Media, technology and social change

tumblr counter
Michael Krona, PhD in Media- and communication studies. Senior lecturer and researcher at School of Arts and Communication (K3) at Malmö University, Sweden Email: Michael.Krona@mah.se

Search

Find me on...

New webpage

You are from now on able to find this blog and other related stuff at my new personal webpage 

Research and teaching integration

The semester is up and running and introductions to courses are completed. Striving to cover several trajectories within media studies I am now giving lectures in fields such as media history (social implications of contemporary new media technology), communication theory, globalization and social change (focusing on participatory communication), media and political activism, visual communication, convergence culture, queer theory and media policy.

The width of subjects must be considered an advantage since I get to face a variety of perspectives and student input during the lectures.  Within the world of universities and research, a division is often set up between teaching and individual or collective research. I believe it is highly important to not only say that one is pro-integration of the two, but to also actively work to promote this integration.

My research is and should be improved by my teaching experiences, as well as the students should benefit from closing in on the research side. Forms for this integration can of course be different, but still it is an important point to make in a time when new, ambitious students are entering the education in media- and communication related programmes and courses, and we as teachers are here to engage them in the scholary field as well as embrace critical thinking and tools for entering, change and improve the future. 

Autumn media studies

Another semester is coming up in about a week and groups of new students will appear. Planning for this autumn has been extensive and I look forward to give lectures in several different courses and disciplines. Here is an extract of what I will teach in the following months here at School of Arts & Communication at Malmö University.

Designing Communication Processes for Social Change

Interaction Design and Media

Graphic Design and Media

Webcasting

Media, Photography and Moving Images

Media Design 1

Visual Communication

Media landscape in transition

New Media, ICT and Development

Media and Globalization

Master Degree Project (Communication for Development)

Above teaching I conduct research on two fronts. The first is to complete two articles for peer review on transforming media ecologies, and the second is to (finally) complete two book projects (one monography and one anthology chapter). Above this I will try to post here on current issues, articles and research being made on media industry, technology, social change and development.  

On the same subject

Even though this new publication by its description seems somewhat saluting in its tone towards the role of media technology in general, and social media in particular, in modern revolutions, it still leaves an anticipation for an important contribution. On the same topic I elaborate (in swedish) in a forthcoming book and hopefully I can separate the discussions.

Although, I really look forward to read this: “exploration into social media’s potential in opposing repressive regimes, but also a critical look at how this potential is limited or even neutralised by some of the media’s own characteristics, its use by non-democratic actors, and the very nature of democratic processes.”

The neglected side of mainstream media news - Libya

Sometimes you get an idea of how the average media news report tend to neglect what is really important. In the case of Libya, the mainstream media has during the last year focused its journalistic output on people’s revolt (important as it is), the capture and death of Khadaffi and the rebuilding of a country. However, when you read something like this, you get an idea of the world around you and the sense of aiding and supporting democratic causes and human rights issues increases. 

Just a short post, more to come.

New book project on innovation, design and democracy

As the work with my book on the Arab Spring in retrospect is coming to an end, I was yesterday presented with yet another project here at K3 and the Medea Institute at Malmö University. It is a collaborative book project in which writers from several disciplines come together through contributing chapters in forming a story of participatory design, democracy and innovation. One of the themes is referred to as Emerging publics and within this I will, together with the founder of Bambuser Måns Adler, put together a chapter on the democratization of technology and the expansion of the public spheres of society, illustrated by the case of Bambuser. Hopefully we will have a draft of the chapter ready within a month and I look forward working on it.

 

The vision of the entire book should, when realized, be able to serve as an exciting contribution to an intellectual debate on future-making through design and innovation, all under the conceptual notion of embracing democracy.

Transforming public spheres - reproduction of core values

Through a variety of intellectual discussions on communication, society, democracy and media, a recurrent reference is the concept of a transforming public sphere. With inspiration from sociologists like Richard Sennett and Jürgen Habermas, the public sphere as a theoretical framework is often used to explain contemporary civic participation and global interventions on political establishments (i.e. regimes). But what are the actual benefits of introducing this sociological perspective when trying to grasp current widening of the public sphere? In my case, in the process of conceptualizing the renewed interest for the public sphere as explanatory model for recent changes in the Arab world, it is useful to reflect on some historical background for this.

So, here goes..

The conditions for the emergence of a common public space where citizens from different social classes could meet and conduct a dialogue on politics and society, has most clearly been idealized and described by the sociologist Jürgen Habermas in his book The structural transformation of the public sphere (1962/1998). He presents a socio-historical endeavor on analytic grounds in which the division between private and public spheres during ancient Greece becomes the starting point. The journey then proceeds through the period between 1100 and 1600 which is characterized by a clear representative public sphere. This was acknowledged when politics became centralized to goods and palaces of the European aristocracy. The power were to be something on display for the public and it was the aristocracy who held it. But when a mercantilist political structure later emerges, the representative public sphere turns into a civil one, according to Habermas. This means that the more critical reasoning among citizens began to circulate around social issues and was constituted by a new upper middle class that emerged in conjunction to particular educational systems and an increased flow of information. The latter comes with a growing press where newspapers were to be the central organ for a more open information society. Exchange of opinions and critical reasoning concerning public affairs are what laid the foundation for the modern bourgeois public sphere across Europe.

 

In political terms, this allo symbolized the development of a contemporary transition from feudal thinking to more centralized state authority, and when simultaneous press systems were positioned as central actors of society, the traditional bourgeois public sphere  dictated different conditions. With the centralization processes the state could exert a strong censorship over the press, which in turn led to a growing civic desire to break free from the domination of the political sphere.

 

Idealistic as well as real terms parliamentarism, stand for election, freedom of information, republic and voting shaped contemporary discourses which demands for free trade and freedom of the press had laid the groundwork for. The new bourgeois public sphere was critical by its nature and in the societal issues discussed, the role of government was often prominent.

 

In the beginning of the 1900s the political and social structures transformed once again and a clear shift in power was manifested in the transition from competitive capitalism to monopoly capitalism. The type of market freedom and free competition, safeguarded on during much of the 1800s, now adapted to a social structure where increased government intervention and power centering on different areas was driving. Habermas emphasizes this shift in power as the foundation of the structural transformation and downfall of the bourgeois (and critical) public sphere.


The conditions for citizens to form critical discussions and dialogues were changed and in the traces of monopoly capitalism the boundaries between state, market and citizens’ intimate sphere were dissolved. State economic intervention in the free market (in the form of taxes and legal restrictions) and the fact that concerns previously linked to the intimate sphere (such as health care) became institutionalized, this process led to the dissolvment of the bourgeois society. In this context one should also emphasize a parallel development; a form of colonization of the government when private interests, political parties and other organizations to some extent become a part of the state.

 

Similar reasoning is brought up in Richard Sennett’s book The Fall of Public Man (1974). Sennett explains how the community during the eighteenth century Enlightenment period provides favorable conditions for citizens to interact with each other on similar terms. Contemporary political and social dimensions of restoring balance between the public and private life emerged. This balance was disturbed, however, at the beginning of the 1800s. Both Habermas and Sennett points to industrial society and industrial capitalism’s emergence as main reasons for this change. According to Sennett the new economic and political framework helped shape new conceptions of citizenship in which people began to value the private (family relationships) higher than the public affairs, at least from a moral point of view.

 

The impact of the capitalist system was something from which citizens put great emphasis on trying to deviate from. In trying to protect themselves from the surrounding community, family and intimate spheres became central security points. Like Habermas, Sennett also sees how an increase in consumption (as a natural efffect of the new economy and politics) led to a rather confusing homogenization of people from different backgrounds, layers of society and classes. The conclusion from these fundamental changes in both the relation to as the essence of the public sphere, is that it manifested a clear civic position in that the core values that were associated with the private (warmth, love, relationships and community) was cemented and rated higher than public life where the dimensions of power and control was apparent. State, society and the public good was abandoned in favor of the protective intimate sphere and core values such as closeness, intimacy and relationships were perceived as positive, and particularly within the private sphere.

 

Sennett also emphasizes the significance of the media in the development of decosntructing the idealistic public sphere. He points out, among other things, that radio and television during the 1900s have further distanced people from the public sphere and relegated them to spectators of the same. Since the electronic media is generally used in the home, they contribute further to the privatizing tendencies of society.

 

Habermas and Sennetts ideals of a bourgeois public sphere are in other words deconstructed as a result of significant changes in the political, social as well as the media world. With a capitalist ideological rampage in much of the western world, the private becomes subject to economic and political interests. Habermas highlights how the communication context in a dialogic public (private citizens) was broken up and public opinion was turned to the informal opinions and also in large part to a publishing institutions of society that are driven by economic profit maximization. Citizens transgress from being involved in the shaping of public opinion to spectators to these journalistic institutions of formal opinion making that became the new, viewed, public sphere. The argument reveals Habermas’s critical attitude towards the modern mass media, its emergence and importance.

 

In realtion to this description of Habermas and Sennetts sociological perspective on public sphere and transformation, we can advantageously also apply the arguments on current the social and political state. Values and properties in the private (warmth, love, intimacy, passion, togetherness, community, etc.) are still valued in relation to the impersonal, cold and aloof public life. A public life that is separate from the intimate sphere, with all the specific core values that it involves, is thus not very attractive. But the development that has occurred in the late 1900’s and the beginning of the 21st century, or at least become most apparent during this time, is that it has progressed a reproduction of core values, a reintroduction of high moral values in the public sphere. Understandings that imply citizens to have control and power over their own persona and role in society, which had previously been firmly linked to the private sphere, has been transferred and incorporated even in the public life. And this is a very interesting dimension of late modern society and what makes it even more intricate is the fact that social change is no longer a narrow discussion in and of Western-oriented actors of society, but has become a global concern. Without making excessive claims to universalism or cosmopolitanism, it is necessary to emphasize the trends that appear to lead toward increased supranational and international consensus on the political conditions that shape our time and history.

New times, new theme and new thoughts

It is truly amazing to see how people still hold an effort to visit this blog even though it’s been several months since my last entry. However there are explanations for this withdrawal from cyber communication, even if they are not necessary to develop here. 

In any case I will from now on try to restart this academic blog with entries on my current work, some theoretical reflections as well as contemporary discussions on discourses surrounding global media industry and technology.

As the reactions, debates and discussions around the tiredless efforts of regulation, power, governance and politics surrounding the Internet continues, currently in the form of joined protests against the SOPA law proposal as I have written here before, one can take the time to reflect upon the key themes and overall perspective on things here. What type of governmental arena does Internet actually constitute and how do concepts of governance and government fit into this question?

 

 

Attempts to control and regulate Internet, making it easier to control information, trade and general international relations, are frequent (not least during the last 5-10 years mainly by national governments and regimes). It is visible from China, Middle East and of course to the US with the past two year struggle against Wikileaks and other organisations. As the importance of Internet is no longer disputed, a number of actors (state and non-state) have throughout the years appeared as significant players in the arena of Internet governance. For example there is the United Nations Information and Communication Technology Taskforce (UNICT), the Global Information Infrastructure Commission (GIIC), the G8’s Digital Opportunity Taskforce (G8 DOT Force) as well as the European Union (EU). Except from the last it sometimes looks as if these actors don’t have a regulatory power. However, since the global policy environment is succeding rapidly the influence of these actors are increasing and gives rise to alterations of former defintions of governance as nation-state based. In different terms they all constitute piling stones in a world of ”governance without government”.

 

There is no hesitation around the fact that Internet’s status as a global network of networks creates possibilities for information and communication to reach across borders quite easy and fast and therefore require a multilateral response to policy problems. If we allow ourleves to label the current state as a ”complex interdependance” – by this I refer to how nation states are unable to protect its citizens from undesirable effects (basically defined by the political elites themselves) of unregulated communication, and at the same time the unregulated communication can be used for citizens to achieve a better social and political reality – we can easily see the ripes for constructing an international policy around Internet technology.

 

The above mentioned must still be considered mechanisms, although important ones, towards new forms of governance. As technology seem to succeed juridical restrictions on both national and supra-national levels, the question of how a future governance based on Internet technology can embrace the current strive for freedom and democracy remains. I read in Andrew Chadwicks ”Internet Politics” (2006) as he states that:

 

”Governance is not synonomous with government. Both refer to purposive behaviour, to goal oriented activities, to systems of rule; but government suggests activities that are backed by formal authority, by police powers, to insure the implementation of duly constituted policies, whereas governance refers to activities backed by shared goals that may or may not derive from legal and formally prescribed responsibilities and that do not necessarily rely on police powers to overcome defiance and attain compliance.” (p 208)

 

And it is this type of lack of a defined formal authority which could perhaps make it possible to use technology in favour of national as well as international Internet governance. The challenge is to combine the two, that government and governance through technology (and peoples perceptions of both) are to embrace social structures on a global level. There are arguments saying that today we are seeing the birth of a ”global information policy regime” (S. Braman in the book ”The Emergent Global Information Policy Regime (2004). And this is of course only possible to argue for due to the convergence of technologies under the roof of Internet. And in my opinion it could be possible but not yet. The context is not quite there. Visionary discourses of the global information society still require a major development in infrastructure and access before these visions can be realized. There are still less-developed areas of the world lacking these fundamental building blocks. Visions are what gives hope, pragmatic action are what backs that hope. To a great extent the visions are still left alone.

Counter-Democracy of our time

People living in democracies tend not to wish for abandoning this social structure of society with another system, but are showing disatisfaction with how the political representatives are being put in power. This scepticism before democracy is something that the professor of modern political history at College de France, Pierre Rosanvallon, has undertake to describe and discuss in a project on the state of contemporary democracy. His first contribution in what is to be a trilogy, ”La politique à l’age de la défiance” (2008), in english ”Counter-Democracy. Politics in an age of distrust”, contains three major concepts for understanding or analyzing the democratic health: Counter-democracy, legitimacy and equality. As I just finished reading this I wanted to share some short reflections on the core of content.

 

The three concepts that can describe contemporary struggles for a better society of our time. Freedom can be considered the target and the three concepts as tools or keys for hitting the target. Around the three concepts people gather together through the creation of common reference-points, nodes that connect groups in a communicative context. Equality can be understood in terms of legal issues (equality before law) as well as through gender theory or sociological reasoning. Legitimacy is primarily about an aim for the political side to achieve (however legitimacy is for example also used to understand why some regimes during the Arab spring fell rapidly and others lasted longer as the wind blew hard). But it is mainly the concept of counter-democracy that has been most visible in recent years, at least on a civic horizon. In my opinion the dimensions of equality and  legitimacy has been negliged on the political agenda due to recurring events connected to specific parts of political as well as civic life. And just as Rosanvallon suggest, counter-democracy is not to be understood as an attack on democracy but instead alternative routes to reach a position of power, uttered through civil society’s willingness to create change in the prevailing power structure, civil rights initiatives or the opinion-forming function of lobbyist groups. In other terms, it is possible to speak of forms of activism. This description is also one of the most commonly occurring, primarily in media descriptions and narratives of when citizens express opposition to the established structures and it is often framed with a negative connotation.

The consequence could be that general conceptions assume that activism and activists stands in opposition to the democratic society. In reality it is about defining questions of what constitutes democracy and how it is built together. The participation dimension is thus central to this issue. The work of Pierre Rosanvallon is a major and important contribution to the debate on how healthy our democracy actually is.

Loading posts...