Jakob Svensson: Social Media, Logics and Participation in the Global Age

Welcome to a K3 seminar with Jakob Svensson, new docent and senior lecturer in Media and Communication Studies at K3. It will be held on Wednesday, March 29, 10.15-12.00, in The Open Studio on the fifth floor of Niagara (Room NIC 0541).

The title of the talk is: Social Media, Logics and Participation in the Global Age

In the talk, Jakob Svensson will discuss previously carried out work as well as discuss ongoing projects. Here is a short description of his background and research interests:

“It is above all within the area of social media & political participation that I have conducted research. This is a continuation of my doctoral thesis that I defended in 2008 at Lund University. The thesis dealt with civic communication in civic committees, a municipal initiative in the city of Helsingborg. These committees were an apparent result of participatory and deliberative democracy trickling down to municipal officials and local politicians. The analytical focus of thesis was how citizenship was negotiated within civic committee initiated deliberations.

After the thesis my interest in political participation has continued. But it has moved from municipal deliberations to the internet and social media platforms. I have delineated the analytical field into three different levels depending on from where political participation is initiated (parliamentary, activist and cultural participation). Consequently I have focused my empirical studies in these three levels. Concerning parliamentary initiated participation I have studied politicians online, especially during election campaigns. Activist initiated participation has been studied within a middle class demand to save a local bathhouse, how they used social media in intersection with more offline methods. Here I have also worked together with European colleagues to generalize social media and activist participation theoretically as well as develop a typology of activist types. And finally, acknowledging that political participation may take place all over the socio-cultural landscape, I have studied and currently publishes on political discussions in the Nordic queer community Qruiser.

A reason for conducting these studies has been curiosity of participants’ motives for participating politically. This is particularly interesting on social media platforms given the democratic potential that is ascribed to the internet, not the least because of an expectation of a lowered threshold for political participation when made possible online. In other words, what role(s), if any, does the internet and social media play for the motives for participating politically? What rationalities, or combination of rationalities, can be discerned when users participate politically in increasingly digital media and communication landscapes?

Motivation and political participation are issues that caught my interest already during the doctoral studies. My point is that we need new tools for analysing political participation besides theories of instrumental and communicative rationality, a dichotomy within which many studies have been set in the field. The conclusion is that rationality and motivation may also be understood as expressive and not only on a scale between egoism and altruism (striving for consensus or a common good). I also argue it is particularly fruitful to approach motivations as expressive in an increasingly digital media and communication landscape. The internet and late modern individualism and reflexivity mutually informs each other, increasingly emphasizing expressions of ourselves and the connection of self-images to political causes and demands. 

Having summarized my findings in a popular scientific book from 2014 I am currently mostly engaged in spin-offs from these studies. In particular I am collaborating with prof. Uta Russmann (Austria) to study Instagram uses by political actors. We have also conducted a comparative study of political parties uses of social media in non-election times (a random week in early 2016) for a special issue of Javnost – the Public (to which we have been invited to submit).  I will also edit a special issue with prof. Russmann on visual communication in political marketing for the Journal of Media and Communication Studies. Dr. Anders Larsson and I are also currently developing a research proposal together with Dr. Nils Gustavsson in Lund, in collaboration with Swedish public service broadcaster SVT to study agenda setting during the yearly political festival in Almedalen. 

Of particular importance is the theory of Network Media Logics I have been developing together with Dr. Ulrike Klinger (Switzerland). Being dissatisfied with the theoretical departure points in studies of political participation in general (and politicians online in particular) we are working on a theory of network media logics (with an article in New Media & Society and book chapter for Routledge). The argument is that the theory of media logics offers a possibility to discuss what changes with the internet and social media platforms without resorting to either techno-determinism or normalization (that nothing change when moved online). Today we are working on a study of algorithms in relation to media logics. I am currently working on a research application on algorithms and the programmers/ designers behind them.   

Connected to this I am working together with my partner Oriol Poveda on developing the theoretical perspective of the Global Age. Building on sociologist Martin Albrow’s work, and sharing his general discontent with an all-embracing perspective of Modernity, we argue that interrelated characteristics of this Global Age are interdependence, opacity and inertia. In an open access article (recently published in TripleC: http://www.triple-c.at/index.php/tripleC/article/view/775/891) we exemplify this with the environment (and the crisis of climate change), the economy (its collapse in 2008 and current reinstatement) as well as the internet.”

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