Who Is a Nordic Media Researcher?

NordMedia Network is a site dedicated to Nordic media research. Sounds clear! However, the definition of “Nordic media research” involves three central yet not very sharply limited questions that we encounter on an everyday basis: What is “media research”? What does “Nordic” mean? And, finally, what counts as “research”?

When Nordicom, a centre for Nordic media research at the University of Gothenburg, was founded at the end of the 1970s, research on mass media had already established its disciplinary identity. The Nordic Information and Documentation Centre was supposed to monitor and document the mass communication research in the Nordic countries. Mass communication research mainly referred to studies on printed newspapers and broadcasting, and news. The group of mass media researchers in the Northern European region was limited.

With the dissolution of the concept of mass media, the research field has become media research; media and communication research; media, journalism, and communication research; or research on mediated communication. With increased internationalisation of the academy, more researchers with no background from Nordic cultures or languages are living and working in the Nordic countries. With the diversification of digital channels for interaction and publication, networking within and beyond the Nordics has become smoother, and the researcher community more diverse.

NordMedia Network was founded in 2019 to gather the Nordic media researchers into a digital community between the onsite NordMedia conferences, organised since the 1970s. Today, we have 680 members registered in the open expert database. What they should have in common is the notions of media, research, and Nordic.

What is media?

When talking about “media research”, what do we mean by it? As we know from media theory, everything from an acoustic wave to a blog can be regarded as a medium; defining “media” is very context-dependent and affects the delimitation of media research, as well.

The disciplines of media studies, journalism studies, and communication studies, conducted within social sciences and the humanities, are at the core of media research. Communities related to these usually have well-defined identities at the national level, supported by institutional structures at universities. There are departments and study subjects, with pertinent staff positions and curricula, and associations and conferences with these discipline names.

Research in mediation and mediatization has rapidly increased across different disciplines. In all sciences that address human interaction and society, media is becoming an important element to understand, and to take into account and study. The group of media-related researchers, often interdisciplinary in their approaches, has significantly grown – and this development will continue.

The group of media-related researchers, often interdisciplinary in their approaches, has significantly grown – and this development will continue.

Even if Nordic countries are usually grouped into a homogeneous area, even when it comes to the educational systems, there are national differences in scholarly identities. In Sweden, there is a clear division between journalism studies (journalistik) and media and communication studies (medie- och kommunikationsvetenskap, MKV), which is reflected upon the differentiation of departments according to this difference. An unending discussion addresses the question of whether strategic or organisational communication belongs to “media research” or not. Although business and innovation researchers often turn to their own fora instead of exploiting the fora of media research, we would be glad to see these scholars at NordMedia Network.

In all countries, neither game, computational, nor educational researchers necessarily feel totally comfortable in the media research category. For example, educational research touches in multiple ways upon media-related topics such as digitalisation of school, teaching and learning, mediated play, and informal learning, but researchers do not identify themselves as media researchers.

University mergers may also change the direction of leading disciplines within a country; a university that was rooted in social sciences may relatively rapidly become directed by natural sciences and start re-inventing its disciplinary character.

What is research?

What is research, then? This is usually an irrelevant question when talking about an academic employed at a university, but when it comes to professionally or vocationally oriented institutions, such as university colleges and universities of applied sciences, or arts universities, the form of research adopts another kind of identity. It can be asked whether research and development (R & D) and artistic research should be included in the definition of research.

Or what about industry research and practice-based research? Media research is also conducted beyond the academic institutions: authorities, professional and industry unions, private companies, as well as think tanks are conducting studies ranging from surveys to content analyses and publishing their output in reports. Should industry research be included in our definition of media research?

We want to welcome not only traditional academic researchers but also industry, independent, practice-based and artistic researchers to the community.

Some individuals working with research-like tasks have work titles other than “researcher”, being employed as analysts, statisticians, experts, or advisors. They may not professionally self-label themselves as researchers and do not want to be conflated with the category of the traditional researcher.

We want to adopt as open a definition of research as possible, welcoming both traditionally academic and independent researchers to our community. We cannot take stance on the quality or rigorousness of research – this evaluation is an ongoing inter-academic task.

What is Nordic?

Next, the third part of the concept: what is Nordic, and why does it matter?

By “Nordic” researchers we mean scholars working in the Nordic countries. In our institutions database, which encompasses universities and university colleges delivering media research and education on a regular basis, there are 18 relevant universities and university colleges in Sweden, 15 in Denmark, 14 in Finland, 13 in Norway, and 3 in Iceland. Currently, we are also setting up a separate database for Nordic degree programmes, and at the moment, this database includes 545 bachelor’s and master’s programmes in total.

Nevertheless, Nordicness is not limited to institutions located in the Nordic countries. There are many academics working on Nordic topics in countries beyond the Nordics, and these often feel a high need to connect with their Nordic colleagues.

During the past decades, it has been assessed that the Nordic dimension has been losing some of its significance for researchers, while the international contacts and networks have become more powerful and influential. The Nordic community is sometimes regarded as a good entry point for doctoral students and junior scholars to get a first taste of international collaboration, but the most rigorous collaboration is said to be found beyond the Nordics.

Nevertheless, at the same time, the relaxed Nordic atmosphere, compared to the sense of belonging to a family, is much appreciated. The geocultural proximity and linguistic familiarity, together with flat hierarchical structures, make communication and collaboration smooth and uncomplicated.

Our assessment is that the Nordic level is still relevant and needed. At NordMedia Network, we must find a common denominator while remaining sensitive to the national differences. We intend to adopt an approach that is as inclusive as possible, yet without losing the distinct identity of the research field.

Our strategy

The focus of NordMedia Network’s strategy lies on media researchers working for academic institutions in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. These researchers are invited to register at the site and become part of the open expert database. We also accept researchers and experts from other countries if they demonstrate a Nordic connection in their work.

The Nordic connection may be shown with regard to the topic or through comparative research where one or more Nordic countries are involved. Some topics may be of specific relevance for the Nordics even if not directly addressing Nordicness. We decide on a case-to-case basis. The general assumption that works as our guideline is that an expert in our database should have knowledge about the Nordic media system and cultures.

We have tightened up our strategy since the database was launched. Currently, there are some researchers in the database whose Nordic connection, based on their profile page, is unclear. We have approached them to ask them about their Nordic connection. If we fail to receive a response from them, they will be deleted from the database.

For those merely interested in the Nordic media researcher community, yet with no clear connection in their work, we are considering the possibility of establishing interest groups from different geographical and substance areas.

Explore our definition

Are you a Nordic media researcher?

Please answer the following questions. If your can answer yes to these two questions, you can be defined as a Nordic media researcher and you are welcome to register at our open expert database:

1. Are you working at a university in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, or Sweden, or in the Faroe Islands, Greenland, or Åland Islands? Or are you originally from one of the Nordics but are now working at a university beyond the Nordics?

2. Are you studying a topic that is related to media or any kind of mediated communication?
Are you a Nordic media researcher?

Photos: Alvin Eliasson