Professor Sabina Mihelj

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

  • Research and Impact Director
  • Professor of Media and Cultural Analysis

Professor Sabina Mihelj joined Loughborough University in 2004, having previously worked and studied in Slovenia, Hungary and Germany. 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 REF2021 submission to the D34 panel. 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 is particularly interested in the comparative study of media cultures across both traditional and new media, with a focus on public culture, nationalism, identity, and audiences. She has written extensively on the relationship between communication, nations and nationalism, Cold War media and culture, and comparative media research. 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.

Sabina also has a track record of collaboration with non-academic stakeholders. Her research on Cold War television and everyday life has also 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 REF Impact Case Studies, Challenging Cold War Stereotypes. Her current work on the role of media in the rise of illiberalism in Eastern Europe, conducted with Dr Václav Štětka, involves collaboration with the European Broadcasting Union, European Federation of Journalists, and the European Platform of Regulatory Authorities.

Professor Mihelj wrote extensively about the relationship between mass communication and cultural identity, with a focus on issues of national belonging, cosmopolitanism, religion, and cultural memory, across both traditional and new media. 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. The book has been praised by several reviewers, and described as ‘important and meritorious’ (Global Media and Communication, 2012) and ‘theoretically ambitious and empirically rich’ (International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics, 2013). In a series of articles co-written with Liesbet Van Zoonen and Farida Vis, Sabina also examined the transnational symbolic battles over Islam, waged in the context of the new media, including YouTube.

Another central theme running through Sabina’s research concerns European communication, 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. It argues for the importance of multifaceted analysis of media systems, which takes into account a range of political, economic as well as cultural aspects.

Sabina has recently published a book entitled From Media Systems to Media Cultures: Understanding Socialist Television, (Cambridge University Press, 2018, paperback edition 2021). The book is based on a project funded by the Leverhulme Trust, which examined television cultures across five communist countries, focusing on their involvement in shaping the perceptions and practices of private and public life, their entanglement with everyday routines and festive occasions, and their afterlives in post-communist media and memory. Apart from offering the first systematic transnational study of communist media, this project also develops a novel framework for comparative media research, which shifts the focus from comparing media systems to comparing media cultures. The results of the project have also fed into several museum exhibitions, including a touring exhibition on the modernization of everyday life in South-eastern Europe, the British Museum exhibition on the Currency of Communism, the Watching Socialism exhibition at the Wende Museum in Los Angeles, and the TV documentary Fall of the Berlin Wall with John Simpson (BBC Four).

Sabina’s current work, conducted with Dr Václav Štětka, examines the role of news consumption in the rise of illiberalism in Eastern Europe. Using a multi-method methodological framework that combines survey data, digital tracking, media diaries and qualitative interviews, this research seeks to develop a holistic insight into the political implications of the changing news environment, and into its consequences for the quality of democracy and the rise of illiberal populism and nationalism in the region.       

Major externally funded research projects:

  • 2019-21, Co-Investigator, The Illiberal Turn? Political Polarization, News Consumption and Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, ESRC
  • 2013-16, Principal Investigator, Screening Socialism: Television and Everyday Life in Socialist Eastern Europe, Leverhulme Trust.
  • 2009-10, Co-Investigator, Fitna, the video battle: how YouTube enables the young to perform their religious and public identities, AHRC.
  • 2008-10, Project Partner, Border Communities: The Cold War in Communicative Memories and Public Spheres, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for European History and Public Spheres, Vienna, Austria.
  • 2006-08, Project Partner, Spinning out of Control: Rhetoric and Violent Conflict, Norwegian Research Council.
  • 2006-07, Principal Investigator, On the Margins of Europe: Media, Space and Identity between Migrant Borders, British Academy.
  • 2005-06, Co-Investigator, Debating the EU Constitution: National or Transnational Paths to a Supranational Issue, ESRC.

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 communication and cultural identity; media and public culture; nationalism, ethnicity, racism; media and social change; comparative media research; socialist and post-socialist media and culture; media and cultures of illiberalism. 

Current postgraduate research students

  • Yunyi Liao (2021-present) Everyday Nation Branding (with Michael Skey)
  • Ruoning Chen (2020-present) Digital Nationalism in China (with Michael Skey)
  • 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)
  • Yiting Chen (2021-present) Navigating Multiple Modernities: Media Practices and Identification among Transnational Vietnamese Female Labour in China and Britain (with Elisabeth Mavroudi)
  • Natasha Kitcher (2019-present): Broadcasting before broadcasting: a comparative approach to the history of the electrophone (with Pete Yeandle, Simone Natale, and Gabriele Balbi)


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