The Digital Culture and Communication section of ECREA
At our upcoming workshop on “Digital Culture: Promises and Discomforts” (Oct 2-5) in Bonn, Jakob Svensson (Karlstad University, Sweden) is going to present a paper on “New Media for Development”. We asked him a couple of questions to introduce his research and present his current field of interests.
What field of research are you currently most interested in?
I’m currently very interested in political participation on social media platforms. After having studied politicians’ campaigning online platforms and activists’ uses of social media platforms I am researching political participation from more popular cultural spheres such as net communities. I’m currently conducting a study of political discussion on a forum in a community for LGTBs (lesbian, gay,transgender and bisexuals). Furthermore I am also involved in studies of mobile communication in so-called developing countries. My objectives here are to push for more critical approaches to technology – approaches that are common for us media and communication scholars, but might be novel in a field dominated by economists, informatics and computer scientists. Here, I am particularly interested in the intersections between gender and technology – how mobile phones and mobile telephony are used to reinforce – as well as to challenge – patriarchal structures in developing countries.
Can you name some authors, concepts or theories that you regard as important for researching digital culture?
I do believe that critical theory is very important for the study of digital culture, notably issues of power and identity interest me. Recently I have turned to classic sociological studies by Bourdieu and Foucault to understand issues of power and identity in digital cultures. Currently, I am also very tired of deliberative approaches and adaptations of Habermas’ concepts for the study of digital cultures. According to me, these have neither forwarded the field, nor our understandings of it. We need to move beyond our pursuits of trying to find deliberation online and measuring all kinds of online practices against the norms and values of deliberation and communicative rationality. Recently, I have also turned to theories of media logics and mediatization to approach the non-neutrality of social media platforms. I have also found these theories and concepts beneficial to avoid both techno-deterministic claims of revolutionary effects of internet usage as well as status quo-approaches of normalization and business as usual.
What methods, software, or tools do you use in your research?
I’m largely using qualitative methods, most notably methods based in a nethnographic methodology. Not because such approaches are necessarily better, but simply because I am better in conducting them and since my objects of study often revolve around qualitative concepts (such as participation, motivation and identity). I am getting better skilled in content analyses and hence these are getting more common in my texts. Due to recent ethical discussions of the inappropriateness of using automated software for data gathering in nethnographic studies, I stick to old fashioned cut-and-paste techniques, e-mail interviews, and participant observation combined with extensive field notation.
What is the most interesting question at the moment concerning the role of digital technologies in interaction and communication?
The question of power and power asymmetries online still fascinates me, even though these issues have been around for some years now. Furthermore, the emergence of studies addressing a specific kind of network/ connective logic is something I believe is signaling that our field of study has reached a more mature phase after initial cyber-optimist celebration followed by cyber-pessimistic accounts that nothing really has changed. We are now starting to grasp what is different when doing stuff online.
What are the promises and discomforts of digital culture in 2013? How has this changed since 2003?
Even though not my area of study, policy and digital technology is a political hot potato, potentially facing severe regulation. The fight for a free internet is not yet over and needs to be continued. I believe we live in a time that will set the standard for a long time to come. This is both exiting and frightening. The so-called Arab spring has highlighted – if not the participatory potential of people connecting to each other through digital technologies – but at least the discursive power of these technologies as catalysts of change. Living in Sweden where public intellectuals across the political spectrum seem to have capitulated to marked ideology as inevitable, it is promising that there are places where people still think that they can change their life situations.