;
Research managers: Benjamin De Cleen

Satire across borders: production, content, and audiences of pan-Arab news satire



News satire has become ubiquitous in its popularity and widely diffused in many countries and contexts. This project aims to deepen, and expand, the burgeoning scholarship on news satire by looking at the transnational processes that underlie the production, content and consumption of pan- Arab news satire. The inherently transnational nature of pan-Arab news satire in its production and consumption—as it is often produced from diasporic vantage points, and speaks to audiences across multiple political contexts as well as to large diasporic communities—provides a rich platform to advance our understanding of the complex place of news satire in contemporary media environments. The proposed research aims to fill a gap in the scholarship by (1) conceptualising the transnational flows negotiated by contemporary news satire; (2) analysing how these flows are articulated on the production and content levels (3) investigating how (diasporic) audiences make sense of them. The study draws on a number of qualitative research methods including: interviews and focus groups, multimodal textual analysis, and photo-elicitation methods. It includes two periods of on-site ethnographic fieldwork among Arab diasporic communities in Berlin and Istanbul. Finally, by centring cases beyond Western contexts the study aims to build a more nuanced conception of the tensions and contestations that underlie the practice of news satire.

Project Details

Funding: FWO Postdoctoral Fellowship (# 12D1723N)
Starts on 1/10/22 Ends on 30/09/25
Research Manager: Yazan Badran;

Anti-populist discourse in European politics and media



In 2017, the Cambridge dictionary picked ‘populism’ as its ‘word of the year’. This is of no surprise. In the European context in particular, populism is blamed for serious problems, such as the polarisation of political life, the decline of trust towards institutions, political instability, and the aggression and stridency seen in the public sphere. However, the wide use of the term raises questions about what exactly is captured by it, and whether it offers a fruitful way of framing all these developments. Despite the impressive growth we see in populism research in the last decade, little attention has been drawn to how traditional liberal-centrist political and media actors counter the challenge of populism – i.e. to anti-populism. What often goes unnoticed is that the negative valence that ‘populism’ has acquired, and its elevation to a central political frame may itself be contributing to polarisation by solidifying a new divide along the populism/anti-populism line. Anti-pop will explain the role of anti-populism in political and media discourse and its confrontation with populism, and the implications of these for democratic debate. It will do this by deploying an innovative interdisciplinary approach, combining tools from applied linguistics with rhetorical analysis and concepts from political theory and grounding it on the analysis of a large and varied body of data. Anti-pop’s findings and dissemination approach will foster in-depth reflection and assessment of this framing in European media, political, and institutional discourse, and will contribute to the nuancing of public debate.

Project Details

Funding: Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship.
Starts on 31/01/2022; Ends on 31/01/2024.
Research manager: Savvas Voutyras.

Children Online: Research and Evidence (CO:RE)



The aim of the coordination and support project “Children Online: Research and Evidence (CO:RE)” is the conception and implementation of a comprehensive and at the same time dynamic, pan-European knowledge platform on the experiences of children and young people in digital communication spaces and the effects of technological changes on children and young people. The CO:RE knowledge platform provides a holistic overview of the current research landscapes and enables access to empirical data for re-analysis. Furthermore, it offers a range of resources and materials, such as blog posts, reports, and e-brochures for researchers, educators, and policy-makers alike for more than 30 European countries. The project is funded within the EU framework of DT-TRANSFORMATIONS-07-2019: “The impact of technological transformations on children and youth” and has a duration of three years.

Project Details

Funding: EU framework of DT-TRANSFORMATIONS-07-2019
Starts on 01/01/2020; Ends on 31/12/2022.
Research managers: Joke Bauwens; Freija Poot
; Joanna Beeckmans.

Re-use of treated wastewater for irrigation and groundwater recharge: environmental impacts and public perception



To evolve towards a sustainable robust water system, water re-use and reclamation of treated wastewater are essential. By re-using treated wastewater as a source for water for agriculture, industry, ecology or households, the water cycle can be closed to create a circular water economy. The two most important barriers hampering application of re-use of treated wastewater are (1) a lack of knowledge about its environmental impacts and (2) uncertainty about public perception and acceptance of water re-use.

This project aims at tackling these two crucial barriers in an interdisciplinary approach as these cannot be investigated separately. To install pilot sites to study environmental impacts, understanding of public perception and an effective communication strategy is needed since public reactions to the test might endanger the success of the experiment. Public acceptance, however, is only possible if safety can be ensured and scientifically demonstrated through a monitored pilot site.

Project Details

Started on 1/11/19 Ends on 31/10/24
Researchers: Bilana Gaume; Martha Jackson.
Academic Promotor: Joke Bauwens; Pascal Verhoest.

Diversity and Information Media



Information media diversity is quintessential for the working of contemporary democracies and is currently under threat. Threats emanate from different parallel yet interrelated trends: (1) concentration tendencies in the media with content consequences; (2) possibilities offered by digital technologies to reuse and redistribute existing content through different channels; and (3) possibilities offered by IP address-based technologies to target content at specific audiences. Consequently, the old logic that used to govern the media, that of ‘representative diversity’, that gives a proportional representation of social groups in society, is no longer sufficient. Given a diversified media production and differentiated audiences, a new, more elaborate and better equipped paradigm through which diversity is obtained and stimulated, is needed. This is why we introduce a novel normative rationale that we label ‘responsive diversity’.

Project Details

Funding: FRESH (FNRS) Ends on 11/01/2023
Project leader: Leen d’Haenens

Research manager: Pascal Verhoest

ERC Reel Borders:
Fiction Film and Borderlands




REEL BORDERS aims to bring fiction film to the centre of discussions about borders and belonging. As different institutions and actors increasingly turn to fiction film to circulate messages about borders, the study looks at how borders and fiction film have been related since the early 20th century. Border regimes are intimately intertwined with cultural imaginations and representations of borders and their insiders and outsiders.

Project Details

Started on 1/02/21 Ends on 31/01/26
Researchers: Silvia Almenara Niebla; Lennart Soberon; Irene Gutiérrez;
Academic Promotor: Kevin Smets

Shifting the Gaze



This project aims to contribute to a shift in the “gaze” towards migrants and refugees in media representations. More substantiated, positive and nuanced media representations can potentially alter the way in which public opinion perceives the complex phenomenon of migration. The goal of this project is twofold. The first phase of the project consists of a needs assessment among present and prospective media professionals and stakeholders (CSOs, diversity and migration associations). The aim is to analyze the concrete needs of media professionals to be able to represent migrants and refugees in more nuanced ways, and map existing good practices in the field of news and media production.

Project Details

Started on 1/11/20 Ends on 31/10/22
Reseacher: Lisa Ahenkona;
Academic Promotor: Kevin Smets

Minors’ advertising literacy



CEMESO is a research partner in AdLit, a four year project on children and teenagers’ advertising literacy financed by Vlaio (Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship). AdLit has an interdisciplinary set-up that incorporates juridicial, educational and marketing components coming from various universities and research groups, i.e. UGent (Ghent University), UAntwerpen (University of Antwerp), KUL (Katholic University Leuven) and VUB (Free University Brussels). Taking into account the altered media environments that have allowed complex, intrusive and immersive advertising strategies, formats and techniques, the project strives to empower young consumers in their processing of and coping with advertising. Read more: .

Project Details

Started on 1/11/20 Ends on 31/10/22
Researcher: Silke Lissens;
Academic Promotor: Joke Bauwens

An analysis of self-promotion in journalistic supply in Flanders



The Flemish media regulator reports annually on the concentration in the Flemish media sector and usually comes to alarming conclusions. The media concentration is increasing year after year. However, does this concentration have an impact on journalistic reporting? That is much less clear. We recently investigated at the research centers imec-SMIT and Desire whether there are changes in the reporting of own and competing brands after a change of ownership of a media company? Quite simply, we studied whether companies in the same family pay more attention to the "house brands" in their journalistic output than to other media brands. A content analysis of articles from Het Nieuwsblad and Het Laatste Nieuws on the one hand and items from Het Journaal from VRT and Het Nieuws from VTM on the other show that....

Project Details

Started in 2016; Ended in 2020.
Researchers: Jana Goyvaerts
; Sarah Vis; Ike Picone; Karen Donders; Benjamin De Cleen.





Governments, news media and public opinion in Europe are increasingly preoccupied with refugees seeking access to Western Europe. Public opinion is split (if not negative) and generally un- or misinformed (amalgamation across ‘groups’ being one of the problems), and integration policies cannot respond to the needs (see cross-country MIPEX results). This project aims to investigate the dynamic interplay between media representations of the current non-EU immigrant situation with a specific emphasis on the refugee situation on the one hand and the governmental and societal (re)actions on the other. The IM²MEDIATE project combines four complementary multi-stakeholder group perspectives: analysis of news media content and journalism culture; study of societal reactions of the general public; study of push/pull factors in migration from a refugee perspective; and policy analysis into national governmental (re)actions across countries with emphasis on Belgium and Sweden as divergent cases.

Project Details

Started on 01/11/18 Ends on 31/12/20
Researchers: Lien Mostmans; Valériane Mistiaen; Silke Lissens;
Academic Promotor: Kevin Smets

PhD Projects