Jennifer Forestal

My research investigates how networked technologies like social media have complicated the traditional relationship between space and politics. In my dissertation, "Bringing the Site Back In: Social Media and the Politics of Space," I trace the relationship between public space and political life in the work of John Dewey and Hannah Arendt in order to think about the politics of physical spaces and the "spaces" of social media.

As a way of further exploring the relationships between space(s) and politics, I turn to architecture. Drawing on the work of Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Kenneth Frampton, and George Baird, I show how these architects built upon Dewey and Arendt's conceptual frameworks in order to build and maintain spaces that foster and support democratic communities. Extending their discussions, largely focused on (re)building 20th-century cities, to the digital sites of social media, my dissertation offers a spatial analysis of social media that offers insights into the ways in which we can design, build, and maintain more democratic spaces in the new digital environment.

I am the Helen Houlahan Rigali Endowed Assistant Professor of Political Science at Loyola University Chicago.  I previously received my Ph.D in Political Science from Northwestern University and my BA from the Ohio State Universitysumma cum laude in Political Science and Comparative Cultural Studieswith distinction in Political Science.

My research draws from the history of political thought, particularly in the American tradition, to  investigate the consequences of digital technologies for democratic practices.

Much of our contemporary political activity occurs online; despite their emphasis on entertainment, digital and social media are increasingly the spaces in which individuals create, share, and discuss content related to issues of public concern--the foundation of a healthy democracy. The ways in which these sites organize users therefore have far-reaching consequences for how well we are able to engage in democratic practices--or whether we are able to at all.

Using resources from political theory, traditional architecture, and computer science, I study the effects of UX design, site governance structures, and software development processes on the potential for democratic engagements both with and through digital media. As a result, my work provides insights into the ways in which we can design, build, and maintain more democratic spaces using digital technologies. 

I am also actively engaged in scholarship of teaching and learning, particularly around questions of civic learning and engagement both in and outside of the classroom.