Time is of the essence

Since I have noticed how the number of readers suddenly has increased, at least since I started using this blog more frequently and writing almost every day, I also feel obliged to explain why it sometimes takes a few days. As I have written about earlier I’m in the final stages of completing a script for my new book and it’s due for another week or so.  I basically write the book in the evenings and through the nights, and on daytime there are a number of tasks at work requiring my attention. Like today for example, our Media- and communication program is being audited by the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education, and I will be in meetings all day.


Nevertheless, I will write as soon as I find time and I will try to keep a daily basis on the blog, even if I sometimes wish there were more than 24 hours a day. But I start to see the finishing line.

My God the corporate connections of our time

I tend to return to the political and financial turmoil sweeping over the western world. And now I’ve stumbled over a research report called ” The network of global corporate control”, which basically argues for how the global world of finance and corporate control is down to a rather small number of ”super-connected” financial institutions (mainly banks). In the introduction the writers state:


”The structure of the control network of transnational corporations affects global market com- petition and financial stability. So far, only small national samples were studied and there was no appropriate methodology to assess control globally. We present the first investigation of the architecture of the international ownership network, along with the computation of the control held by each global player. We find that transnational corporations form a giant bowtie structure and that a large portion of control flows to a small tightly-knit core of financial institutions. This core can be seen as an economic “super-entity” that raises new important issues both for researchers and policy makers.”


When reading the report, what strikes me first is the extreme sense of fragility in the global economy. Nothing new of course, with the experiences of the financial breakdown starting in 2008, but still. The writers, being systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, map out 1318 transnational companies (TNC:s)  as a core of ownership in the world in terms of their interconnection with other companies. Out of these 1318, they later present 147 TNC:s as constituting an even more super-connected chain in which the major parts of the companies are financial institutions.


But when reading it for the second time, the initial notion turns into criticism. My point lies in the writers attempt to defend the current system, rather than discuss the problems with it and alternatives way of building the foundation for a more stable world (especially through the framework/background from 2008). Instead, they simply acknowledge that current ownership structure is not good or bad in itself (really?) – but the cores tight interconnectedness ”could be” bad. Well, yes it could be.


If the logic of, let’s say,  wealth clustering emerge at the same time as ownership concentration, is true, perhaps more researchers should try and not only describe systems, ideological or political, but also try and critically enhance alternatives and actively engage in society as forces of good. Scientists have tools unique to their position and nature. These are not the only tools and not more important than others. But nevertheless, as the contemporary world holds expressions of harsh criticism against ideological and financial abuses of power, the need for more critical approaches within the scientific field is increasing, as well as the need for actually deliver results to the general public, making society more prepared for and aware of the political and social reality.


If you don’t have the energy to read through the entire report, you can find a short article about it here.

Teaching with joy!

This morning, when I gave a lecture on media and political activism, I noticed, and started thinking about it as I proceeded with the lecture, how I often rely upon a rather traditional role of educational discourse. I usually stand in front of a class, trying to engage the students, provide arguments and stimulate their ability to challenge me. Sometimes it works. Sometimes not. But my point is this: I will do all I can to develop as a teacher. Why?


I believe it is vital to expand the educational form, find new perspectives on learning and knowledge. I know how several of my colleagues here at Malmö University has a keen interest for these questions and share a genuin competence in the field. I think it is a mistake to neglect the elaborative form in the classroom and in the educational debate in general.

I love teaching. I find the short moment when I see something happen in the minds of the students (I endulge myself and claim I can see it). But seriously, to be able to work together as a group, discussing, debating and discovering, is in my opinion the best reward for me as a teacher to leave the classroom with a sense of contribution to the life and critical thinking of students.


Even if other parts of my job takes up a lot of time and effort, I still try to enter a classroom with enthusiasm and engagement – that mutually serves me and my students. And, to get back to my point, the forms of education and teaching, are in need of reflection. The collaborative aspect (stepping away from the top-down model of a teacher telling the passive class about the world), stimulates new ideas, new interests and a shared sense of participation for every part. So therefore I tend to leave my comfort zone in the classroom sometimes, I try to improvise (with structure) and find new ways of encouraging students. This takes effort, but it is without a doubt definiteley worth it. It is not only the students who are to develop. Teachers share the same need. 

Wall Street and Arab spring coverage

In February this year, the New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote about how the ongoing events in Egypt will remain relatively isolated, particularly from the U.S. population, and about how media coverage of the events was inadequate and didn’t provide extensive information and critical analysis. Among other things, he emphasized examples from CNN reporting in which journalists talk about how “the use of social media” was “the most fascinating aspect of this whole revolution” (NY Times, NY Ed, Opinion Pages, 2011-02-05) . The fact that the social media, primarily equated with Facebook and Twitter, was a technological innovation from the West appeared to be a more appropriate ingredient in the coverage/analysis of the events than, say, the Egyptian people’s suffering and the struggle for freedom. In a world where the global and international news system is largely designed along a western-oriented model of information and related norms, values and expressions of opinions, the consequence of the above example will be that the world’s population slides further apart and makes understanding and humanitarian cooperation more difficult.


Even if the similarites are less than the differences, the comparison to Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movements can still be made, especially in terms of media coverage. If western media reports on the upsrisings in the Arab World seemed (atleast initially) focused on the conditions for the protests and the degrees of western involvment (technological, political) – then the coverage of the OWS is far more action-oriented and critical. As the protests accelerate on the geographical side, spreading and initiating similar actions around the world, the coverage tends to be more and more focused on the movement itself and rather critical journalistic accounts emerge in the debate. As I wrote about earlier, the movements lack of identity and straight objectives become the centre of attention for journalists. Through alternative and social media channels, the word spreads and encouraging efforts are made to involve people for participation, but the traditional media (naturally operating in a context closely connected to the system that OWS fights) seem to try using the fact that the movement doesn’t share a common goal or agenda. The comparison to the uprisings in the Arab World would then be that when it is a question of foregin reporting, the news value rests on the domestic/western involvement, and when similar events take place on domestic soil, the coverage follows a more critical media logic, including upholding the ideological and hegemonic state of control through critisizing forces that challenge this control.

Science and fiction – mutually exclusive?

In an article in Dagens Nyheter, the Swedish historian Ingrid Lomfors expresses a fear of fictionalization of history and historical events. The reason for the article comes from a recently released novel on the Holocaust. Lomfors emhasizes the need for science and scientific approaches to history in order to decrease the risk of our memories to be based on fiction (in my opinion this argument is conservative and narrow). The reply from the writer of the book, Elisabeth Åsbrink, was as instant as it was harsh. And the debate holds two important dimensions:

1/ how do we understand science as a (or ”the”) meta-narrative of the world?

2/ should we not try to expand, transform and develop this view in order to obtain further knowledge of things? 

Who is entitled to write our common history should not be perceived as a matter of few. As I have stated earlier in this forum, it is my firm belief that anyone working within the academic field, historians, sociologists, anthropologists or media- and communication scholars like myself, must make an effort to put research avaliable to the general public. This is not only a normative notion but a legislated task for universities. The example above just demonstrates this need – a need which has increased through a contemporary context of several socialization agents (institutions telling us about the reality and the world around us). The fiction, as referred to in the debate, or the media in general fills the void after the church, religion and science as the meta-narrator of our time. And through our belief in science, working for finding new ways of understanding history and society, including finding new methods, developing new theories and collaboratively enhance knowledge and the re-creation of it, we should convey science as the necessary complement of other writings of common history. Not as the only narrotor and regime of truth.

Other interpretations and outlets (genres, forums, storytellers) for embracing knowledge are equally important and should be encouraged. Not stepped upon. 

Capitalist system breakdown

Does the US capitalist system differ from other nations in terms of the degree in which elected administrations obtain financial support within election campaigns? Of course. As the major financial institutions are US based, the amounts of money and the political implications for this integration between finance and politics, are enormous. As Noam Chomsky reflects upon the Occupy Wall Street movement he comes to this conclusion and claims that the past century there are a vast amount of political elections which could be predicted due to the financial support behind the scenes (and sometimes out in the open). When the financial institutions prefer one candidate over another, they expect to be payed back in the end and the political strategies of global economy through history tell us that they are. But to go from acknowledging the significant role of campaign funding to basically declare it as the only reason for the outcome of the elections, is of course somewhat radical.

Even if my cynical point of view often provides obstacles to contextualize, I still feel that the Occupy Wall Street movement is not a straight response to the wealth of powerful instutions, but a rage against a larger system failure. And the system includes ideological notions, political realities, sociocultural dimensions and a fundamental thirst among people for decreasing the gap between themselves and elites of society. Thus, class, race and gender hold the keys for understanding the complex situation in not only the US, but the spreading notion of unjustice around the world.


So, in a time when the social differences between rich and poor are increasing so rapidly, the exercise of power by economic alignments has totally turned the legacy of democracy into a top-down control not only over citizens but political institutions as well. The movements realize of course that the aim for change cannot take a shortcut to specific banks or financial institutions, but must target the breakdown of the system itself, in which these actors operate. Just in the last few days the media attention has expanded (as the violence also emerged at the protests), and as Chomsky states in the interview above, the sociopolitical climate in the US is almost like a third world country in terms of record breaking revenues for corporate and financial institutions (the power) and at the same time, and literally in the same city, unemployment rates and poverty similar to the great depression is the reality of ordinary citizens. And this development could be just as predictable as the outcomes of political elections. The sense of enough is enough is embedded in peoples’ minds and subjective realities, and the need for sociological analysis of contemporary politics seems greater than ever before.

Morality and journalism from a train.

On a train through Sweden. Noting better to do than thinking and writing. So…


Even if the approach in this forum mostly turns to international occurences, it is impossible not to comment on the past week in swedish politics and media. The word ”scandal” of often used rather excessively regarding politics. This week we have witnessed one of these scandals when the newly elected leader of the social democrats in Sweden has been subject for a investigation of suspected froad. The journalistic frenzy around him and his alleged wrong doings has constituted top news for a week in basically all major media channels. So in the aftermath, when the party has  given him support to continue and the investigation has been shut down due to lack of evidence, the analysis and damage control proceed – hence my current post. The political consequences are yet to be determined (and far more suitable people than me can discuss that). But the journalistic coverage of the whole thing is far more easy to intially reflect upon.


But first, some sort of historical framework to put in relation. Since journalists who broke the present story on the swedish political leader initially called it a result of investigative journalism (a few days work of research, but still) – one can remember the birth of the investigative ideal.


In the book “From Yahweh to Yahoo!” (2002) the author Douglas Underwood traces the origins of investigative journalism to the 16th century England and its religious reformists, whose principles in turn can be traced to the Bible and New Testament. Underwood points out how many parts of the prophetic tradition – justice, the indignant moralism, the maintenance of pure values , spiritual and moral renewal, combating abounding corruption – is typically found in today’s best investigative journalism. The normative belief behind investigative journalism can therefore be said to include traces of profound ethical and moral issues of fairness, correctness, accuracy and transparency. But is it possible to understand and discuss current editions of investigative journalism, its forms of expression, based on these ideas?


As we live in a media landscape in which speed and accuracy don’t always come together, we must allow ourselves to critically contextualize the work of journalists. But when doing so, the ideological meaning of journalism must be included. It is far too easy to point fingers at specific journalists for crossing lines and ignore personal integrity (when for example seeking out relatives, old and young, for making exclusivity in hard competition), but still it is understandable due to the fact that traditional journalism and journalists work within a normative field of routines, norms, values and policies (the –ism of journalism) that are transformed as the competion from new media, citizen journalism, expansive information channels and increased financial marketization, are the current compasses of the news industry (major different rom the 16th century). Therefore I am astonished when some media researchers still express their surprise over how journalists operate in the mentioned media frenzy. Critisizing journalism is adequate and necessary, but not without acknowledging and comprehending the larger media context in the present media market.


And the criticism should, among other things of course, be focused on facts check and research procedures before publishing stories. When published, a story in the digital world of media, can never be withdrawn. It lives its own life and not as in earlier days when a newspaper could put an apology on a leading page for having published a story with non-confirmed information, and then move on to the next, hopefully, true story. But in the digital world it stays out there and becomes a reference point or associative factor when the next story on the subject is released. It circulates and breaths in a network society of opinions and interests. But in my opinion this influence citizens rather than journalistic institutions. Let me explain.


When knowing this, one could imagine journalists to become more careful with unreliable sources and information. But the context does not allow this. It does not provide time for research and reflection. And it doesn’t really matter for journalistic insitutions, since ”trust” for a media news channel is transient and an every day changing term. One of the major swedish news paper, Aftonbladet, who broke the story that later on turned out to be false (in the legal sense, not the moral aspect of it) will probaly not suffer from this, based on my argument that trust is transient. Instead, they had great revenues this past week. Cynical perhaps, but still.


Having said this, I believe that journalism is in constant need of not only self-reflection, but also for external scrutiny. The normative framework of morality and religious incentives described earlier, is not possible to apply in present media context. However I believe there is a will among journalists to vitalize society, there is a belief and an idealistic dream still (and that is as far as the comparison comes), but the strive for this gets impaired by the nature of current ”journalism”; a nature we are all responsible for creating. Citizens, politicians, journalists. Which direction to go from this depends on the desired society structure. And that has not only political implications, but moral as well.


The swedish journalists and politicians move on with their lives. So does the train I’m on at the moment, closing the top of the computer. New week soon.

Globalization and the tail of cosmopolitan visions

Aspects of globalization have been widely discussed in literature concerned with a range of sociological, financial and political factors. From different points of view, the term has been integrated with several discourses and faced diverse views on consequences as well as effects. Given the process of transnational development in the mentioned areas of research is considered a fact, it is vital to problematize the impact of globalization on several fields in citizens’ everyday lives. It can, and has been since the term had its revival in the beginning of 1980’s (still the financial and trading processes are nothing new), be discussed from perspectives of democracy, human rights, finance, politics, trade as well as marketization of the media.


Just as every new phenomenon spreading there are optimistic as well as pessimistic views on effects and consequences from it. In terms of the globalization discourse, optimists argue among other things for the increasing opportunities of choice for individuals, financial stimulation created by global economies, cultural integration and the immediate spread of information through global communication systems. On the more critical side, emphasis is often put on marketization, global terrorism, increased divisions between rich and poor countries and so forth. From this it is also natural to argue for an increasing gap between rich and poor countries. Nations like India and China, which have expanded financially during the last decade, have moved closer to Western developed countries (mainly the US) while third world countries in for example Africa and Asia have lost ground against the west. Development in communications and media technology are perhaps the most visible examples of areas on which this argument is built.


So if we have all these dimensions in front of us, how can we ideologically comprehend our current society and use the extensive (however in my opinion sometimes utopian) intellectual contributions to the discussion on human awareness, morality, human rights and social development?


Globalization is closely connected with the term cosmopolitanism and this concept derives from ideas on how every human being belong to a single moral community. This is the startingpont taken by the German sociologist Ulrich Beck, in his book Cosmopolitan Visions (2006). The term can be traced back to the Stoics in ancient Greece (who’s usage of the term Immanuel Kant later adopted) as well as to closer historical references such as a noun to describe jews in World War 2. But from more current processes of globalization within varied social sectors, more and more academic attention has been aimed at a “cosmopolitan turn”. It is a theoretical normative framework situated in contemporary discourses of democracy and builds on respect for cultural integration and moral acceptance of traditional “otherness”, aiming for global understanding and dissolved boundaries in human awareness. And in the book Cosmopolitanism, Ethics in a world of strangers (2007), Kwame Appiah (an american philosopher with Ghananian roots) seeks to explain how we must apply to our own sense, our reason of thought to appreciate other individuals independent of cultural belonging, thereby avoiding conflicts in social interactions. This is a view closely linked to Immanuel Kant’s original ideas on universal hospitality, however also a narrow view dependent on a strong belief in the capacity for insight of human beings.


Mentioned Ulrich Beck highlights a shift of outlooks in contemporary society. He argues for a structural transformation from a national to a cosmopolitan outlook. The former has been a dominating view since the modernization process and establishment of nation states and is constituted by a view on the nation state as fundamental in the creation of national sociologies and limiting similar concepts to the national per se. Historically, political institutions has emerged from a strong division of nation states. Geographical boundaries have always set conditions for traditional politics and its regulatory dimensions. Considering this strong link between politics and state itself, it is an overwhelming experience to evoke interest in how present political spheres are transforming, and has been for years. Signifiers of postmodern politics are labelled as dissolving boundaries, growth of global and social movements (like Occupy Wall Street), profileration, personalization, individualization and medialization etcetera. These postmodern conditions come handy in explaining what Beck labels ‘the cosmopolitan outlook’. He emphasizes a latent potential to systematically abandon the national ”narcissism” which is seen as governing thought and action into restricted life worlds and institutional patriotism. To me this sounds like a sense of boundarylessness in which a reflexive awareness influence the human consciousness, leading up to cultural contradictions that shape social relations in society.


And this is interesting today since our current society is situated by a social climate in which global terror and risks have dissolved earlier differentiation between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between national and international – and have led to a need for cosmopolitan ideals for survival. The conceptual linkage between globalization and cosmopolitanism I would describe as proceeding, in the meaning of how the latter can be seen as a extension of globalization processes.


Further theoretical contributions sharing Beck’s rather optimistic ideal of a cosmopolitan future can be seen in Sonya Benhabib Another Cosmopolitanism (2006). She emphasizes a cosmopolitan political structure in which the European Union is set as a paradigm for global alternation. Just as the famous sociologist Jürgen Habermas in The Divided West (2007), she uses the work of Kant to analyze how we can integrate universal norms and values in factual democratic processes on a local and regional level. By talking about individuals and citizens in a larger political context, Benhabib suggests that human rights would be coextensive with liberal rights, underscoring individuals right to institutions within the democratic sphere in which they are citizens.


The pragmatic outcome of all this would be to conclude how a spreading belief in the cosmopolitan ideal, grows within social sciences and contemporary philosophy. My earlier reference to a somewhat utopian vision in these beliefs is based on current political restructuring in mainly the Middle East and a larger Arab region, where new forms of nationalism have been embraced by citizens themselves. However, visionary contributions are necessary (just as the criticism of the same) for managing a rather complex reality and future to come. And in the midst of all this stands human beings, and the fundamental issue of humanity and human rights. 

Through democratic iteration– meaning how nation states review their legislation to encapsulate universal ethical principles and rethink current definitions of citizenship – basic human rights have larger possibilities to be respected and practiced.

Forgive me for this rather extensive post, but the subject is as important as it is hard to summarize briefly.

Expansion and pride

Yesterday I spoke to a colleauge about the use of blog or any social media platform in professional purposes. As an academic you seldom get the major attention or the spread (outside the academy) that you sometimes want, unless you are visible in larger media outlets. But my own use is based on a notion that the business I’m in, meaning being part of an intellectual environment where knowledge is created, re-created, mediated and transformed, requires several ways of working and expressing myself. By using Twitter I can get valuable guidance to new fields of research, shortcuts to articles relevant for my own work and also spread the work I’m doing and my views on it. Same with the blog, in which I can express thoughts on my reearch interest in a way that doesn’t fit in the genre/format of journals and articles. For example, I see it as a very important task for us scholars to make research and science understandable and avaliable to those who are not within the academic sphere, to make the amazing things happening here useful for people in their everyday lives. To be a profeesional part of society and not become isolated in a sometimes rather introspective sphere.


So I look around me here at the School of Arts and Communication (K3) in Malmö Unversity, and I see the amazing, innovative and unique work being done by my colleagues. Sharp minds and good people gather for discussions, participation and engagement in both their own work but also for others. Our students also constitute a vital part for the development of creating stimulating research environments and through their keen interest in learning and their commitment for their studies, we as teachers and researchers should respond to this and embrace the progress at hand. I feel proud over working here, being part of a community, and to return to the use of social media channels to expand the view and knowledge on academic research, I believe that the benefit comes to both me and my fellow human beings around me.


There. I just wrote in a way I wouldn’t be able to in other formats. Not in the book, not inte articles, not even on Twitter (no space). Perfect for the blog.

Occupy Wall Street

The word of Occupy Wall Street is spreading throughout both online and offline channels. Protests are mainly aimed against social and economic inequality, corporate greed and  governmental dysfunction due to the power of lobbyist groups (which to som extent control more than elected politicians in Washington). In a world where financial elites, or economic alignments, seem to form the basis of political structure and decision making, the social consequenses manifest themselves through a civic participation and organized protests.


But let’s not get carried away by simplifying the recent actions that started in New York and currently have spread to a vast amount of cities throughout the world, as acts of ”uprisings”. That would suggest a violent outcome that, at least to my knowledge, is not yet on the table, except from a minor number of arrests for traffic blocking etc. Instead it seems as if these protests are the outcome of long processes that include decreasing living standards, insecurity of peoples’ private spheres and their relation to market or state governance, mainly starting with the global financial breakdown in 2008. Major banks and international financial institutes are to be held responsible for reckless behaviour, according to strong voices within the movement.


In a time when this form of social movement development seem to expand rapidly, not only due to ideological preferences but around infrastructural and technological dimensions as well, an emerging need for comprehension and debate occur. Public debate on issues of economic, political och social nature, is something which history has tought us taking place between elite groups of society and not between elected politicians and citizens. However, distinguishing changes in the last 20 years have opened up this debate as most of all media technology has offered a participatory function to citizens. The chain of political communication reversed former power balances and new agendas could be embraced, coming from people themselves. With this background it would be fair to say that what is happening through the Occupy Wall Street movement, proves that the new forms of public debate are not sufficient. At the end of the day it is a desperate need for expression, dissatisfaction and anger that is taken to the streets.


But to be able to achieve political change the movement needs attention. They need a global breakthrough which often is up to traditional media do decide upon (quite cynical, I know). The social media networks have surpassed parts of the established media reach and trust, and the modern form of communicating ”many-to-many” is vital for understanding the mobilization of the movement. In spite of this, the traditional media also plays an important role in the chances of achieving pragmatic influence. So far, newspapers, radio and television have joined in a rather careful approach towards the protests. There are exceptions, not least in the US mainstream media, but foreign press seem to be quite insecure of how to cover and report. Main reasons for this can be witnessed in the history of media and politics. Journalists, working in a institutional sphere surrounded by routines, norms, values and professional logic, have often demonstrated insecurity regarding new parties of movements within the political sphere. There are established features in narratives on ”the known” since the ideological pillars are solid in society (left-right for example). But when movements emerge, formed on the basis of dissatisfaction and often one-issue politics, traditional media tend to take a defensive stand and wait for an outcome or actual political change due to the activities before reporting with in-depth analysis. And since Occupy Wall Street has a very unspecified agenda, stretching through several and many objectives, it is a movement in need for obtaining an identity. An identity of goals, ideological position, methods and future. Even the protesters seem confused over their own operations and that fits well into the neglecting dimension of traditional news media.


But the initiative is adequate. The criticism is needed. In order to achieve a change and form a better society, it doesn’t matter if we are in the Middle East, United States, China or Sweden – it all starts with the voice of ordinary citizens, raising against an unjust system in order to contribute to a more fair social reality and everyday life.