War – University of Copenhagen

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The Mediatization of War in a Digital Age

Main researcher: Mette Mortensen

The aim of this project is to investigate the way in which the military institution manages and utilises the new conditions for digital production and distribution of information from armed conflicts. Today's intensified digital interaction takes the mediatization of war a decisive step further from the era of mass media. The mediatization of war has shaped access to information since World War I, but following the integration of digital communication technologies on all levels of warfare, it is no longer feasible to exercise the same institutional control over the flow of information. In particular, the use of social media by army personnel has disclosed otherwise unobtainable information to the public (Andén-Papadoupolous, 2009a, 2009b; Christensen, 2008; Mortensen, 2009a, 2009b). 

New media entails both challenges and opportunities to the military institution. On the one hand, the military has to manage the security risks and the impact on public opinion, e.g., when classified or compromising material is published or leaked. On the other hand, the military is itself communicating strategically on digital platforms such as online TV channels and social network sites in order to reach a wider audience, e.g., for the purposes of public diplomacy and recruitment. Empirically, the project draws on a qualitative case study of the deployment of online media (the army's official site, YouTube, Facebook, blogs) by 1) the Danish Defense, and 2) Danish soldiers presently or formerly stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq. The study will be conducted by means of in-depth interviews along with a thorough comparative analysis of the visual and audiovisual material produced and disseminated by the two groups.

On a theoretical level, the project contributes to mediatization theory by developing a conceptual framework for the digital mediatization of war. The interrelatedness of war and media in the digital, global era has mainly been theorised by postmodernist and poststructuralist scholars, who have argued that by war becoming "virtual", the borders between reality and mediated reality are erased (e.g., Baudrillard, 1991; Der Derian, 2001; Mirzoeff, 2005). However, these theoretical underpinnings do not adequately account for the way in which the military institution responds and adjusts to the blurring of boundaries between representations of war and warfare itself, which is a basic condition of mediatized war in the digital era.

References

Baudrillard, Jean (1995) [1991]. The Gulf War did Not Take Place. Sidney: Power Publication.

Andén-Papadopoulos, Kari (2009a). "Body Horror on the Internet"'. Culture, Media & Society, vol. 31, no. 6, pp. 921-938.

Andén-Papadopoulos, Kari (2009b). "US Soldiers Imagining the Iraq War on YouTube". Popular Communication, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 17-27.

Christensen, Christian (2008). "Uploading Dissonance: YouTube and the US occupation of Iraq". Media, War & Conflict, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 155-175.

Der Derian, James (2001). Virtuous War, Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network. Boulder: Westview Press.

Mirzoeff, Nicholas (2005). Watching Babylon. The War in Iraq and Global Visual Culture. New York: Routledge.

Mortensen, Mette (2009a). "Nationale ikoner eller private mindesmærker? Krigsbilleder, censur og nye medier". In Anne Jerslev & Christa Lykke Christensen (eds.) Hvor går grænsen? Brudflader i den moderne mediekultur. Copenhagen: Tiderne skifter, pp. 121-149.

Mortensen, Mette (2009b). "The Camera at War: When Soldiers become War Photographers". In Rikke Schubart, Fabian Virchow, Tanja Thomas & Debra White-Stanley (eds.) War Isn't Hell, It's Entertainment: Essays on Visual Media and the Representation of Conflict. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, pp. 44-61.