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American Association for Public Opinion Research

In Memoriam: Elihu Katz

Katz,-Elihu.jpgAAPOR mourns the loss of Elihu Katz, Distinguished Trustee Emeritus Professor of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, who passed away in his home in Jerusalem on December 31, 2021, at the age of 95.  For well over half a century, his scholarship has been foundational to public opinion research as well as to the formation and development of the field of communication and media studies.
Elihu’s intellectual and geographic journey was a rich and rewarding one. He received his BA, MA, and PhD (all in sociology) from Columbia University. At the time, Columbia’s Bureau of Applied Social Research and its collection of eminent theorists and researchers were engaged in applied and scholarly studies on the influence of various forms of interpersonal and mass communications. The Bureau was also a leader in developing a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods and research designs for measuring public opinion and media effects.
Elihu was more than a student during this nascent period, working as a research associate at the Bureau and later holding a lecturer position in Columbia’s Department of Sociology and School of General Studies. During this time, he coauthored (with Paul Lazarsfeld) Personal Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications, selected by AAPOR as one of the fifty books that most shaped public opinion research. Serving as first author on this ambitious project, the book and related work established the “two-step flow” theory of communication, a theory that remains the subject of study and debate to this day and that has gained new purchase as research and theorizing on social networks and social media have blossomed. Personal Influence has been so significant to the field that it was republished on its 50th anniversary with a new and insightful introduction by Katz.
Few scholars ever produce a work with the import of Personal Influence, but this was only the beginning for Elihu. He went on to a distinguished career, first at the University of Chicago’s Department of Sociology, then as a professor of sociology and communication at Hebrew University, and finally as the Distinguished Trustee Professor of Communication at Penn’s Annenberg School. Along the way, he also held visiting professorships at the University of Manchester (England), the University of Padua (Italy), Keio University (Japan), and the University of Vienna (Austria). From the mid-1980s until 1993, when he joined Penn’s Annenberg School, he spent half of each year at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School.
During this illustrious career, Elihu published more than 20 books and 200 articles, book chapters, and essays. His 1966 book with James Coleman and Herbert Menzel, Medical Innovation: A Diffusion Study, established “diffusion” as a core concept in communication studies. His 1969 book, The Politics of Community Conflict, established the importance of communication networks in local decision making and policy development. His 1973 book with Brenda Danet, Bureaucracy and the Public, was influential in illustrating the centrality of both internal and external communication processes to organizational and bureaucratic theory and performance. His 1974 book with Jay Blumler and Michael Gurevitch, The Uses of Mass Communications, helped make “uses and gratifications” theory a staple of the communication field. Through a series of books, articles, and chapters, Elihu was among the first researchers to see the profound significance of television to culture, politics, and society, and more recently he was also among the first to see what he provocatively called “the end of television” in the digital media age in which we now live. His 1990 book, with Tamar Liebes, The Export of Meaning: Cross-Cultural Readings of Dallas, introduced the notion that audiences were more than passive consumers and that the meaning taken from mass mediated content resulted from an interactive process that was culturally dependent. The Export of Meaning, along with a number of his other publications, also helped establish communication as a global comparative field. And it reintroduced focus groups as a method for academic research. His 1994 book, with Daniel Dayan, Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of History, established the concept of “media events” as yet another major contribution to the field; the book won the International Communication Association Fellows Book Award in 2010. And through a series of articles and his most recent book, with Christopher Ali and Joohan Kim, Echoes of Gabriel Tarde, Elihu played a central role in establishing deliberation and conversation as communication processes of crucial import.
Were this not enough, Elihu also played a significant role outside of the academy. He was asked by the government of Israel to head a task force charged with the introduction of television broadcasting in the late 1960s, a position he took and successfully completed, serving as the founding director of Israeli Television from 1968 to 1969. He also served as a consultant to both the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), as a member of the Israeli Council on Culture and Arts and the Israeli Film Council, and as a chairman of the U.S. Educational Foundation in Israel.
Elihu’s many accomplishments did not go unnoticed. He was the recipient of more than three dozen major international awards and honors, including honorary degrees from Northwestern University, the University of Ghent, the University of Montreal, the University of Paris, Haifa University, the University of Rome, the University of Bucharest, the University of Quebec and, in 2018, the University of Pennsylvania; fellowships from the International Communication Association, the Bellagio Study Center, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Ligura Center for Arts and Letters, the Center for Advanced Studies at Hebrew University, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford; and major book and career awards from AAPOR, WAPOR, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Judaism, and the governments of Germany, Canada, and Israel.
Throughout his career, Elihu was also a dedicated mentor to dozens of sociology and communication PhD students, many of whom have gone on to become leaders in their fields. And he was a generous critic who engaged with the ideas of colleagues in ways that always made them better.
Upon his retirement from the Annenberg School in 2014 Elihu returned to Jerusalem, where he continued to move the field forward in creative and provocative ways.  He is survived by his wife, Ruth, their two sons and their families. You can read more about his life and work here.