Power and mediatisation in Malmö – with or without a sense of time2022-03-25
Imagine there were no clocks or other ways to measure time. What would your day look like? How would society work? Fredrik Edin at the subject of Media and Communication Studies, Karlstad University, paints a picture of when time matters, and when it does not.
Fredrik Edin at the Department of Geography, Media and Communication recently finished his doctoral thesis Chronopolis: Time, Power and Mediatisation in Malmö based on these questions.
Fredrik Edin’s interest in cities and how they work goes a long way back, and when Malmö began the process of expanding the city’s train network, his interest narrowed down to power and cities.
- In 2009, a new train tunnel was opened through Malmö and new stations were built, says Fredrik Edin. The stations were equipped with special benches that were designed in a way that made it impossible to sleep on them. They were made in a slippery material and, in addition, they were sloping. That was when the phenomenon of exclusionary design caught my attention, which is about designing places and objects in a way that shuts certain types of people out from various places.
Fredrik Edin wrote a research report and a book on the subject and when a doctoral position opened up at the Department of Geography and Media and Communication he jumped at the opportunity. The area of how mediatisation affects society and culture resulted in a study on the consequences of the mediatisation of cities.
- My work is a continuation with a larger perspective on power and cities and more connected to the media and geography.
Chronopolis: Time, Power and Mediatisation in Malmö is an ethnographic study where Fredrik visited different environments in his hometown. The methods he used are classic in many ways - pen, paper and a curiosity for the surroundings. Malmö Central Station, the shopping centre Triangeln, a space for freelancers and a coffee chain have been Fredrik’s fixed points during his research.
- I have taken notes and created various cases that I am now presenting in my thesis. It is about both the places themselves that are described but also about various phenomena, such as so-called temporal work. That you buy someone else’s time. A typical example of temporal work is home delivery of food.
The shopping centre Triangeln
Fredrik’s fascination for shopping centres goes way back and has been part of his previous research on exclusionary design. Visiting Triangeln with a new perspective on power, mediatisation and time provided many new insights.
- There are no time indications in Triangeln. There are no public clocks. The windows are covered so it is impossible to tell whether it is day or night or what season it is or what the weather is like outside. What they are trying to do in Triangeln, is to create their own temporality to promote consumption. As a visitor, you should not think about what time it is or what is happening in the world outside. Inside Triangeln, a separate consumption temporality has been created.
The design of modern shopping centres has taken inspiration from casinos. As a visitor, you should have no idea about what is going on outside. The only thing that matters is that you remain inside and keep your wallet wide open.
- The architecture in Triangleln also lacks sharp corners as this has been known to make visitors stop and think about what they are doing. Instead, you should be able to slowly slide through the centre in dim lighting. A shopping centre is there for you to consume - without any disturbing elements.
Malmö Central Station
As an opposite end of the spectrum, Fredrik used Malmö Central Station. A place where visitors are literally flooded with time indications via clocks, timetables, announcements, and messages that food and drinks should be consumed faster than fast. This is an environment that does not welcome long visits. Finish up and get on a train. Bye-bye and welcome back another time when you will not be staying for long either. A comfortable place to sit? Forget it.
- It is really about the same thing – creating a temporality for those who are on the site. But you do it in the opposite way. In the first example you remove all time indications and in second example you bombard people with indications of time in different ways.
Fredrik Edin has based his study on the philosopher Henri Lefebvre’s idea about rhythms. Lefebvre distinguishes between cyclical rhythms – seasons and days – and linear rhythms, which are created by man and fairly fixed. The working day is a typical example of a linear rhythm.
- I have come to the conclusion is that mediatisation creates new types of linear rhythms. They are still related to work and man-made, but instead of having fixed working hours from nine to five in a fixed location, mediatisation – networks, communication technologies and the like – makes everything negotiable. Any time of the day can be working time and anywhere can be a place for work, consumption or pleasure.
The boundaries have, in other words, been blurred since the time of the punch clock. However, Fredrik does not think that the old idea of punching in is out of date. It has simply been given a different meaning and function. You still have to perform to get paid for the work that you have done. But for many people, it does not matter what time of day they work.
- Among other things, I visited a coffee chain in Malmö and what struck me when I got there was that many people use the café as a workplace. And it goes on from when the café opens until it closes. At 9 pm on a Friday evening, there are lots of people sitting in front of their computers and doing work. You could compare it to an office for freelancers. And it is possible because you have access to a network, technology and wifi. Before, the punch clock was linear. Now it is a matter of power instead. When should you punch in and when should you punch out? I have looked at this from a power perspective and it is clear that some people have great temporal power and influence over their work.
Was there anything in your research that surprised you?
- I was most surprised by the role that time plays and how little research there was on this topic. Before the study, I had a very spatial perspective on various things, especially when I was dealing with exclusionary design. I saw places as somewhere where things happen, I did not see the temporal aspect at all. Every spatial power relationship has a temporal equivalent and I have completely missed that before.
What can we learn from your findings?
- That time is really a commodity that has a price. And that price is very different for different people. My findings may also make people aware of phenomena such as time becoming more and more negotiable. I remember the first time I was offered a work computer. It felt almost like a present. But it did not take long before I realised that I had begun answering emails in the evening. It is a form of negotiation that you do from a position of power. It is part of some people’s line of work to stay up to date and on top of things, which may include getting up in the middle of the night. However, it is not given by nature that it should be this way.