Aim and background – University of Copenhagen

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Aim and background

The Mediatization of Culture: The Challenge of New Media

Aim and scope

The aim of this research project is to provide a major contribution to the emerging international field of mediatization studies. In particular, the research project will substantiate and critically reconsider key aspects of mediatization theory in relation to new media and their technical, social and cultural affordances. Thus far, mediatization theory has primarily been applied to mass media, but the study of new media may both question key propositions of mediatization theory and provide evidence for a more pronounced and complex mediatization of cultural phenomena. New media reconfigure and diversify the whole process of communication from sender to receiver and transform key characteristics of media texts. In order to validate and provide nuances to theory development, theoretical discussion will be conducted in close combination with empirical analyses of the role of new media in different cultural fields relating to public communication (mediatization of war, risk and sports), private communication (the mediatization of children's play and parenthood) and the internal restructuring of the media industry (the mediatization of book publishing). Danish researchers have an important position within this new international research field and the aim of the project is also to strengthen this advantage and consolidate international cooperation.


Mediatization theory has emerged as an important new theoretical framework to revisit and reconsider fundamental questions about the role and influence of media in culture and society (Krotz, 2007; Lundby, 2009; Hepp, Hjarvard and Lundby, 2010). In particular, the theory of mediatization has proved fruitful for the analysis and discussion of how media spread to, become intertwined with, and influence other cultural fields (Bourdieu, 1993) and social institutions (Giddens, 1984) like consumption (Jansson, 2002), education (Friesen and Hug, 2009; Hjarvard, 2010), research (Rödder and Schäfer, 2010) and religion (Hjarvard, 2008a) In general, mediatization denotes the cultural and social process through which a field or institution to some extent becomes intertwined with and dependent on the media (Asp, 1986; Hjarvard, 2008b, 2008c) at the same time as media transform human communication through extension, substitution, amalgamation and accommodation (Schulz, 2004).

In contrast to earlier research paradigms (e g., effect studies, uses and gratification studies etc.), mediatization theory considers media as integrated into the very fabric of social and cultural life. Thus, media are not outside culture exerting an external influence on culture; instead the influences of media stem from the fact that they are entangled in almost all spheres of social and cultural life.  Mediatization is to be understood as a double-sided process: media emerge as an independent institution in society that controls a vital resource for society as a whole at the same time as media become integrated into the life-world of other institutions. Many studies have demonstrated, for example, how the institution of politics in various ways has accommodated to the demands of both news and entertainment media (Strömbäck, 2008) at the same time as political parties and individual politicians acquire media expertise and make use of various interactive media like blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.

Mediatization theory and analysis have both been inspired and challenged by the study of new media. There is no generally accepted definition of new media, but in this project we consider the following aspects as defining features of new media: they are digital and enable online, interactive, mobile and multi-modal communication (sound, pictures, text etc.) at the same time as they allow for storage of previous texts and integration of former mass media communication formats (Bolter and Grusin, 1999; Finnemann, 2005). The spread of new media have generally intensified the presence and influence of media on both macro level power structures (Castells, 2009) and micro level forms of interactions (Ling, 2008). In the past, mass media have played a vital role for various forms of public communication, but new media transcend the distinction between public and private communication and extend the influence of media to very different institutions' internal affairs and relationships vis-à-vis the outside world. Thus, intimate relationships in the family are not only permeated by new media but new media also restructure relations between parents and children (Livingstone and Ranjana, 2010), at the same time military institutions experience both new possibilities and threats to their control of information and communication (McQuail, 2006).

Schulz (2004) introduced the question concerning whether new media may modify mediatization processes or even signify the end of mediatization. Because new media are open to users' individualized use and production of content, they do not exert the same degree of organisational control of communication as the older mass media. Finnemann (forthcoming) argues that the arrival of a new media matrix centred around the Internet and mobile platforms may render arguments from mediatization theory less applicable to current media conditions, since older media also have been transformed through digitalisation. Couldry (2008) calls for an increased sensitivity to the individual fields' complexities in mediatization studies, also in view of new media, at the same time as he acknowledges the value of mediatization theory to look for common patterns across disparate fields.

In view of these challenges, the aim of the current research project is to provide new and substantial knowledge about mediatization processes through a holistic approach combining theory and empirical analyses and making comparisons across social and cultural domains. Each of the sub-projects will contribute with a cautious examination of the challenge of new media to mediatization theory at both theoretical and empirical levels and in particular address the question whether new media intensify processes of mediatization and/or problematize key assumptions of previous mediatization theory. It is, however, only possible to answer this question through comparative empirical analyses of several different cultural fields. As Hepp (2009) has argued, mediatization processes may share certain key characteristics across various cultural fields and social institutions, but this does not result in a homology of these fields or institutions. The value of mediatization theory is, he states, its ability to "link these different detailed studies to a more general analysis of media power within cultural change" (Hepp, 2009: 154).

Key research questions

In continuation of Hepp's argument, the project and its six sub-projects compare mediatization in various cultural fields in order to consider specificities of the field in question as well as look for possible similarities across fields. In particular, each sub-project will consider the role of new media compared to old media and the sub-projects will to a varying degree address the following key research questions:

Q1. New media possess a series of affordances due to their characteristics (interactivity, mobility, multi-modality etc.). To what extent do these affordances come to enable, limit and structure social interaction in the particular cultural field? (Internal perspective)

Q2. Mediatization of a cultural field involves institutional transformations in which media and the cultural field in question re-position themselves vis-à-vis each other. To what extent and with what consequences are actors, resources and forms of interaction subject to institutional change? (Institutional perspective)

Q3. New media become integrated into the life-worlds of social actors. To what extent and in what ways are new media appropriated by social actors for specific purposes and what are the consequences? (External perspective)

Q4. The study of mediatization processes may benefit from concepts and models from other theoretical frameworks. Which concepts and models may be particularly helpful in order to understand the role of new media in processes of mediatization? (Theoretical context)

Q5. Mediatization processes are intertwined with other major social and cultural processes of high modernity like globalization, individualization etc. What is the interchange between these processes in each cultural field? (Cultural context)

Since mass media primarily have been operating in the realm of public communication and new media transcend into both public and private forms of communication, an important comparative dimension of the project concerns similarities and differences between the role of new media in public and private forms of communication and new combinations thereof. Furthermore, since mediatization also involves the remediation of old media (Bolter and Grusin, 1999), processes of an internal mediatization need to be taken into consideration. The selection of cases for the sub-projects is primarily theory-driven: it must allow for a considerable amount of variation across different cultural fields, but must also enable stratified comparison (Neergaard, 2001) within the taxonomy of public, private and internal.


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