Interview with Professor Nick Couldry

2018-03-27

On 16 March, Nick Couldry, Professor of media, communications and social theory at the London School of Economics and Political Science, visited Uppsala University to deliver a distinguished lecture about his latest book, co-authored by Andreas Hepp, ‘The Mediated Construction of Reality’. During his visit, he showed the courtesy of giving an interview to Miro Anter and Ali İhsan Akbaş, students at Uppsala University at the Master Programme in Social Sciences, specialisation Digital Media and Society.

Media, as Professor Couldry argues, does not only transmit or translate information, it creates a differently ordered world in which we have to exist, and this does not apply only to the new digital media, but has applied in the past to earlier forms of media that appeared and became popular, like, for example, television. Still, the new social (mediated) environment is an environment of enhanced opportunities, challenges, vulnerability and uncertainty for all social actors, for individuals, governments and companies.

For example, as it regards political communication and the use of media by politicians for propaganda purposes or by authoritative regimes, Professor Couldry argues that these politicians miss the point of how complicated the (new) media environment is. At the same time he acknowledges that the new ways that some politicians are currently using the digital/social media might be creating new conditions of use, whose future implications cannot be predicted. One example is how the US President Donald Trump uses Twitter. Trump, according to Professor Couldry, uses Twitter in novel ways, to exercise power, to attack his opponents, to create new alliances or end old ones. This might be an efficient way of communication (in regards to Trump’s aims) for a while, but there are no guarantees that it will continue to be so and it is not clear how it will affect political communication in the long run.

Professor Couldry believes that through time, possibilities of resistance and fighting back can increase. However, one thing should not be forgotten. There are two sides to this new order. Although people have the possibility of benefiting from the new technologies, governments and companies also use them in very powerful ways. He gave the example of  the East Coast in the US, where there is a strong focus on liberation and freedom of the individual, and the example of China, a country with a vast amount of effort to govern the online world, developing a ‘state-corporate surveillance complex’.

Professor Couldry argues that social change is not easy. Small entities and collectivities have gained power through online media. However, although such small collectivities may create awareness and help in holding governments accountable, social change is difficult.

At the same time, something that is different now in comparison to the past is that the basis of political authority has changed. No government can assume that it can supress knowledge absolutely. However, political authorities are now capable of spreading exhausting quantities of information. This may lead people to lose track of (accurate) information, and to have less trust in the information provided. So, even if the opportunities for collectivities to communicate and argue for social change are more, the overflow of information makes it more difficult for their messages to have an impact. And, as Professor Couldry argues, large scale social change requires building alliances, changing the way people think about the world and the way they imagine it. Linking people into campaigns can be done today very easily, but this not the same as changing the way people imagine the future, which is a process that requires much more time, effort and commitment.

Listen to the interview with Professor Nick Couldry at Soundcloud