New Sproul Fellow Rebecca Wallace Studies How Media Framing Affects Public Attitudes in Social Policy
Dr. Rebecca Wallace, a political scientist specializing in immigration and minority issues, officially joined the program this month as a John A. Sproul Research Fellow. As a visiting researcher, Dr. Wallace will assist program director Irene Bloemraad in analyzing data on attitudes toward immigrants in Canada and the United States. Following the conclusion of her term at Berkeley in June, Dr. Wallace will start a faculty appointment as an assistant professor of political science at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia.
We sat down with Dr. Wallace to ask her about her own research, the project she’s working on at Berkeley, and what initially drew her to the position. Highlights from the interview are below: read the full piece on our website
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m from a rural part of Canada in southern Ontario. I attended Queen’s University for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, where I discovered an interest in social policy. My dissertation centered on trying to understand how “deservingness” is conceptualized and framed in Canada around social assistance and welfare policy. It’s a common thread in American research that the media plays a predominant role in shaping people’s perceptions about social policy. But in Canada, we actually haven’t seen a lot of research in this area. Essentially, it’s the first work that really looks at the codification of deservingness in news media and its effects on public attitudes.
Why did you apply to be a Sproul Fellow at Berkeley?
I was immediately drawn to this position given Berkeley’s reputation. But I’m also very excited to work with Irene. A lot of Canadian scholars in our field are very familiar with Irene’s work, and I love that she’s a very interdisciplinary researcher at heart. Her work branches into political science, sociology, psychology, and it’s well-read across a number of fields. She’s somebody I can really see myself working well with and learning a lot from, especially with this current project around immigration.
What will you be working on at Berkeley?
Irene and I will be looking at how framing affects immigrant claims-making to certain social rights or protections. If advocacy organizations are trying to create certain initiatives around expanding or protecting these rights, they’ll often appeal to ideas like human rights or Canadian or American values. So we’re trying to see how effective appeals to different types of rights are, by comparing a few stories about immigrants that frame the narrative through one of these contexts, and measuring the response. Irene has previously looked at this in the American context, but we’d like to expand it and place it in a comparative context.
Why do you think it’s important to study Canada?
As a proud Canadian, I’m inherently a fan of Canadian studies! But in general, the Canadian case is often overlooked, and I think that’s a big mistake. Really, Canadian policy should be placed at the forefront in a lot of these discussions. Especially in areas like immigration, the environment, and Indigenous politics, there’s so much to learn from the Canadian experience, both for good and bad. And I think that there’s a lot of assumptions that what happens in the United States translates directly to the Canadian context, which isn’t necessarily the case. I think it’s critical that we continue to reinforce the Canadian-American relationship, which has been strained in recent years. We have to go back to an open dialogue, because both countries gain so much from each other.