Between the Liminal and the Normal: How the News Constructed the Social Change of Face Covering During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States

Xi Cui, Feifei Chen


This study examined the news coverage in The New York Times of face covering in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic (N = 2,663). We found 6 phases of the coverage that alternated between disruption and normalization. They differed in the framing of face covering and the representations of social agents. Drawing on theorizations of liminality, social change, and journalistic practices, we argue that societal liminality like the pandemic does not necessarily progress linearly from disruption toward normalization, and the news coverage mediates the contestations among social agents in the process. Meanwhile, some journalistic norms may unintentionally prolong the liminal period, amplify social fragmentation, and reproduce the media’s power to construct social reality.



liminality, social change, mediated construction of social reality, face covering, journalistic norms

Full Text: