From now on you will find me on http://michaelkrona.com

/M

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As the Middle East has become a region of interest for my research on socio-political change and media technology during the last year or so, it is a necessity to try and keep updated on the international news front on the current events in the region (and surroundings of course as the borders are hard to define when stepping out of the national politics).  The ongoing struggles in Syria seem to dominate western news media, which are to be seen as natural due to the intricate western (as well as Russian and Chinese) interests in the region and political relations towards the regime in the country. United Nations seem to has been put on hold and the observatory function of the international world community appears as non-progressive in several ways. As we as western citizens silently follow the reports on human suffering, abuse, killings, humanitarian disaster in the country – atrocities of kinds that we will never be able to comprehend the true nature of – we also put trust in the diplomatic and political establishment to handle the situation. However viewing this as form of indifference towards what is going on, that we are to emotionally overloaded that the human suffering of others almost pass us by, could just as well be the case. And it is more from this perspective of indifference that I would like to argue on the subject.

Regardless of the reasons we tend to stand passive against the cruelty being carried out in for example Syria by both rebels and pro-Assad forces, in a country where terms like freedom counts as a relic. A reminder of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 when western societies left tootsie people to their own faith, or actually in the hands of hutus to be slaughtered, comes to mind. History holds more examples of global divides in which industrialized and wealthy nations and people both politically and emotionally neglect regions where for several reasons, cultural, financial or political interests are minimal. But how does this correspond to the more optimistic notions of globalization and cosmopolitanism? The utopian dimension of these matters seem far more evident than pragmatic social improvement in the aftermath of neo-liberalistic visions and changes during the 1980’s. From local to global, dissoving boundaries, cultural communities over national belonging; all of which were fundamental building blocks of the liberalist discourse of a new world order being promoted especially in the west not more than thirty years ago. Visions on increased equality, decentralization of political power, market-driven devlopment within social, humanitarian, financial and technical sectors, were all dominating strategies towards a more cosmopolitan world. Of course changes towards this direction can be traced, compelling arguments on health improvement, distribution of wealth and better life standards can rightly be made. But few can empirically contest a notion of increasing gaps between a western developed, to some extent democratic, world of nations, and struggling regions in mainly the Arab world, Africa and minor nations in Asia, in which financial turmoil, corruption and political instability is the encounters of people in everyday life. So why is it like this? What are the underlying reasons that not more people and organizations in the western world take humanitarianism to a deeper level of commitment than what currently is visible?

I would argue that one factor can be seen in our current, sometimes overwhelming, belief in media, technology and information. Due to the rapid development and innovation of media technologies, participatory platforms and possibilities of more open dialouge between citizens and political powers, there are reasons to believe that our trust in providing technologies and distribute on a global scale, can have far more dangerous consequences than pragmatic political decisions. I believe that we have formed discourses on global media and global information that are highly overrated and disconnected from reality for large parts of the world. These optimistic or utopian discourses, often proclaimed through concepts like sustainability, democracy and knowledge, are themselves a result of postmodern skepticism about technological rationality, modernization processes and the rationalization of society. The problem is not that beliefs occur nor that visions are seeked to be realized; the problem is that it is so easy to neglect the human side of it all; the actual human intervention in these sociopolitical restructuring. By this I mean the marching on the streets, the cries for freedom and human rights, the physical utterance of dissatisfaction and the wrath against governments. All of these basic human emotions and needs, these dreams of identity and belonging in a physical world, must never be neglected in our attempts to not only understand but to help improve the social life of citizens around the world.

When a Tunisian activist was asked the question by an employee of Google about the impact of social media during the first stages of the Tunisian revolution, the activist stated that social media didn’t actually have a significant role (instead the peoples marching and completely analouge engagement was the main factor of the outcome), and then he finished by asking the man from Google not to tell anyone, because then the west and rest of the world would not care about Tunisia nor the citizens in the country anymore.

From now on I will use this domain for my blog. Please note that I will add features to the site continuously, trying to collect my research, recorded lectures and texts and publish them here. Stay tuned.

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. 

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.  

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.