Elihu Katz

Elihu Katz, Ph.D.

Elihu Katz
  • Distinguished Trustee Emeritus Professor of Communication

Sadly, Dr. Katz passed away at the end of 2021. For more information, please see this summary of his life, or the Elihu Katz Papers in the Annenberg School for Communication Library Archives.

Katz's research focused on functions and effects of mass media in different social systems, diffusion of ideas and innovations, dynamics of public opinion, recent studies of the live broadcasting of political ceremony, the reception of American popular culture overseas, public opinion in conflict situations, and pre-election polling.

Elihu Katz was a sociologist and media scholar who has spent most of his lifetime in research on Communication. 

His first book, Personal Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communication (The Free Press, 1955), co-authored with his Columbia University mentor, Paul Lazarsfeld, was an attempt to observe the flow of influence at the intersections of mass and interpersonal communication. The book proved monumental to the field, and its focus on the juncture of mass media and interpersonal communication would be a prime conceptual mover in Katz’s career.

His subsequent work in this tradition includes studies on the diffusion of medical innovation (with James Coleman and Herbert Menzel), and on the diffusion of fluoridation among American cities (with Robert L. Crain and Donald Rosenthal). He follows the writings of the French social psychologist, Gabriel Tarde, in conceptualizing the public sphere as an arena of interaction among media, conversation, opinion, and action. He wrote (with Annenberg Ph.D.s Christopher Ali and Joohan Kim) the book Echoes of Gabriel Tarde: What We Know Better or Different 100 Years Later (USC Annenberg Press, 2014).

In the 1960s, Katz began to commute between his initial post at the University of Chicago and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He also began his affiliation with the Israel Institute of Applied Social Research, founded by Louis Guttman. His major focus during this period was on the acculturation of new immigrants to Israel as reflected in the reasons that accompanied their interactions with bureaucratic agencies. Katz worked with Brenda Danet, Michael Gurevitch, Tsiyona Peled and others on this NSF-sponsored project, which led to the development of a generic scheme for the study of persuasive appeals in a variety of institutional frameworks, including prayers addressed to God. Taking time out from his academic positions in Chicago and Jerusalem where he founded the Hebrew University’s Communications Institute, Katz accepted the invitation of the Government of Israel to head a task force charged with the introduction of television broadcasting in the late 1960s. This experience found expression in his subsequent academic work.

It led, in the 1970s, to joint work with E.G. Wedell of Manchester University on the introduction of broadcasting in third world countries, and together with Michael Gurevitch, Hanna Adoni, Hadassah Haas, and others to assess the impact of 20 years of television (1970-1990) in leisure, culture, and communication in Israel. The United States-Israel Bi-National Science Foundation and the Israel National Council on the Arts underwrote these studies. Katz also collaborated with J.G. Blumler of Leeds University in early development of “uses and gratifications” theory. During this period, he also served as consultant on broadcasting research to the BBC.

In the mid-1970s, inspired by Anwar Sadat’s peace-making initiative, Katz and Daniel Dayan began assembling a library of those live broadcasts of historic occasions that enthralled a whole nation, or the world. Their book, Media Events (Harvard University Press, 1992), representing some 15 years of collaboration, is now in print in seven languages. Support for this research came from the Markle Foundation and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, where Dayan and Katz spent part of each year.

Katz subsequently joined the faculty of the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania as Trustee Professor in 1992, and also directed its experimental Scholars program for postdoctoral study.

In Jerusalem, he is Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Communication, and former director of the Institute of Applied Social Research. Overlapping the work on Media Events, Katz joined Tamar Liebes in a study of another genre of broadcasting, the nighttime soap. Their book on cross-cultural differences in the reception of "Dallas" is entitled The Export of Meaning (1990). An outgrowth of this collaboration is the collection of essays debating the usefulness of Canonic Texts in Media Research (2002). Co-edited by Katz, Liebes, John Durham Peters and Avril Orloff, each of its 13 essays argues for (and against) the canonic status of a well-known text.

Katz is winner of the UNESCO-Canada McLuhan Prize, the Burda Prize (in media res), and other distinctions, including honorary degrees from the University of Pennsylvania (2018) and Universities of Ghent, Montreal, Paris, Haifa, Rome (La Sapienza), Bucharest, and Quebec, and Northwestern University. He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In 2014, Katz retired from the Annenberg School for Communication and settled year-round in Jerusalem, where he continued his research and writing until his passing in December, 2021.

Selected Publications