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  • Julia Sonnevend

    Associate Professor of Sociology and Communications


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    Julia Sonnevend


    Julia Sonnevend is Associate Professor of Sociology and Communications at The New School for Social Research. She is a sociologist of global culture, focusing on the events icons, symbols and charismatic personalities of public life and media. Her comparative and interdisciplinary publications argue that much of global culture rests on the unexpected, not on the planned. A major international event can shake the world and the emergence of a charismatic new politician on the global stage can alter our lives. Sonnevend’s work argues that contemplating these unexpected, non-rational features of human existence can lead to a better understanding of political, social, and communicative processes worldwide. Perhaps influenced by her Eastern-European upbringing by two librarians in Hungary during a jarring political transformation, she is skeptical of progress narratives and technological enthusiasm, and has a particular fondness for understanding failures and ruptures of communication and culture worldwide.

    Her new book, Charm: How Magnetic Personalities Shape Global Politics is forthcoming with Princeton University Press in August 2024. In this book, Sonnevend argues that politics is a site of performance, and contemporary politicians often perform the role of a regular person—perhaps someone we would like to have a beer with. They win elections not because of the elevated rhetorical performances we often associate with charisma (“ask not what your country can do for you”), but because of something more ordinary and relatable. The everyday magic spell that politicians cast using mass and social media is what she calls “charm.” Sonnevend explores charm (and the related “charm offensive”) as a keyword of contemporary global politics. Successful political leaders deploy this form of personal magnetism—which relies on proximity to political tribes and manifests across a variety of media platforms—to appear authentic and accessible in their quest for power. Sonnevend examines the mediated self-representations of a set of liberal, illiberal, and authoritarian political leaders: New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, Iran’s Mohammad Javad Zarif, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, and Germany’s Angela Merkel. She considers the ways each wields charm (or the lack of it) as a political tool, and how they weaponize their charm to shape their countries’ international image, hoping to influence decisions about military aid, trade, and even tourism. Sonnevend argues that charm will shape the future of democracy worldwide, as political values will be increasingly embodied by mediated personalities. These figures will rise and fall, often fading into irrelevance; but if we do not understand charm’s political power, we cannot grasp today’s fragile political moment.

    Her first, award-winning book, Stories Without Borders: The Berlin Wall and the Making of a Global Iconic Event (Oxford University Press, 2016) raised the question: How we can tell the story of an event in a way that people would remember it internationally and over time? In this book, Sonnevend developed a new concept of “global iconic events”, defined as news events that the international media cover extensively and remember ritually. Focusing on journalists covering the fall of the Berlin Wall and on subsequent retellings of the event (from Legoland reenactments to the installation of segments of the Berlin Wall in shopping malls), she discussed how storytellers build up certain events so that people remember them for long periods of time. The East German border opening that we now summarize as the “fall of the Berlin Wall” was in fact unintentional, confusing, and prompted in part by misleading media coverage of bureaucratic missteps. But its global message is not about luck or accident or happenstance in history. Incarnated as a global iconic event, the “fall of the Berlin Wall” has come to communicate the momentary power that vulnerable ordinary people can have. This powerful myth still shapes our debates about separation walls and fences, borders and refugees worldwide. In contrast to globalization theories that focus on the metaphor of a “bridge,” her book highlights the ongoing presence of separation walls and barriers around the world.

    Her graduate students work on a wide-range of topics in relation to media and culture, including South Korea’s covid-response, the representation of peace in Israeli-Palestinian television shows, the phenomenological experience of binge-watching, the Coca Cola company’s role in fostering independent music in Pakistan, Chinese artists’ coping with anti-Asian sentiment in New York, the media constructions of January 6th, and the mediated narratives of climate change. 

    Sonnevend received her PhD in Communications from Columbia University, her Master of Laws degree from Yale Law School, and her Juris Doctorate and Master of Arts degrees in German Studies and Aesthetics from Eötvös Loránd University Budapest.

    Please view her Research Matters profile for more information about  Sonnevend’s work.

    She tweets from @juliasonnevend

    Degrees Held

    PhD in Communications, Columbia University, 2013

    LLM, Yale Law School, 2007

    Recent Publications


    Sonnevend, J. (forthcoming August 2024). Charm: How Magnetic Personalities Shape Global Politics. Princeton University Press.

    Sonnevend, J. (2016). Stories Without Borders: The Berlin Wall and the Making of a Global Iconic Event. New York: Oxford University Press.

        Translation: Hungarian (Corvina Publisher, June 2018) 

    Greenhow, C.,Sonnevend J., & Agur, C. (Eds.). (2016). Education and Social Media: Toward a Digital Future. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


    Journal articles:

    Sonnevend, J., & Kövesdi, V. (2023). More Than Just a Strongman: The Strategic Construction of Viktor Orbán’s Charismatic Authority on Facebook. The International Journal of Press/Politics0(0). 

    Sonnevend, J. & Steiert, O. (2022). The Power of Predictability: How Angela Merkel Constructed Her Authenticity on InstagramNew Media & Society, 0(0). 

    Sonnevend, J. (2020). A virus as an Icon: The 2020 Pandemic in ImagesAmerican Journal of Cultural Sociology. 12451-461.

    Sonnevend, J. & Katz, Y. (2020). Capturing Hearts: Charm, Personal Magnetism and The Iranian Nuclear Deal in the American and Israeli Press. Journalism Studies, 21 (11):1551–1570.

    Sonnevend, J. & Kim, Y. (2020). An unlikely seducer: Kim Jong-un’s charm offensive from the PyeongChang Winter Olympics until the Trump-Kim summit. International Journal of Communication14, 1398–1420.

    Sonnevend, J. (2019) Charm offensive: mediatized country image transformations in international relations. Information, Communication & Society 22(5), 695-701.

    Sonnevend, J. (2018). The lasting charm of Media EventsMedia, Culture & Society 40(1), 122-126.

    Sonnevend, J. (2018).  Interruptions of time: The coverage of the missing Malaysian plane MH370 and the concept of “events” in media researchJournalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism 19(1), 75-92.

    Sonnevend, J. (May 25, 2017). Our New Walls: The Rise of Separation Barriers in the Age of GlobalizationE-International Relations (also published on Public Seminar).

    Sonnevend, J. (2015). “Symbol of Hope for a World Without Walls”: The Fall of the Berlin Wall as a Global Iconic EventDivinatio, 39-40, 223-233 (also translated into Bulgarian)

    Sonnevend, J. (2013). Counterrevolutionary icons: The representation of the 1956 ‘counterrevolution’ in the Hungarian communist pressJournalism Studies, 14(3), 336-354.


    Special issues in peer-reviewed journals:

    Sonnevend, J. (2018). “Media Events Today”, Media, Culture & Society, 40(1), 110-113

    Bodker, H., & Sonnevend, J. (2018). “The ShiftingTemporalities of Journalism”, Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism, 19(1), 3-6


    Peer-reviewed bibliography:

    Sonnevend, J. (2017). Media Events. In Moy, P. (Ed.) Oxford Bibliographies in Communication. New York: Oxford University Press.


    Book chapters:

    Sonnevend, J. & Steiert, O. (2022) “Seeing a Crisis Through Media: Narrating the Coronavirus Pandemic”, In J. Witte, S. Pickard, & M. Welker (Eds), The Impact of the Media on Character Formation, Ethical Education, and the Communication of Values in Late Modern Pluralistic Societies. (pp. 137-150). Evangelische Verlangsanstalt: University of Heidelberg.

    Sonnevend, J. (2020). The East in You Never Leaves. In Laczo, F. & Gabrijelcic, L. L. (Eds.) The Legacy of Division: East and West After 1989. Budapest: CEU Press. [also published on Eurozine and Public Seminar, and translated into Slovene]

    Sonnevend, J. (2018). Facts (Almost) Never Win Over Myths. In Boczkowski, P. & Papacharissi, Z. (Eds.) Trump and the Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Sonnevend, J. (2016). Event. In Peters, B. (Ed.), Digital Keywords: A Vocabulary of Information Society and Culture (pp. 109-118). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Balkin, J. M., & Sonnevend, J. (2016). The digital transformation of education. In Greenhow, C., Sonnevend J., & Agur, C. (Eds.), Education and social media: Toward a digital future (pp. 9-25). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Sonnevend, J. (2016). More hope! Ceremonial media events are still important in the 21st century. In Fox, A. (Ed.), Global Perspectives on Media Events in Contemporary Society (pp. 132-141). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.



    "'The Big Clean Up': The 2020 Pandemic as a Representational Crisis," SSRC Items, September 27, 2020

    "Mekkora Orbán vonzereje, és miért ilyen fontos, hogy van neki?" 24, August 13, 2019

    "The East in You Never Leaves," Public Seminar, March 16, 2019

    "Why We Need More Essays about Media," Public Seminar, March 6, 2018

    "Megingott a liberális világrend, újra büszkén lehet falat építeni," 24, February 21, 2019

    Cited in "'Trump and the Media': Work-in-Progress Dispatches from a Sinking Ship," Pop Matters, October 29, 2018

    "'There Was No Berlin Wall, and It Never Fell'," Research Matters, July 5, 2017

    "Our New Walls," Public Seminar, June 16, 2017

    Future Courses

    Current Trends in Med Research
    GSOC 6211, Fall 2024

    Current Trends in Med Research
    GPUB 6211, Fall 2024

    First Year Seminar
    LNGC 1400, Fall 2024

    Ind Senior Project
    LSOC 4990, Spring 2025

    Independent Study
    GSOC 6990, Spring 2025

    LSOC 3106, Spring 2025

    GSOC 6252, Spring 2025

    GHIS 6252, Spring 2025

    Past Courses

    Current Trends in Med Research
    GPUB 6211, Fall 2023

    Current Trends in Med Research
    GSOC 6211, Fall 2023

    First Year Seminar
    LNGC 1400, Fall 2023

    Ind Senior Project
    LSOC 4990, Spring 2024

    Independent Study
    GSOC 6990, Spring 2024

    Social Trauma
    GSOC 6310, Spring 2024

    Visual Media and Society
    LSOC 2021, Spring 2024

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