Professor Sabina Mihelj

BA/MA (University of Ljubljana), PhD (Ljubljana Graduate School of the Humanities)

  • Professor of Media and Cultural Analysis

Professor Sabina Mihelj joined Loughborough University in 2004, having previously worked and studied in Slovenia, Hungary and Germany. Sabina’s research is focused on the interaction between media, politics, and culture, especially in the context of semi-democratic, authoritarian, and post-authoritarian countries. Her work examines how the cultural dimensions of social life – such as cultural belonging and exclusion, or narratives about the past and the future – intersect with the mediation of politics and public life. Having made key contributions to debates on media and nationalism, Cold War media and culture, and comparative media research, her current work investigates the role of media in contemporary ‘culture wars’, driven by the rise of illiberalism and populism. Her research was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust, the Norwegian Research Council, and the Ministry of Science and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia.

Over her time at Loughborough, Sabina served as Programme Director for both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in communication and media studies. She is currently Director of Research for Communication and Media, and co-led Loughborough’s submission to the latest national Research Excellence Framework (2021) assessment, which was awarded a 100% 4* (top score) rating for both research environment and research impact. She is a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council Peer Review College and sits on the editorial boards of several international media and cultural analysis journals. 

Sabina also has a track record of collaboration with non-academic stakeholders. Her research on Cold War television and everyday life served as a basis for several museum exhibitions in South-eastern Europe, the UK and the US, and a TV documentary for BBC 4. This work provided the basis for one of Loughborough’s top-scoring REF Impact Case Studies, Challenging Cold War Stereotypes. Her current work on the role of media in the rise of illiberalism in Eastern Europe, and on pandemic communication and populism, involves collaboration with the European Broadcasting Union, the European Federation of Journalists, and the European Platform of Regulatory Authorities.

Professor Mihelj wrote extensively about the relationship between media and cultural identity, with a focus on issues of national belonging, religion, and cultural memory. Her first book, Media Nations: Communicating Belonging and Exclusion in the Modern World (Palgrave, 2011), argues for the continued relevance of concepts such as nations and nationalism in understanding global patterns of communication and identification. These arguments are elaborated further in her recent work on digital nationalism, consumer nationalism, and digital public culture.

Another central theme running through Sabina’s research concerns comparative media research, often with a focus on Eastern and Central European media. Her second book, Central and Eastern European Media in Comparative Perspective (Ashgate, 2012, co-edited with John Downey) seeks to advance the practice of comparative media research as well as the understanding of Central and Eastern European media.

Sabina’s latest book, entitled From Media Systems to Media Cultures: Understanding Socialist Television, (Cambridge University Press, 2018, paperback edition 2021) offers the first systematic comparative study of communist media, drawing on original data from Poland, East Germany, Yugoslavia, Romania and the Soviet Union. The book also develops a novel framework for comparative media research, which shifts the focus from comparing media systems to comparing media cultures.

Sabina is currently working on a new book, tentatively entitled The Illiberal Turn (under contract, expected 2023/2024), based on a research project that examines the role of media in the rise of illiberalism in Eastern Europe. She has also started working on a major new project that examines the nature of health crisis communication in the context of populism, comparing experiences from Brazil, USA, and Poland.

Major externally funded research projects:

Undergraduate teaching:

  • CXA305 Foundations of Media and Communication Research
  • CXB301 Media, Identity and Inequality

Postgraduate teaching:

  • CXP301 Understanding Modern Media
  • CXP303 Politics of Representation

Main areas of postgraduate research supervision include media and nationalism; communication and identity; media and illiberalism; digital culture; comparative media research; socialist and post-socialist media and culture; media history & memory. 

Current postgraduate research students

  • Yiting Chen (2021-present) Navigating Multiple Modernities: Media Practices and Identification among Transnational Vietnamese Female Labour in China and Britain (with Elisabeth Mavroudi)
  • Yunyi Liao (2021-present) Everyday Nation Branding (with Michael Skey)
  • Ruoning Chen (2020-present) Digital Nationalism in China (with Michael Skey)
  • Natasha Kitcher (2019-present): Broadcasting before broadcasting: a comparative approach to the history of the electrophone (with Pete Yeandle, Simone Natale, and Gabriele Balbi)
  • Miao Tian (2019-present) Performing Class Identities Online: Migrant Workers and Social Media in Contemporary China (with Marco Pino)
  • Jin Dai (2018-present) Between Official and Personal Memory: Remembering Han Migration to Xinyang (with Alena Pfoser)

Recent postgraduate research students

  • Leila Wilmers (2020) Nationalism and an Engaged Ideology: Negotiating Dilemmas of National Continuity in Russia (with Marco Antonsich)
  • Yingzi Wang (2019) Chinese Television between Propaganda and Entertainment, 1992-2017 (with Thoralf Klein)
  • Alena Pfoser (2014) Living at the new margins of Europe: Identity, place and memory in the Russian-Estonian borderland (with Michael Pickering)
  • Ekmel Gecer (2014) Media and Democracy in Turkey: The Kurdish issue (with David Deacon)
  • Dana Nassif (2013) Youth, the New Media and Social Change in Jordan (with Emily Keightley)
  • Yu Wei (Renée) Wang (2013) Who are the Han? Representations of the Han in Late Qing and Early Republican China (with Iris Wigger)
  • Vera Slavtcheva (2011) Children’s Perceptions and Media Representations of the European Union in Bulgaria and the UK
  • Mengmeng Zhang (2010) Representations of Nation and Locality in the Hong Kong Press

Books and edited journal issues

Journal articles and book chapters