Sunday, 25 October 2009

Fortress Europe and Global Research

Recently, I've seen a couple of very attractive teaching and research job opportunities in something called "Global Media" or "Global Communication".  Also, my dear Alma Mater the University of Helsinki has just begun a new MA program on Media and Global Communication

Excellent. I'm sure no one can deny any longer that there's at least some transnational characteristics regarding most media -- not only in terms of production, content and consumption/participation, but in terms of ownership or even policy challenges and regulatory frameworks as well. Another curious phenomenon is that as I'm getting ready to teach a course on media and national identity there's really nothing very contemporary about written about it. The related books are dominated with titles that start with the G-word.

So it's great that scholars and universities are focusing on this. But.

I wonder how to put this diplomatically... A couple of years back, I was part of a team doing an overview study for the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation about communication research in the US. Having been used to the little clique that meets within the protective walls of the Fortress Europe I was amazed what a different research landscape emerged from our mapping of the situation the US.  No need for details here (well, the studies on media effects, you know... check out the report) but I also noted how US-centric the research is.

Wearing my European hat, easy for me say. Access to data (e.g., state-funded statistical bureaus, the European Audiovisual Observatory), to researchers/universities in other countries, cultural proximity, EU/European as a common topic... all make things easier on that side of the Atlantic. At the same time, the relative Anglo-American dominance in communication and media studies, at least for Northern Europe, had given me some glimpses of the US-based research. And thanks to America 'cultural imperialism' I felt I could analyse American talkshows and reality programmes fluidly, no problems.

But then today, here in Brooklyn, I realised what the European me had been missing... 

I just finished a part of a book review I'm coauthoring for a US-based academic journal. My task was to read a book by Danish scholars -- oh well: New Publics with/out Democracy.  A solid edited volume, interesting cases. But having become somewhat cross-Atlantic reading it I was suddenly transformed back to Finland, could even see in my mind's eye the seminar room where these texts and others would be presented and discussed. The point: I encountered something that I claim is the Nordic way of doing research and writing, and something in me recognised it immediately.  Can't deconstruct that in detail (yet), but will think about it more.

And I realised how culturally, well, narrow, my research competence is. It also dawned to me that we Europeans really lack analyses by North and South Americans colleagues, African, Asian and Oceanian researchers, about our contemporary media culture, structures, policy-making... The cultural competence is important, but oh how refreshing would it be to read analyses that looked at our fortress (and the national mini-fortresses within the big one) with a little bit of distance... We might learn tons! (Apologies to those scholars who are already working on this, but you are not many). 

So let's mix and match and get truly global -- Europeans (Westerners) have excelled in researching other cultures; it would be so important to learn more about ours through non-native ones, so much more possibilities for innovation. 

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