Kirsten Drotner: “Welfarist Ideals Make Nordic Media Studies Relevant to the International Field”

Nordic media studies are shaped by Nordic welfarist ideals rather than by international trends in the academy, according to Kirsten Drotner, professor at the University of Southern Denmark. We talked to her about why welfarist ideals matter and why they can guide research in a globalised, connected, and deeply datafied platform society.

In your article, you talk about how Nordic Media studies have been shaped by the Nordic welfarist ideals from the 1970’s and 1980’s. What do you regard as the most important welfarist ideals that shaped the Nordic media studies?

The emergence of the welfare state is often seen as a European phenomenon emerging on the ruins of the WWII meltdown. Yet, in many European countries, welfarist ideals are shaped by socio-cultural and political movements dating back at least to the 1920’s and 1930’s. Perhaps, the 1970’s is the decade when welfarist ideals and practical policies were most aligned. This is also the decade when Nordic media studies is institutionalised. So, naturally Nordic media studies are affected by ‘the reality effect’ of welfarist ideals.

Of particular relevance to the formation of Nordic media studies are two notions. One is a welfarist definition of culture as a common good and not, or not merely, as a commodity on a competitive market. This definition means that cultural institutions are in the service of all citizens and should offer a diversity of cultural output and outlets. The other notion of relevance to Nordic media studies is the definition of media as forms of culture in both a legal, economic, organisational and social sense. For example, in Denmark, all media institutions, except the press, are regulated by the Ministry of Culture and not by the Ministry of Trade and Commerce or the Ministry of Defense. This definition means that media are seen to foster public value and not, or not merely, private gain to investors.

Taken together, the importance of the two notions are seen most clearly in the position of public-service media, a position that Nordic media studies have taken seriously over the years through in-depth studies, including comparative studies of media ecologies.

Why are these ideals important to hold on to? In what way do they help the field of media studies to stay relevant in a globalised and datafied society?

The welfarist ideals and the concomitant ramifications of Nordic media studies are particularly important to hold on to in a globalized and deeply datafied platform economy for two reasons. First, the ideals are normative, so they offer a much-needed critical and ethical corrective to positivistic data-driven research agendas by asking fundamental qui bono questions. Second, the welfarist ideals offer alternatives to current technology-driven and commercial approaches, and hence they offer a kind of conceptual laboratory of how we may imagine future mediatization.

If we were to make a timeline of paradigms that shaped the field of Nordic media studies. How would it look like? Going from the 1970s till today.

Seen from inside of Nordic media studies, and from the perspective of someone who has been part of that field since the 1970’s, I think it is easy to locate theoretical paradigms and ideological fads since the 1970’s. Still, located within the grander scheme of international media studies, the importance of Nordic media studies is perhaps best illuminated by focusing on commonalities over the years rather than differences. These commonalities include:

  • traversing humanities and social science traditions
  • attention to historical perspectives on media
  • theoretical inflexions across French, German, and Anglo-American scholarly traditions
  • integration of aesthetic and formal analysis of media content with political, social, and psychological dimensions
  • interpretive analysis, including mixed methods spanning qualitative and quantitative approaches
  • strong on critical – if not always self-critical – approaches to media in view of wider societal transformations in welfare states.

Today, where media affect all dimension of our lives, there is a need for media studies to depart from societal challenges rather than from issues defined by the field itself. In that process, Nordic media studies offer considerable resources of relevance to the international field of balancing normative knowledge interests and robust scholarly research.

Kirsten Drotner

Media Studies the Nordic Way: Formations and futures

Published in Nordic Journal of Media Studies no 2: 2020
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