In-Between Spaces: Digital Media Geographies and Social Transformations in Small Towns (2017-2020)
This interdisciplinary research programme cuts across the three research tracks of Geomedia. The programme focuses on the manifold social consequences of post-industrialization, urbanization, mediatization and globalization that together shape the future of Swedish small towns. In spite of the changes that have affected small towns and municipalities in the last few decades and the concomitant growing divide between “winner” and “loser” communities, there has hitherto been little research aiming to grasp the interplay between different types of transformations. Furthermore, small towns represent a generally under-investigated socio-demographic category that is somewhat difficult to pin down on a rural-urban continuum and therefore tends to fall in-between the well-established fields of urban studies and rural studies. In-Between Spaces will be guided by an overarching, dialectical research question that highlights the interplay between on-going transformations in the media landscape, notably the development of interactive and location-based services, and the production of space/place:
How are the cultural ecosystems, public cultures and place identities of small towns affected by the development and diffusion of digital media technologies, notably interactive and location based services, and in what ways are such mediatization processes related to other on-going transformations, notably migration (in and out), socio-economic alterations (industries and job-market) and infrastructural developments in different towns?
This question is answered through three work packages (WP1-3), one WP for each of the three Geomedia research tracks.
WP1: “Empowered or Exploited? Power Geometries of Location Based Services in Small Towns”
(coordinated by Karin Fast, RT1, Mediatization of Space and Culture)
The increase in mobile media in general and location based services in particular calls for critical questions to be asked regarding the potential consequences of such services for individuals, groups, and society. One the one hand, mobile media and location based services provide their users with enhanced opportunities for receiving personalized services and mastering mobility within complex geographies. On the other hand, the same media and integrated services bring about advanced forms of (geo-)surveillance and target marketing via algorithmic infrastructures. Thus, mobile media and the location based services that they carry entail a tension between empowerment and exploitation of users that we have only begun to explore and understand.
Previous research has shown that knowledge and awareness about how digital media operate – e.g. collect and use personal data – is unevenly distributed in society. While we can hypothesize that a digital divide exists also between users of mobile media and location based services, too few studies ask questions about how different social groups use such media and services in ways that correspond to or challenge pre-existing power geometries. Against this background, WP1 studies how the use of mobile media and location-based services unfold within the cultural ecosystems of small towns. We use ethnographic methods for scrutinizing how different cultural practitioners and expressive (sub-)groups use mobile media and location based services, and the social consequences of such media use.
WP2: “Geographies of Journalism: (How) Does it Matter to have Journalism in Small Towns?”
(coordinated by Henrik Örnebring, RT2, Spaces of News Production and Consumption)
Journalism is in decline both on the production and consumption side. Traditional news organizations are experiencing significant financial problems. An increasing share of the population avoids consuming news altogether. These twin trends of decline are arguably hitting provincial areas and smaller towns the hardest: editorial offices and news outlets are being closed, less journalism is being produced, and oftentimes the very market is shrinking through out-migration. Emerging empirical evidence indicates that the decline or outright disappearance of traditional journalism has negative effects on democracy: through decreased electoral participation, less competitive elections, and less informed citizens – though all this empirical evidence comes from the US, a country with very different political system and media structures than Sweden; studies of the actual democratic effects of journalism decline in a Swedish or even European context are lacking.
The purpose of WP2 Geographies of Journalism is to examine the spatial dimensions of the linkage between the polity and community aspects of journalism in local communities in Sweden using a three-pronged research strategy. First, we produce a detailed mapping of the decline in journalistic coverage to see how different geographical areas in Sweden are covered. Second, we use survey data to measure the effect of the level of coverage on the polity and community dimensions mentioned above taking age, gender, education, societal trust, locale and other variables into consideration (a pilot study developing and honing the survey instrument is already underway within NODE, and the final survey will be co-funded by the NODE grant). Third, these findings are combined with qualitative fieldwork conducted in multiple local communities where journalists, local community actors and citizens will be interviewed about their experiences and views of (disappearing) local and regional news coverage.
WP3: “Cosmopolitanized Place Identities? Migrants, Tourists and the Others”
(coordinated by Mekonnen Tesfahuney, RT3, Tourism and Mobility Studies)
This WP focuses on if and how place and place identities of small towns are constituted in new ways under the influence of cosmopolitanization. Whereas the structural transformations of many towns have led to an out-migration of inhabitants with higher education and young people who search for (better) jobs and education, temporary and/or permanent in-migration, tourism and other forms of mobility lead to the inflow of new citizens and foreign cultural influences. These flows constitute a process of cosmopolitanization, through which the relationship between Self and Other undergoes change. Related to this is the concept of “diaspora tourism”, which consist of in-migrants visiting their home countries, as well as relatives and friends of migrants making visits to Sweden. Migration and tourism is here linked together in new interesting ways that need further studies that put focus on the complex and blurring boundaries between “home/away” and “self/other”.
WP3 studies how place identities change with these cosmopolitanized mobilities, but also how place is made on an individual level through lived experiences. Particular attention is paid to the uses of media, including both old and new forms, and how these are integrated in various place-making practices of everyday life. Such practices involve both private media consumption and organized cultural activities related to for instance cultural associations. In order to grasp these place identity processes, WP3 is based on qualitative fieldwork among both immigrants, rooted inhabitants, tourists and tourism stakeholders. The methodological approaches include individual interviews, participatory methods and different focus-group constellations, where cosmopolitan encounters can be staged.