Discovering a new community: LOTS of culturally sensitive media theory

A view from Helsingborg.

Yesterday, I was invited to attend two panel discussions, first one at the Human Rights Days (MR-dagarna) in Helsingborg and another at the inaugural event of a newly established local media hub in Gothenburg. Both were relatively new contexts for me, addressing media environments where people are active in other languages than the official language Swedish (we could, perhaps, say LOTS, to adjust the term LOTE, Languages Other than English), but resonating with many strings in my current work.

While still trying to sort out my impressions and experiences, I’m increasingly convinced about the idea that we need culturally sensitive media theory and the development of related practice. This has basically been the idea behind the recent calls for dewesternalization and decolonization of media theories. In a globalized world, the study of Nordic societies means acknowledging the (super)diversity within our own societies and not only comparing national cultures as if they were homogenous entities.

The critical scholarly work discussing aspects with relevance for culturally sensitive social theory involve some fundamental suggestions how to change the epistemic structure of knowledge production, but practices often remain as good as untouched. This is quite often the case with human rights, antidiscrimination and diversity discourse in practice: we talk about efforts of extended recruitment but do not change our criteria for recruitment, and end up in recruiting people with the same cultural, linguistic and educational background. Or, we follow a managerial programme of active measures against discrimination, but are not intellectually engaged in a conceptualization work that would increase our understandings of what discrimination would imply in our very specific environment. To transfer ideas from policy and managerial discourse into practice, we should very deeply try to deconstruct ideas such as “media”, “user” and “culture” that have become normalized and routinized because of our cultural truths. However, it is quite a demanding task, as we are products of the cultures we are living in, and questioning everything would result in a distraction from the work we are supposed to accomplish.

We can observe that culturally non-sensitive media theory departs from the mainstream society. It assumes that the citizen conforms to the some standardized structures in being a media user, allowing a variation only within these structures but not detachment from them. Culturally non-sensitive media theory ignores the mediatized third spaces where cultures hybridize, the variation in all sociocultural factors, and happenings in the margins. Based on such an assumption, surveys and other study designs, study programmes, communication and services are designed without drawing attention to the cultural differences. For example, the role of languages is often treated as a question of accessibility, thus ignoring the role of languages as carriers of cultures and identities: when a text in Swedish is just translated into another language, the question is allegedly solved.

Nevertheless, universities are spaces where cultural differences can be identified and recognized, and which are also obliged by a certain kind of social responsibility. To make our own collaboration practices more inclusive, I’m currently wondering how we at NordMedia Network can create opportunities for students, doctoral students and journalism or communication practitioners with LOTS and academic background. Luckily, we have the possibility to commission freelancer writers who can write about topical issues within the Nordic media research. That could be a great opportunity not only for an individual to be able to employ their journalistic competences in English in the Nordic context, but also for us to capture a diversity of voices. I’m also wondering if we could support these practitioners in finding more academic collaborations by facilitating brainstorming, writing in second languages and networking in different ways. Now that there are more and more forums such as the media hub, more and more opportunities emerge.

Read more about the launch of the media hub in an article written by Ansbert Ngurumo at Saudi Kubwa.

1 Comment on "Discovering a new community: LOTS of culturally sensitive media theory"

  1. It’s a very interesting subject, more so for people like some of us.

    For instance, I speak and write fluently in three languages – Luhaya, Swahili, and English. At school, I also did Latin, but being dead as it is, I left in class – although it laid a solid foundation for other languages, especially English. Now, I am learning Swedish.

    On my website – – I use Swahili and English, depending on the nature and purpose of the article, and the potential audience in mind.

    As an original Swahili speaker, the only African language officially recognised by UN and spoken by over 200 million people globally, I am already seeing myself in some of your programmes.

    It’s awesome to explore the power of Languages Other Than English!

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