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Hybrid Media Culture

The distinction between online and offline realities is becoming more and more
difficult to sustain. As computer-mediated communication evolves and as inter-
action becomes increasingly dependent on the Internet, social, cultural, and
political aspects begin to get caught and entangled in the web of contemporary
digital communication technologies. Digital tools and platforms for communica-
tion are progressively becoming commonplace, while the cultural conceptions
that surround these technologies – immediacy, constant accessibility, availability
– are becoming increasingly mainstream.
Hybrid Media Culture is an interdisciplinary exploration of how the online and
the offline interact in present-day culture. In the aftermath of all-encompassing
perspectives on “postmodernization” and “globalization,” there is now a pressing
need for scholars of new media and society to come to terms with issues of place,
embodiment, and materiality in a world of “virtual” flows and “cyber” culture.
This book explores ways of conceptualizing the intricate intermingling of the
online and the offline through case studies of hybrid media places, including:
user-generated videos about self-harm; visibility, surveillance and digital media;
digital communication tools and politics; and physical and virtual churches.
This interdisciplinary edited collection investigates the effects of the Internet
and digital culture on perceptions and uses of identities, bodies, and localities.
It will be of interest to students and scholars of digital culture, sociology, media
and communications studies, new media, body studies, politics, and science and
technology studies.

Simon Lindgren is Professor of Sociology at Umeå University, Sweden.

Routledge Advances in Sociology

1 Virtual Globalization 7 Immigrant Life in the U.S.

Virtual spaces/Tourist spaces Multi-disciplinary perspectives
Edited by David Holmes Edited by Donna R. Gabaccia
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Identity in Europe Capital
Anna Triandafyllidou A new research program
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Masculinity 27 The Obituary as Collective
Richard Howson Memory
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Roelof Hortulanus, Anja Utopia and dystopia in western
Machielse and Ludwien social and political thought
Meeuwesen Mark Featherstone

20 Weber and the Persistence of 29 Jewish Eating and Identity

Religion Through the Ages
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32 Sex Research and Sex Therapy 41 Queer Political Performance

A sociological analysis of Masters and Protest
and Johnson Benjamin Shepard
Ross Morrow
42 Cosmopolitan Spaces
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Martin O’Brien 43 Contexts of Social Capital
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Mihaela Robila Edited by Kostas Gouliamos and
Christos Kassimeris
50 People and Societies
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51 Legislating Creativity
The intersections of art and politics 61 Social Theory in Contemporary
Dustin Kidd Asia
Ann Brooks
52 Youth in Contemporary Europe
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Christian Fuchs
53 Globalization and
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the Question of Modernity Bynner
Eduardo De La Fuente
64 Understanding Russianness
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Radical culture and capitalism and Pekka Pesonen
Kristin Lawler
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If I can’t dance, it’s not my The social and cultural
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Gosling and Ben Light
58 Undocumented Workers’
Transitions 67 Contested Citizenship in East Asia
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in Europe unity, and globalization
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and Anna Paraskevopoulou Turner
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through affect Cinematic tourism and the
Anna Hickey-Moody activist cause
Rodanthi Tzanelli
86 The Capitalist Personality
Face-to-face sociality and 94 Generation, Discourse, and
economic change in the post- Social Change
communist world Karen R. Foster
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95 Sustainable Practices
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Specters of entrepreneurship Spurling
Tomas Marttila
96 The Transformative Capacity of
88 Islamophobia in the West New Technologies
Measuring and explaining A theory of sociotechnical change
individual attitudes Ulrich Dolata
Marc Helbling
97 Consuming Families
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Rural Gay Man family life in the 21st century
Coping with stigma Jo Lindsay and JaneMaree
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98 Migrant Marginality
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happens Jacobs
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Andrew Cooper
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Dennis Zuev Discrimination
Thomas Lemke
101 Social Sustainability 108 Social Capital and Its
A multilevel approach to social Institutional Contingency
inclusion A study of the United States,
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102 Capitalism
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critique Global Citizenship Education
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in a sosmopolitan age
103 Understanding European Jeffrey S. Dill
New social movements, global 110 Irish Insanity 1800–2000
justice struggles, anti-austerity Damien Brennan
Edited by Cristina Flesher 111 Cities of Culture
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105 Children in Crisis
Ethnographic studies in 113 Understanding Aging and
international contexts Diversity
Edited by Manata Hashemi and Theories and concepts
Martín Sánchez-Jankowski Patricia Kolb

106 The Digital Divide 114 Hybrid Media Culture

The internet and social inequality Sensing place in a world of flows
in international perspective Edited by Simon Lindgren
Edited by Massimo Ragnedda
and Glenn W. Muschert

107 Emotion and Social Structures

The affective foundations of
social order
Christian von Scheve
Hybrid Media Culture
Sensing place in a world of flows

Edited by Simon Lindgren

First published 2014
by Routledge
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© 2014 selection and editorial material Simon Lindgren; individual chapters,
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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Hybrid media culture : sensing place in a world of flows / edited by
Simon Lindgren.
pages cm. -- (Routledge advances in sociology ; 114)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Internet--Social aspects. 2. Digital communications. I. Lindgren,
Simon editor of compilation.
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ISBN: 978–0–415–82407–1 (hbk)
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List of figures xii

List of contributors xiii
Acknowledgment xv

1 Hybrid media culture: an introduction 1


2 Hybrid embodiment: doing respectable bodies on YouTube 16


3 Visibility and surveillance in a hybrid media culture 34


4 The hybrid emergence of Sámi expressive culture 51


5 Hybrid political activism and the online/offline divide 67


6 The hybrid discourse of digital piracy 90


7 Social support online: between closeness and anonymity 106


8 Hybrid churches: transcending the physical, virtual and sacred 123


9 Towards a heterotopology: unlayering the reality of hybrid media

culture 139

Index 149

4.1 Illustration by Maria Beskow, www.ur.se/gulahalan (Swedish

Educational Broadcasting Company) 54
6.1 Co-occurrences between discursive themes (strongest links) 95
6.2 Co-occurrences between discursive themes (all coded
categories) 100
7.1 Co-occurrences of words 109
7.2 Emotions 110
7.3 Bonding and abuse 113
7.4 Social network and coping 115
7.5 Needs 118
8.1 The intersection areas of the sacred, the virtual and the
physical, encapsulated within the church 123
9.1 Hybrid media culture at the intersection of lived, conceived
and practiced reality 145

Simon Lindgren is Professor of Sociology at Umeå University, Sweden.

He researches digital culture with a focus on social connections, social
organization and social movements. His publications cover themes like
hacktivism, digital piracy, subcultural creativity and learning, popular
culture and visual politics. Simon is the author of New Noise: A Cultural
Sociology of Digital Disruption (2013).
Eric Carlsson is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Culture and Media
Studies, Umeå University, Sweden. His research concerns the rela-
tion between digital technology, media and politics. His PhD thesis
Mediated Surveillance was published in 2009. It discusses news media
representations of surveillance practices during the so-called war on
Coppélie Cocq is a PhD in Sámi Studies at Umeå University, Sweden. Her
research interests include storytelling, folklore, and minority studies.
Her current research investigates Sámi folklore and knowledge produc-
tion in digital environments.
Michael Dahlberg-Grundberg is a PhD student in Sociology at Umeå
University, Sweden. He is mainly interested in digital activism, the
political economy of communication, critical theory, and the intercon-
nectedness of online and offline politics.
Stefan Gelfgren is Senior Lecturer at HUMlab and the Department of
Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Umeå University,
Sweden, with a PhD in the History of Ideas. Gelfgren’s research covers
the relation between social, technological and religious transformations
throughout history with a focus on Christianity since the sixteenth
century. Secularization and modernity are two recurring concepts in
his research.
Anna Johansson is Assistant Professor of Ethnology at HUMlab, Umeå
University, Sweden. She wrote her dissertation on identity production
in the context of self-harm, and she is currently involved in a project
xiv Contributors

on mental illness in digital culture focusing the relationship between

patients, bodies, and psychiatry.
Ragnar Lundström is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of
Sociology at Umeå University, Sweden. He is currently working on a
project investigating the integration of environmental perspectives in
trade unions. His research interests include discourse analysis, content
analysis, political activism, and citizen journalism.

This book is a product of the research program Media Places at HUMlab,

Umeå University, which has been kindly funded by the Knut and Alice
Wallenberg Foundation.
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1 Hybrid media culture
An introduction
Simon Lindgren, Michael Dahlberg-Grundberg
and Anna Johansson

The distinction between the digital and its non-digital counterpart is

becoming more and more difficult to sustain. This is a consequence of
developments wherein digital tools and platforms for communication are
progressively becoming commonplace, while at the same time the cultural
conceptions that surround the technologies – for example, immediacy,
constant accessibility, and availability – are becoming increasingly main-
stream. The online and offline dimensions, which were formerly thought
of as mutually exclusive or at least conflicting, are becoming intertwined.
This is both in reality and as idea. Because of this, new theoretical and
methodological issues need to be addressed.
As computer-mediated communication evolves and as interaction
becomes more and more dependent on the Internet, we start to see how
social, cultural, as well as political aspects of life get caught and entan-
gled in the web of contemporary digital communication technologies.
Furthermore, as the digitalization of society seems to continue with unin-
terrupted swiftness, “virtuality” starts to appear as an inescapable dimen-
sion of sociality. By penetrating the fabric of social reality, the digital
is thus becoming an everyday feature of human, as well as non-human,
interaction, more or less encompassing all information exchange.
With this book, we provide an interdisciplinary exploration of how
the online and the offline interact in present-day culture. As the media
landscape has changed during the past decades, it has been claimed that
perceptions and uses of material space, physical bodies, and geographical
localities have been fundamentally transformed. In digital culture, media
forms that were previously separate have been combined and are increas-
ingly converging. In the aftermath of all-encompassing perspectives on
“postmodernization” and “globalization,” there is now an all the more
pressing need for scholars of new media and society to come to terms with
issues of place, embodiment, and materiality in a world of “virtual” flows
and “cyber” culture. This book is a theoretical as well as an empirical
exploration of this dilemma in relation to case studies of hybrid media
2 Lindgren, Dahlberg-Grundberg and Johansson

Early observers of digital culture were rather preoccupied with defining

and theorizing the differences and demarcation lines between our online
and offline selves (Turkle, 1995) and between the space of places and
the space of flows (Castells, 1996). Today however, there is widespread
consensus that the online and the offline are intermingled in intricate rela-
tions. This is often underlined, but actual research on the inner architec-
ture of this interconnectedness is scarce. Because there is no developed
understanding of how these relations are structured and of how they func-
tion, the theorization of this type of interplay is now emerging as a major
conceptual dilemma. Much in the way social scientists and theorists have
wrestled historically with structure versus agency, digital researchers
must now explore ways of conceptualizing the online/offline nexus. And
this is what we set out to do in this book.

The either/or fallacy

In certain aspects the merging of the online and offline spheres within
contemporary society and culture seems quite obvious and hard to refute.
Certainly, the offline dimension still prevails because it needs to be
addressed if identities, views, opinions, and so on are to be “realized”
or “materialized.” One might ask however, if it is possible to analytically
separate the two, and whether it is still feasible to do so. First, however, we
must discuss what hybridity actually may be in the context of the digital
and what it can refer to. For the purpose of this book, the concept should
be generally understood as representing the coming together of online and
offline, media and matter, or, more dynamically, as the interplay between
the online and offline dimension. But, more specifically, it could also
be viewed in terms of interaction between old and new media (Jenkins,
2006). Either way, the hybrid dimension of contemporary media culture
concerns the fact that offline and online worlds are becoming increasingly
intertwined. In other words, what goes on in hybrid media culture can be
understood as a product of the suspension of the delimitation inherent in
the online/offline divide. Thus, without qualifying it further, hybridity can
be said to describe the process where the online is constantly translated
to the offline and vice versa. The inner workings of this process are the
object of study for this book.
As the more theoretical version of the concept both draws on informa-
tional philosophy and has material connotations (virtuality and reality,
offline and online), a technological aspect of it must be considered, at least
briefly. But, because hybridity has to be considered as a product involving
two spheres, in doing this one must,

… avoid an excessively exclusive (or even “deterministic”) focus on

technology in studying its “impacts” on social and political practices.
It is important to underline that these “impacts” must be considered
An introduction 3

as “outcomes” that emerge from a complex interplay between existing

institutions and practices on the one hand and (the characteristics of)
new technologies on the other hand.
(Donk, et al., 2004: 6, our emphasis)

We also must add to our theoretical and methodical repertoire tools

for analyzing the economic and political (i.e., the material) structures
circumscribing – and making possible – the digital dimensions of society
(Fuchs, 2011). For this reason it is important to avoid a situation where
one neglects or overemphasizes either side when studying hybrid media
culture: we must, as Dahlgren (2004: xv) writes, “avoid becoming
obsessed just with the communication technology itself ” and, preferably,
“include in our analytic horizons the complex ways in which ICTs inter-
play with the dynamics of the social movements, as well as with main-
stream political structures and contemporary cultural trends that frame
these movements.”
But even if, as discussed above, the online and the offline enmesh, a
number of questions remain. One might ask, for example, what happens
to theoretical and methodological approaches that were based on the
premise of a separation in terms of the initial conceptual divide. Taking
this approach, the clash between cyber-pessimists and cyber-optimists
can, through the introduction of the concept of hybridity, be exposed as
a pseudo-problem. In relation to a hybrid methodology, the remarks on
online activism by Davidson, Joyce, and Ballard (2012) offer some impor-
tant guidance as regards this. In accordance with their view, recognizing
diverging logics concerning causality is of utmost importance:

A methodology of hybridity implicitly rejects monocausal logics that

give rise to misleading terms like “Facebook Revolution,” “Twitter
Revolution,” and “social media revolution.” If digital technology is a
factor in hybrid causality it is unlikely to be the single causal factor
in any political outcome. Monocausality is an appealing straw man
for cyber-pessimists because it allows them to set up an argument in
which digital technology only has value if it is the singular cause of
a particular political outcome. The argument posits an unnecessarily
high bar for the salience of digital technology in activism outcomes,
making the optimist case (salience) harder to prove and the pessimist
case (lack of salience) easier. In this argument, the optimists only
win if digital technology was an overwhelming factor in a particular
outcome, where multicausality tells us that the effect was likely more
(Davidson, Joyce, and Ballard, 2012)

Even if one might disagree with their interpretation regarding the two
positions (and the arguments of the respective sides), they express the
4 Lindgren, Dahlberg-Grundberg and Johansson

key acknowledgement that social and cultural practices, regardless from

where they are emanating (i.e., online or offline), are always rooted in
multiple spheres.

Previous work in the field

The concept of hybridity has been applied in a wide variety of contexts.
The most well known use is perhaps in postcolonial studies, where
hybridity has come to signify the process through which cultures and iden-
tities intermingle and transform through mixture (Bhabha, 1994; García
Canclini, 1995; Young, 1995). Although it is important to acknowledge
that this notion of hybridity shares some underlying ideas with our use of
the term – for example, in that it points to issues of ideology and power
struggles – the definition of hybridity in this book refers exclusively to the
relationship of digital media to its social, spatial, and material contexts.
Over the past years, there has been an increasing emphasis on material
and spatial aspects in media studies, as more and more scholars realize
that the digital and the physical can no longer be treated as separate
domains. Our volume should be seen as a contribution to this emerging
field of research, and our approach is indebted to previous work on the
interplay between online and offline dimensions as well as to research in
the broader area of media, place, and materiality. It is therefore important
to trace the idea of hybridity within these fields.

Perspectives on the situatedness of media

Joshua Meyrowitz argued, in his No Sense of Place: The impact of elec-
tronic media on social behavior (1985), that increasing electronic medi-
atization renders physical location irrelevant and, thus, that electronic
media transform our understanding of place. Interestingly, this claim has
sometimes been referred to as the starting point for a “spatial turn” in the
field of media studies (see, e.g., Falkheimer and Jansson, 2006) because
it sparked debate and was challenged by many scholars (e.g., Morley,
2000; Moores, 2007; Scannell, 1996). Since then, several interdisciplinary
volumes have combined an interest in the spatial and material dimensions
of media with an understanding of technology as shaped in interaction
with users (e.g., Berry, Kim, and Spigel, 2009; Couldry and McCarthy,
2004; Crang, Crang, and May, 1999; Falkheimer and Jansson, 2006; Munt,
2001; cf. Appadurai, 1996 on “mediascapes”). These conceptualizations of
the entanglements between place and media (old and new) also shed light
on the interplay between online and offline dimensions that we describe
in terms of hybridity.
For instance, “MediaSpace,” a term coined by Nick Couldry and Anna
McCarthy in 2004, encompasses “both the kinds of spaces created by
media, and the manifest effects that existing spatial arrangements have
An introduction 5

on media forms as they materialize in everyday life.” It “defines the arte-

factual existence of media forms within social space, the links that media
objects forge between spaces, and the no less real cultural visions of a
physical space transcended by technology and emergent virtual pathways
of communication” (Couldry and McCarthy 2004: 2). Jesper Falkheimer
and André Jansson (2006) propose the term “geographies of communica-
tion” to designate a similar approach, centred on “how communication
produces space and how space produces communication” (page 9) in the
light of contemporary spatial ambiguities because of increasing mobility
and interactivity. And Berry, Kim, and Spigel (2009) discuss the “elec-
tronic elsewheres” that emerge when media reconfigure or even produce
space, in the material and lived sense as well as through the construction
of imaginaries.
While media scholars have turned to geography and spatial theory in
recent years, geographers have also acknowledged the need for studying
media. For instance, Paul C. Adams (2009) maps the field of communi-
cation from a geographical viewpoint by outlining how various kinds
of media are enmeshed in and also produce physical space in different
ways. A number of themed journal issues have specifically addressed the
geographical implications of Internet use, the impact of geographic space
on the structuring of virtual space, and the ways in which the Internet
is always embedded in offline power relations (Adams and Wharf, 1997;
Dodge, 2001; Ayoyama and Sheppard, 2003; see also Crang, Crang, and
May, 1999).
In addition to these interdisciplinary volumes, the immersion of (old
and new) media in everyday life has been the focus of many influential
case studies. To name but a few, works on the incorporation of televi-
sion (Spigel, 1992) as well as computer and Internet technologies (Aune,
1996; Bakardjieva, 2005; Lally, 2002) in domestic spaces or screens and
television in public spaces (McCarthy, 2001) have all provided insights
into the ways in which media produce specific forms of socio-spatial
practices. This strand of research has offered in-depth understandings
of how technologies are redefined in accordance with existing norms
and ideologies (regarding, e.g., public, private, gender, and family), and
thus how media contribute to the reproduction and/or transformation
of social relations. But not only do media and media artefacts trans-
form the spatial settings where they are incorporated; the incorporation
and “domestication” can also transform the meaning of the media tech-
nologies themselves in ways that remind us of what we think about as
context-specific online/offline hybrids.
Although the present volume focuses specifically on the merging of
offline and online modalities more than on the general interplay between
media and place, the above-mentioned works have been valuable for
pointing out the situatedness of traditional as well as digital media. They
all, in various ways, demonstrate how media integrate into people’s
6 Lindgren, Dahlberg-Grundberg and Johansson

material realities and lived experiences, shaping everyday activities and

discourses; they also point out the importance of understanding media
as both technology and representation. However, many of the previous
works have taken as their point of departure particular physical places –
the home, the workplace, or public places – in order to show how these
affect and also are affected by media technologies, media representations,
and media use. This book, instead, starts out from broader thematic fields,
where the negotiations between online and offline dimensions have proved
to be of particular significance.

Straddling the online/offline divide

Early studies of digital culture tended to describe online and offline as
essentially quite separate domains (Castells, 1996; Rheingold, 1994;
Turkle, 1995). Whether utopian or dystopian in their approaches to cyber-
space, such accounts built on – and upheld – a sharp distinction between
virtual, cyber, or non-physical dimensions and the physical, offline world.
This distinction was also essentially normative and hierarchical – although
life online was sometimes described as liberating, the physical world was
nevertheless attributed the status of “real” or “authentic.” In contrast,
online activities and identities were often understood as artificial, as simu-
lations, or as being simply of less importance.
With time and technological innovation, however, it soon became
apparent that online and offline were not isolated dimensions. People
bring offline norms and experiences to their online lives, thereby repro-
ducing offline power structures and discourses – and, in much the same
way, online activities impact on people’s offline existence. Scholars from
various disciplines began to turn their interest to this dialectic and started
to see reality and virtuality as existing on a continuum rather than as
two antagonistic poles. The concept “mixed reality” (Milgram and
Colquhoun, 1999) came to describe this state in between, and although the
concept has been used primarily in the field of interaction design, it also
had some relevance for social and cultural studies (see, e.g., Galloway,
2004).1 Media theorist Lev Manovich (2006) developed the ideas in his
essay on “augmented space”: “the physical space overlaid with dynami-
cally changing information” such as multimedia forms and mobile tech-
nologies (2006: 220). If mixed reality referred to the hybrid environment
of augmented reality and augmented virtuality (cf. Galloway, 2004), then
Manovich’s augmented space attempted to capture all of these dimen-
sions. The question for Manovich was whether the new configurations of
information in space also brought about a fundamentally new experience
(immersion) – or if it should be seen as additional to the “old” experience
In recent years, discussions have emerged also around concepts such
as “hybrid media” and “hybrid spaces,” both of which can be seen as
An introduction 7

extensions of the mixed reality paradigm. Here, Adriana de Souza e Silva

(2006) and Eric Kluitenberg (2006) have addressed in productive ways
the interplay between symbolic and material dimensions of media. Souza
e Silva argues that hybrid spaces are new types of spaces that emerge
through the use of mobile technologies. Mobile interfaces tend to erase the
distinction between the physical and the digital in ways that not only rede-
fine our social relations, but also transform the spaces in which these rela-
tions take place. Hybridity, here, seems to lie in the potential for mobility:
the mobile connection creates a “doubling of place” at the same time as it
allows for continuous movement (de Souza e Silva, 2006: 269). However,
in a response to de Souza e Silva, Jordan Frith (2012) argues for a critical
examination of differences in mobility and technology access. Frith prob-
lematizes the claim that hybridity is socially rather than technologically
produced, because “without access to the right technologies, there is no
access to the hybrid space. The space remains unchanged for the millions
of people for whom the additional digital information imbedded in the
physical space may as well not exist” (2012: 133).
That hybrid media culture can challenge as well as reinforce hierar-
chies, and that it may also generate new power asymmetries is one of our
tenets in this book. Our approach to hybridity, however, is less focussed
on mobile technologies and location awareness systems. Although we
acknowledge the importance of mobility and public space in the advance-
ment of hybrid culture, the focus of this volume is on the particularities of
the online/offline relationship as it is produced, enacted, and experienced
in relation to a number of empirical themes. In this respect, our work is
perhaps even more indebted to Eric Kluitenberg’s approach to hybridity.
Based on a definition similar to that of de Souza e Silva, Kluitenberg
emphasizes the critical perspective in his discussion of the political impli-
cations of hybrid space.
A critical approach is also found in the edited collection Online Territories:
globalization, mediated practice, and social space (Christensen,
et al., 2011). The authors do not talk about hybridity, but they address
changes in space and experience provoked by online technologies and
practices in ways similar to our approach. Building on Lefebvre’s and
Bourdieu’s theories of space, the volume also brings ideas of boundary
work into the understanding of online media. “Online territories,” then,
refer not only to online practices and online social territories, but they also
take into account the extension of pre-existing means of territorialization
and material-economic aspects of inclusion and exclusion. Here, the mate-
rial and the virtual appear to be entwined in intricate ways.
Another strand in research on hybridity, worth a short mention here,
focuses on the merging of “old” and “new” media forms. Andrew
Chadwick (2013), for instance, investigates “hybrid media systems” in the
context of political communication and, more specifically, in the construc-
tion of political news. Similar ideas regarding the hybridization of media
8 Lindgren, Dahlberg-Grundberg and Johansson

forms are expressed in, for example, Henry Jenkins’s (2006) concept
“convergence culture” and Bolter and Grusin’s (1999) “remediation.”

Hybridity as spatial occurrence

While describing hybridity as an occurrence, rather than as a thing or an
unintelligible process, Jenkins (2006) stresses how spatiality is always a
relevant dimension of hybrid relations.

… hybridity occurs when one cultural space … absorbs and trans-

forms elements from another; a hybrid work thus exists betwixt and
between two cultural traditions while providing a path that can be
explored from both directions.
(Jenkins, 2006: 113)

One can discuss, however, whether this description really describes

hybridity. First, one can interpret his depiction as focussed on the form
rather than on the content. With this perspective, the result of the occa-
sional assembly is not really emphasized. Furthermore, the converging
entities appear to be quite uninfluenced by the conjunction itself: they
“meet” in a common space, interact, produce something new – which
nonetheless is partially intrinsic to their respective autonomous status
– and later retract (unaffected) to their original state and position. If we
understand hybridity as a process that not only introduces something
radically new but also, or perhaps mainly, as an occurrence that describes
a fundamental change in the constitution of the interlinked principles,
Jenkins’s description falls short. Kluitenberg (2011: 11) on the other hand
argues that:

Hybrid Space offers a conception of space as a layered construct

where media and embodied spaces no longer are considered to exist in
parallel or in opposition, but rather coexist as heterogeneous elements
and flows superimposed upon each other as sedimentary layers within
the same spatial confine.

Describing hybrid space as a layered and processual construction in

which “media and embodied spaces” (online and offline) are constantly
enmeshed overcomes the problems with Jenkins’ definition. One could
perhaps talk about a dynamic hybridity, a hybridity always in the making,
always becoming something else, something new. If the hybrid hypothesis
contains an approximately accurate description of the world (i.e., online
and offline are compatible sociocultural dimensions that incessantly
strengthen or undermine each other), the dilemma of the digital divide
becomes much more salient, much more pertinent. If the world that iden-
tities are constituted in is affected by economic, cultural, and/or social
An introduction 9

capital, so will be the virtual extension or dimension of that world. We

must therefore constantly consider how digital tools for communication
are related to – and perhaps bound by – economic, cultural, and soci-
etal relations of power. Hybridity, then, appears as a useful concept for
analyzing contemporary society and culture. But when Kluitenberg (2011:
11) goes on to elaborate his discussion, some problems appear.

All spaces are hybrid in this sense, consisting of natural, built, phys-
ical, and informational elements, and flows of life, trade, information,
exchange, signals, noise and radiation, each with a specific spatial
logic and distinctive characteristics that convey localised presence
as well as influences from afar. Hybrid Space is discontinuous and
volatile, always varying in density or ‘thickness’. The expansion
of wireless transmission protocols and wireless network technolo-
gies have greatly added to the density, thickness, and complexity of
hybrid space.

We feel that this line of reasoning, while employing the notion of

hybridity, simultaneously drains it of parts of its analytical and critical
value. If all aspects of sociocultural spaces are to be understood as hybrid,
how are we to use the concept in practical analyses? Will it not then amount
to nothing? If all spaces are hybrid and, moreover, “discontinuous and
volatile,” how are we then to distinguish the hybrid condition from other
conditions? A similar problem is also found in the following passage:

The overlaying of physical public space with novel kinds of techni-

cal protocols and their wireless network capacities engenders the
intensified hybridisation of embodied social spaces. All social spaces
are hybrid in that they consist of material structures and immaterial
flows of knowledge, culture, trade, and communicative exchange.
The rapid proliferation of wireless network technologies increases the
density of hybrid space with a thick layering of material substrates,
cultural and social flows, and technological protocols. This densified
thickness of hybrid space creates new spaces of opportunity as well
as new forces of coercion.
(Kluitenberg, 2011: 43)

This excerpt contains an adequate description of contemporary society

in the sense that it brings forth the virtualization of non-virtual spaces
and that network connections are becoming more and more impor-
tant. The problem, however, is akin to the one touched upon above. If
all social spaces – virtual or not – have been transformed into hybrid
entities permeated by “immaterial flows of knowledge, culture, trade,
and communicative exchange,” what is then the critical and political
potential of the notion? Also, the view expressed fails to acknowledge
10 Lindgren, Dahlberg-Grundberg and Johansson

the material – offline – factors that tend to limit the virtual possibili-
ties inherent within virtuality (cf. digital divide). We argue that even if
the online and the offline now constitute a more or less unitary sphere,
one must still take into account that forms specific to the pre-digital still
play a role. It is therefore important to constantly criticize the “old” with
concepts emanating from the “new” and vice versa.
It must also be noted that the concept of hybridity, as perceived and
employed throughout this book, is first and foremost an analytical one.
The fact that hybrid relations and spaces may be said to exist is not to be
taken as a normative assessment, indicating that the world from now on
will develop in a specific and certain direction. For sure, some subversive
groups use digital technology to criticize society with the aim of over-
throwing prevalent social structures. But those in positions of power also
have access to the same technologies, and quite often to an even greater
extent, while also having more resources at their disposal. As van de
Donk, et al. (2004: 19) note,

… not only social movements but also their opponents profit from
ICT’s advantages [meaning that we must not] assume that the existing
constellation of powers is fundamentally changed as long as all actors
use ICTs to similar degrees.

Therefore, we must take Gamson’s (2003: 267) remark seriously: “The

notion that the Internet works against central structures is at best incom-
plete, at worst dangerously obscuring.”

Exploring hybrid media culture

The rationale for this book is that because the boundary separating the
online/digital and the offline/non-digital is outmoded, it is time to abandon
such delimitations in favour of notions that more adequately can address
and describe a world in which this division has become irrelevant. As
we have discussed above, however, this does not necessarily mean that
all divides – social and cultural – are rendered obsolete. One possibility,
which contains what is needed to transgress this divide, lies in the concept
of hybridity.
Globalization, postmodernization, and digitalization have taken
us to a state wherein discourses, identities, and places are increas-
ingly fragmented, contingent, and hybrid. This book, then, focuses
on the more specific type of hybridity that results from the effects of
the Internet and digital culture on perceptions and uses of identities,
bodies, and localities. But such entities are always embedded in the
complex relationship between the online and the offline, between the
virtual and the physical. We will explore this terrain through a set of
case studies.
An introduction 11

Chapter 2, “Hybrid embodiment: doing respectable bodies on YouTube,”

by Anna Johansson, addresses the interplay between bodies online and
offline. The chapter draws on a qualitative study of user-generated online
videos on the topic of self-harm in order to show how bodies and embodied
practices might be represented, understood, and negotiated in and through
digital media. More specifically, Johansson investigates how bodies are
brought online through textual and visual means, how embodied identi-
ties are produced and enacted, and the ways in which this involves various
regulatory and disciplinary practices. Furthermore, the chapter points to
the interconnectedness of online and offline worlds by discussing how
online bodies are seen as interacting with, and potentially threatening,
viewers’ physical bodies.
Chapter 3, “Visibility and surveillance in a hybrid media culture,” by
Eric Carlsson, provides a theoretical discussion of the relationship between
visibility and surveillance in the context of digital media from three inter-
secting perspectives. As its starting point the chapter takes the concept of
the panoptic gaze to discuss how new media platforms can be understood
as a site where social control is managed. In order to gain a better under-
standing of the relation described above, the notion of synopticism and
the interplay between new and old media is discussed. The third perspec-
tive to be examined is the individualization of surveillance and here the
connection between digital media, empowerment and identity-building is
scrutinized. A conclusion that is drawn in this chapter is that it seems to
have become more legitimate to watch others and to be watched by others
in today’s hybrid media culture. Visibility and surveillance has become,
not only associated with monitoring by states and commercial sectors,
but has also become a tool for political resistance as well as a means for
subjects to build identity.
Chapter 4, “The hybrid emergence of Sámi expressive culture,” by
Coppélie Cocq, focuses on how the Internet has become a site for adapta-
tion of traditional cultural practices as well as the production and emer-
gence of new ones. The chapter investigates the digital as the locus for
expressive culture in the context of revitalization using the specific case
of the Sámi indigenous people of Scandinavia. The ongoing revitalization
of Sámi culture and languages requires changing community attitudes,
a process that can be observed online and offline. But more importantly,
revitalization is a process that is initiated and put in practice on many
scenes, and the Internet is certainly one of these. This study investigates
the intersection, overlap, and tensions between online and offline sites.
It exposes three dimensions of hybridity: between traditional aesthetic
practices and their representations online, between the vernacular and the
institutional, and between local and global aspects.
Chapter 5, “Hybrid political activism and the online/offline divide,” by
Michael Dahlberg-Grundberg, discusses whether digital tools of commu-
nication have the potential to transform political activism and other modes
12 Lindgren, Dahlberg-Grundberg and Johansson

of political participation. The chapter discusses how a hybrid condition –

that is, a world in which online and offline are enmeshed, where the virtual
and the material dimensions of political discourses coalesce – influences
strategies and tactics for conducting political work outside conventional
political arenas and, also, how this hybrid conceptualization of politics
is understood by activists. The chapter thereby attempts to address how
online political activism is related to and interplays with offline political
initiatives. By, on the one hand, using interviews with activists and, on
the other, studying written accounts of how online technology supposedly
affects political spheres (for better or worse), the chapter will examine
if, and how, digital components of communication have affected how
activism has been and is understood in connection to the activists them-
selves and to the political discourses associated with them.
Chapter 6, “The hybrid discourse of digital piracy,” by Simon Lindgren,
is centred around the questioning of previous notions of authorship,
ownership, and property rights in digital culture. The digital condition
has led to the emergence of new understandings of originality and copy-
right. The clash of perspectives has been the most prominent in the area
of digital piracy, where large numbers of people have organized in file
sharing networks that have – more or less explicitly – challenged the
industries of publishing, records, films, games, and software. The conflict
came into clear expression in relation to the internationally noted trial
(2009) between a consortium of international intellectual rights holders
on the one side and the owners of leading torrent site Pirate Bay on the
other. The chapter will address the issue of hybridity through an analysis
of news discourse, court documents, and ethnographic accounts of hack-
tivist activities carried out by Pirate Bay supporters during the trial. The
aim is to illustrate and discuss how these conflicting notions of property in
the digital age rely on different and incompatible epistemologies (systems
of knowledge), which are in turn related to conflicting ontologies (ideas
about materiality and place).
Chapter 7, “Social support online,” by Ragnar Lundström, investigates
how the Internet can be used for social support. The chapter is based on
a case study of the activities in and contents of an online forum used by
victims of domestic violence. The analysis is focused on how “victim”
and “supportive” subject positions are constructed in relation to different
sites and practices of social support. Particular attention is devoted to the
ways in which such constructions relate to giving as well as receiving
support. The chapter aims to develop a theoretical understanding of the
relationship between online and offline practices of social support and of
the specific ways in which these two dimensions of practices intersect in
hybrid processes of healing and rehabilitation.
Chapter 8, “Hybrid churches: transcending the physical, virtual,
and sacred,” by Stefan Gelfgren, analyzes similarities and differences
between churches in the physical world and virtual churches in the online
An introduction 13

environment Second Life, and on what grounds one can talk about these
virtual places in terms of hybrid spaces. Christian churches and their
representatives have used the Internet as a means for communication
for some decades. But what happens when a church – in itself trying to
bridge the gap between the physical and sacred – moves into a virtual
world? The Internet and digital media are gradually intertwined into
the religious faith and practices of many believers today, and the virtual
church building highlights the interconnectivity between the virtual and
the physical. This chapter analyzes the churches as a hybrid space in the
intersection between the realm of the physical, virtual, and sacred.
The concluding Chapter 9 borrows from the three-fold theoretical model
from Lefebvre’s The Production of Space (1974). This means that the
chapter will be developed around the three themes of conceived reality,
lived reality, and practised reality. Spaces are complex social construc-
tions that are based on processes of meaning production that affect spatial
practices and perceptions. The hybrid media places emerging from
the spatialities produced in digital culture are often contradictory and
conflictual and, ultimately, political. The chapter highlights the need for
a research shift within digital media studies from a focus on spaces and
places to a focus on the processes of their production.

1 Terms such as “ubiquitous computing,” “tangible interfaces,” “everyware,”
and “Net Locality” were also launched to account for the pervasiveness of
digital technologies in everyday, material life (e.g., Greenfield 2006; Gordon
and de Souza e Silva, 2011; Ishii and Ullmer, 1997; Weiser, 1991). Although
they share some of the tenets of this book, most of these concepts are also
developed in the context of computer science and interaction design and we
will leave them aside here, focusing instead on sociocultural approaches.

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2 Hybrid embodiment
Doing respectable bodies on YouTube
Anna Johansson

The late 1980s and early 1990s witnessed a surge in utopian and dystopian
rhetoric around ‘cyberspace’, in research as well as in popular culture. Both
utopian and dystopian approaches seemed to build on the notion of disem-
bodiment: the idea that technological advancements and the creation of
virtual worlds would render the physical body irrelevant and obsolete (for
an overview of debates and perspectives see, e.g., Lupton, 1995). Feminist
scholars saw a liberatory potential in that the disappearance of the physical
body, or at least the invisibility of physical traits in ‘cyberspace’, could offer
an escape from restraining norms and categories such as gender, race and
disability. According to this celebratory rhetoric, technology would make
it possible for people to construct their identities in new ways, regardless
of their positions in the physical world (for various approaches to such
claims see, e.g., Balsamo, 1996; Haraway, 1991; Stone, 1991).
Over time, however, the emphasis on disembodiment shifted. Research
showed that hierarchies and limiting categorizations do not disappear with
the emergence of virtual worlds, and scholars of digital culture started
instead to acknowledge the significance of the body in human-computer
interaction. Since then, attempts have been made to overcome the virtual/
physical binary, which is seen as merely mapping onto a traditional mind/
body dichotomy that privileges cognition over embodiment (e.g., Ajana,
2005; Hayles, 1999). In the context of digital media, this interplay of infor-
mational and material dimensions has perhaps become even more obvious
in recent years, when access to video technologies has changed much of
our online interaction from text-based to visual. Perspectives on digital
embodiment have also been furthered by media scholars such as Hansen
(2006), Wegenstein (2006) and White (2006), all of them in different ways
describing the physical body as intertwined with, and also constitutive of,
media and media use.
The entanglement of online media and offline embodiment, together
with the ubiquitousness of the digital in everyday life, calls for a thor-
ough investigation of how bodies are produced and negotiated in specific
hybrid environments. This chapter sets out to examine one particular case
where the issue of bodies in hybrid media culture is brought to the fore:
Hybrid embodiment 17

user-generated self-injury videos on YouTube. Online representations of

self-injury have flourished over the past years, and this has given rise to
some debate (e.g., Boyd, Ryan and Leavitt, 2010). In early 2012, the micro-
blogging platform Tumblr banned blogs seen as promoting self-harm
from their services,1 and other social networking sites such as Pinterest
and Instagram soon followed suit.2 At the time of this study YouTube did
not have an explicit policy on the matter, but the dangers of online self-
injury communication were nevertheless frequently discussed in video
comments. This testifies to the perceived interaction of online and phys-
ical bodies, which is also part of what I want to focus on in this chapter
by asking questions such as, how are bodies enacted and negotiated on
YouTube? What norms and values are at play?, and how is the relation
between physical and digital embodiment conceptualized in the particular
context of self-injury?

Self-injury on and off YouTube

In clinical contexts, self-injury or self-harm3 is defined as a deliberate
injury of body tissue without suicidal intent (e.g., Favazza, 1996: xviii–xix).
Although it is possible to self-harm in many different ways, cutting seems
to have become the paradigmatic form of injury over the past decades, and
this is also the type that proliferates on YouTube. It is typically explained
as a means of regulating affect and thus of coping with strong emotions or
chaotic experiences (Klonsky, 2007), albeit that, from a clinical point of
view, self-injury tends to be seen as a faulty coping strategy. Its increasing
prevalence in many Western countries has therefore attracted attention in
the public debate as well as in the clinical community (e.g., Johansson,
2010: 47–83; Madge, et al., 2008). Particular concerns have been raised
that self-harm might be promoted and triggered on and through the Internet
(Whitlock, Powers and Eckenrode, 2006; Whitlock, Lader and Conterio,
2007), and YouTube has been pointed out as a specific risk (Lewis, et al.,
2011). Although this argument is sometimes oversimplified and specula-
tive, it nevertheless points to important and controversial aspects of hybrid
embodiment that I will address further on in this chapter.
From a sociocultural perspective, a few in-depth studies have inves-
tigated the meanings of self-harm online (e.g., Adler and Adler, 2011;
Gradin Franzén and Gottzén, 2011; Johansson, 2010; Sternudd, 2011,
2012). By showing that online arenas not only have triggering func-
tions but that they can also provide opportunities for self-harmers to
find support, to tackle social stigma, and to overcome pathologiza-
tion, these studies complicate the above picture and are thus important
complements to the clinical perspectives. However, they often lack a
thorough conceptualization of the role of digital technologies in relation
to self-harm as embodied practice. This is the kind of discussion that
this chapter sets out to initiate.
18 Johansson

Method, material and analytical approach

Since its launch in 2005, YouTube has come to be known as the major
video-sharing Web site and thus one of the most prominent contemporary
examples of participatory culture (see Burgess and Green, 2009a; Lovink
and Niederer, 2008; Snickars and Vondereau, 2009). A YouTube search for
self-harm or self-injury results, as I write this, in approximately 70,000
videos. For the purpose of this chapter, I have reviewed the first 100 of
these hits together with their comments in search for parts with an explicit
address of the body. While some of the videos are information materials
produced by health care services, patient organizations, or established
broadcast media, a large part is created and published by self-harmers or
former self-harmers themselves. These videos can be roughly divided into
two categories: what I call video blogs and montages.
Video blogs, or vlogs, are, according to Burgess and Green (2009b: 94)
‘fundamental to YouTube’s sense of community’ in that they are easy to
produce and also invite instant feedback and interaction among members.
In the context of self-injury, vlogs are videos where a cutter or an ex-cutter
– in most cases a young woman – speaks to the camera (and, accordingly,
to the viewers) about topics related to her experiences of self-injury. Many
videos address specific issues, such as, for instance, treatment and medi-
cation, how to cover up scars, or how to deal with difficult relationships.
The number of views differs greatly: some vloggers have large follow-
ings and regularly produce videos on requests from their viewers, whereas
others are much less frequently viewed.
The same applies to the second category of videos, montages, which can
be broadly described as still image slide shows accompanied by music.4
The photos included are typically generic close-ups of body parts covered
with scars or bloody cuts, often combined with text slides presenting facts
about self-injury or, alternatively, about the produser’s5 personal story
of self-harm and mental illness. Sometimes there are images of razors,
flowers, young girls with their heads turned away from camera, and
the colour palette is nearly always black and white, with occasional red
elements. While some of the photos are obviously taken by the produsers
themselves, many are reappropriated from previous videos or other sites
in ways that illustrate the workings of what scholars such as Lawrence
Lessig (2008) have termed ‘remix culture’.
The body is present in the videos in many different ways. This is
perhaps most evident in that the YouTube platform and the video medium
allow for visual representations, but the body is also rendered meaningful
through linguistic means. In fact, talking about self-injury as an embodied
practice also always means talking about the body. However, my focus in
this chapter is on that aspect of the body that is most explicitly addressed
in the material – the physical marks left by acts of self-injury – and I
have surveyed the videos and comments in search for linguistic as well as
Hybrid embodiment 19

visual practices relating to such marks. The analysis is informed by post-

structuralist discourse theory as introduced by Laclau and Mouffe (1985)
and elaborated by Glynos and Howarth (2007; see also Carpentier and
Cleen, 2007; Dahlberg and Phelan, 2011 for examples of how this theory
can be applied in the field of media studies).
Grounded in the assumption that social reality is always discursive
and contingent, this perspective sheds light on how the meaning of the
body is articulated and negotiated in and in relation to YouTube videos
and how this interplays with particular constructions of self-harmer iden-
tity. I understand an identity to be a position in a discursive structure that
subjects can attach themselves to through acts of identification – acts that
in turn may reproduce the identity (Glynos and Howarth, 2007: 129–32;
Hall, 1996).6 What I want to focus on in this chapter is the level of identifi-
catory practice: the individual and collective acts through which produsers
are turned into particular kind of subjects.
However, discourse theoretical approaches often have neglected the
fact that identification is always an embodied practice. For this reason,
I have found Ferreday’s (2003) and Boero and Pascoe’s (2012) respective
studies of the so-called pro-ana7 movement fruitful. Whereas Ferreday
emphasizes the ways in which online communities can be built on a sense
of shared embodiment, Boero and Pascoe describe embodiment – both
online and offline – as ‘performative, relational, and constructed through
discourse’ (2012: 30). Much like meaning in a wider sense, the body
too must be understood as brought into existence through performative
or articulatory practices, where some ways of ‘doing’ body gain a more
hegemonic status than others.

The marked body brought online

Cutting leaves marks on the body – first as scratches or wounds, and then
later in the shape of scars. These marks can last many years after a person
has stopped practicing self-injury or stopped identifying as a cutter. For the
individual, the scars may be materialized memories of upsetting events or
feelings in the past – and when seen by other people, they can function as
grounds of identity ascriptions, prejudices, and possibly discrimination.
This is also one of the reasons why many people resort to publishing
their stories on YouTube. Xsullengirlx, one of the most frequent and
popular vloggers, explains why she produces videos with tips on how to
cover up marks from self-injury: ‘People shouldn’t have to suffer humilia-
tion … I have been there too many times, and it really hurts when people
stare or make rude comments about scars’, she explains in the comment
section to one of her videos. A substantial number of other videos about
self-injury scars also indicate that the marks can be difficult to deal with
and that they are treated as grotesque and appalling by non-cutters. Some
produsers describe being ridiculed and bullied or – as xsullengirlx above
20 Johansson

– stared at by strangers in ways they are not comfortable with. Whether

it is the self-injurious practice per se or the resulting marks that are in
fact considered stigmatizing is not entirely clear. In any case, the body
is bearer of the stigma, as this is the medium through which acts of self-
injury are usually made visible – and thereby knowable – to other people.
Against this backdrop, the motivation for publishing YouTube videos
seems to be partly therapeutic and partly political – to find support, but
also to spread awareness and to counter the perceived stigma of mental
illness and self-injury. For instance, video blogger 60reeve describes her
experiences in one of her vlog clips:

For me personally, I have come to terms with my scars [and things

like that] and I think, well, if … somebody isn’t okay with it or doesn’t
want to see it, don’t look. Ehm, most people who know me know that
I do these videos, know that I run the e-mail support … and know
things that I’ve been through because I’ve made it part of, you know,
what I want to do is to, educating people about it. So obviously, you
know, I haven’t kept it a secret, obviously I haven’t gone around saying
‘oh, I self-harmed, I self-harmed’, but I have said, you know, in the
past, I have, and told people about the theory behind it. Ehm, about …
you know, how it starts, how you quite often get stuck in it, and, you
know, some of the stereotyping that you get, some of the stereotyping
isn’t real, you know, I’m kind of teaching people all about it. And I
mean, through that, obviously, I have come to terms with my own
scars, you know, and dealing with things in other ways.

Here, online practices and identifications seem to have engendered

changes in how 60reeve perceives herself and her physical body. This
is also one example of how the use of YouTube, through its specific
affordances in terms of openness, publicity, and produser interactivity, can
be a strategy for challenging definitions of the marked body. By bringing
their bodies online, in words and images, 60reeve and others may reject
the ascribed deviancy and instead articulate new – embodied – identities
for themselves (cf. Adler and Adler, 2011: 108–27).
As I will demonstrate throughout this chapter, such attempts at rearticu-
lation and destigmatization are neither unambiguous nor without prob-
lems. Instead, they unfold a system of formal and informal regulations as
to how the self-injured body should be presented online, where explicit
attacks on cutters pervade the comment fields of some videos. What is
indeed displayed through this ambiguity is the significance of physical
bodies in a seemingly disembodied online space. The body’s status as
a site for dispute and antagonism is obviously one aspect here, but the
body – or the bodily practice of self-injury – is also what brings people
together in the first place. ‘The community itself is rooted in the corpo-
real, and a sense of belonging derives from coming into contact with other
Hybrid embodiment 21

bodies that are like one’s own’, writes Ferreday (2003: 285) in her discus-
sion of Web sites promoting an anorexic lifestyle.8 Similarly, the collective
address in videos such as Downtownpatrol’s Should we hide our scars?
illustrates how the articulation of a shared identity – ‘we’ – at the same
time enacts a particular kind of embodiment, a scarred body, inseparable
from this identity (cf. Boero and Pascoe, 2012: 31).
In this sense, YouTube can be seen as a nexus for produsers’ embodied
identities. The self-harmer’s cuts are transposed from the physical body
to the digital domain, and as the medium in some sense becomes part
of the body, the body also becomes part of the medium (cf. Wegenstein,
2006). Media scholars have pointed out in recent years how pervasive
computing and mobile technologies allow for simultaneous presence
in several different places (e.g., de Souza e Silva, 2006), and although
this often refers to presence in a mental or social sense, the self-injury
videos actually seem to transpose physical presence – or parts of the body
– from one modality to another. It could be argued that this is always
true for representations of the body, but the fact that bodies on YouTube
are dynamic and enacted in continuous interaction with other bodies or
embodied subjects suggests that this is a specific form of hybrid embodi-
ment shaped through particular digital technologies.

Body battles
The stigma of cuts and scars is, obviously, related to their being – volun-
tarily or involuntarily – exposed to others, and while the individual may
very well – and for many different reasons – dislike her own scars even if
no one knows about them, feelings of shame or discriminatory experiences
are always socially induced. To counter the stigma by rearticulating the
meaning of scars is therefore only one strategy for destigmatization that
is practised in the material; another one is simply to cover up in order to
pass as unmarked. As long as scars and cuts are concealed, the individual
runs no risk of being positioned as Other; but ‘if you’re gonna go out and
show your scars, then … you’ve got to kind of be prepared for anyone that’s
gonna … attack you …’, as Downtownpatrol explains in her vlog.
Her statement can be seen as characteristic in this context. As a matter
of fact, many vlogs discuss the best ways to conceal the marks, while
the vloggers are at the same time critical of their stigmatization. Clothing
recommendations, tips on special bracelets, and instructions on how to
use certain skin and make-up products are some of the recurring themes.
Whereas these clips construct a position as ‘self-injurer’, identification
with this position apparently includes behaviours that actively prevent
disclosure of the physical marks. In other words: identifying with a destig-
matized position as a self-injurer also necessitates a particular way of
doing body in terms of practices (covering up) as well as attitude (wishing
to pass as unmarked).
22 Johansson

Most of the vlogs even reinforce this through their genre-specific conven-
tions. The only part of the body that is usually shown in the video blogs is
the face or possibly the upper body of the speaking vlogger – which can
be contrasted to the montage videos that often include close-ups of open
wounds or scars. Corporeality is obviously less visual in the vlogs because
no cuts are typically displayed in front of the camera. Despite the fact
that many vloggers advocate a destigmatized self-harmer identity (criti-
cizing the norms), in practice, by rendering marks invisible, they tend to
reproduce the unmarked body as desirable (sustaining the norms). Videos
that display cuts and scars, such as montages, are indeed both common
and popular, but they also tend to get more negative comments than those
where body marks are not exposed.
What this suggests, then, is that there are several competing claims
as to what it means to be a self-harmer and that certain ways of doing
bodies may be considered more appropriate or legitimate than others.
The title of this section, ‘Body battles’, can be read as a reference to
such struggles over how self-harmer identity should be enacted and,
thus, which bodies are allowed to take place, to be seen or shown. Two
areas of conflict are particularly noticeable here: the distinction between
showing and showing off and the distinction between pro-self-injury
and pro-recovery attitudes.

Showing or showing off?

I don’t want to be showing them off, I just want to feel confident with
them on show.

This statement, expressed in a vlog by Achildatheartforever, draws atten-

tion to the significance and meaning of visibility in relation to the marked
body. Achildatheartforever is talking about her scars and how to deal with
them and, like many others, she negotiates the fine line between being, on
the one hand, a confident (ex-)cutter and, on the other hand, mistaken for
a drama queen:

I used to have a friend who self-harmed. She didn’t really have a

reason for self-harming, ehm, and … I think she did it for atten-
tion basically. [ … ] So basically she was self-harming, and she …
showed off her cuts basically. You know, she wore a short-sleeved
t-shirt, she wore, like, skirts and then you could see the ones on her
legs, and it was just so obvious. So obvious. … You gotta think,
you know, are people showing off their scars because they want
attention, or are they doing it for what I feel like I want to do it for,
which is, like, confidence, and kind of showing that … you’re over
it, you know, it was in your past and you’re not ashamed of what
Hybrid embodiment 23

Two radically different interpretations are posited against each other

in this account: the view of visible scars as signs of unjustified attention-
seeking and the view of visible scars as authentic and genuine signs of
confidence (cf. Johansson, 2010: 104–15, 2011). Other video produsers
make similar distinctions; for instance, Downtownpatrol explains her
opinion on showing scars.

I think it’s totally acceptable if it’s not because you wanna be the
centre of attention. I’m not talking about the attention-seeking where
you’re kind of like, deprived of attention and you cut for attention,
I’m talking about you’ve got a scar or scars and you wanna be … you
know, like all eyes on you. … I’ve really got nothing against people
that do show their scars, I think it’s … and I think it’s a really brave
thing to do. Eh … and as long as you’re not, you’re showing your scars
for the right reasons, I think that’s totally fine.

Strongly normative in her categorization of some reasons as more

‘right’ than others, Downtownpatrol draws on the same arguments as
Achildatheartforever. Confidence and courage are here too contrasted
to ‘attention-seeking’ – but because the individual’s intentions are rarely
transparent, the ambiguity regarding the meaning of exposed scars seems
to remain unresolved.
The excerpts above address the question of how to deal with marks in
offline contexts, but the issue of display is also often raised in relation to
YouTube as an online social arena. It is frequently discussed whether scars
or cuts should be presented in videos at all. As already mentioned, such
graphic imagery appears to be central to the category of montage videos,
where the body is so often exposed in fragments: broken, bleeding. And
this is exactly one of the reasons why montages are sometimes regarded as
controversial – the visualized scars are interpreted as unwarranted calls for
attention, much like in Achildatheartforever’s statement above. In contrast,
very few vlogs include the display of body marks, although there are such
examples in my material. One is a video by inu449, a young man – a fact
that is exceptional in itself – who sits talking about his cuts and scars while
presenting them to the camera. Even though some viewers state that they
consider this to be brave, it provokes strong reactions from others:

I’m not saying your doing this for attention, but the way you say it, and
the attitude you have it seems like you are. I could never show people
my cuts/scars, especially not 28 thousand people on youtube. and than
i would never even explain (!!) how i cut wtf is wrong with you!!!! I
can hardly look at my own cuts without feeling like shit. “this video
took loads of guts” Bullshit. Maybe insted of talking about how you
self harm, talk about how you can stop it?!?! Xxxx
24 Johansson

It can be easier to show scars on YouTube, because it is anonymous

usually. I agree though, it’s usually better and has more point, in
talking about the subject of SH, and how it can be prevented.
(xXJeeXTeeXAyeXmanXx replies to yourjustsocute)

When browsing through YouTube in search of research material, I

also encountered another video clip where a young woman, who calls
herself CAMillekolXX, lies on a bed, her head facing the camera. At
first she talks about people’s reactions to self-injury and friends that
have let her down, and then she starts counting her cuts and scars while
holding up her arms and ankles to the camera. This goes on for a couple
of minutes before she ends the recording. Many viewers apparently
see the video as provocative; in the comment section, people express
anger and resentment, accusing CAMillekolXX of being a self-centred
attention seeker. When I return to the page a few days later, the video
has been taken down because of its violation of the site’s community
It is impossible to know for sure whether the video was removed because
of the visible cuts. Other, even more graphic depictions are accepted –
especially when they are still images in montage videos. I would none-
theless argue that it is the very display of and approach to bodily marks
that puts a video at risk of being heavily criticized or even removed.
YouTube has the right to terminate the accounts of users who violate the
site’s terms of use and community guidelines, including posting videos
of ‘bad stuff’, ‘graphic or gratuitous violence’, and ‘gross-out videos of
accidents, dead bodies and similar things’.9 Moreover, YouTube users
can themselves report videos as being offensive or inappropriate, which
might eventually lead to their removal from the site or the imposition
of an age limit. The practice of ‘flagging’, as this reporting is called,
hence works as a form of (self-)censorship from within the community
(Kampman, 2008: 156). This is one illustrative example of how techno-
logical affordances work together with body norms in the production of
hybrid embodiment.
Nowhere do CAMillekolXX or inu449 excuse themselves – they
do not even attempt to justify their display of scars – and it is this
apparent shamelessness that seems to upset viewers. As we learned from
Downtownpatrol, scars are unproblematic as long as they are displayed
for the ‘right’ reasons, which in this context seem to be about restoring
self-respect, spreading awareness, and fighting stigmatization. A fine line
is drawn here between manifestations of confidence and manifestations
of boastfulness, which means that a video where scars are not displayed
for the ‘right’ reasons and with the ‘right’ attitude may be taken down
or give rise to outraged comments and dispute. Similar distinctions also
underlie discussions regarding the dangers of certain types of self-harm
Hybrid embodiment 25

Pro-SI or pro recovery?

In my opinion, showing photos of self-harm is glorifying it, in a way.
Or maybe glorifying it is the wrong word. It’s not helpful at all to
people to see that, it triggers some people and inspires them to do it.
It’s not safe.
(xsullengirlx replies to haleygoeswhoohoo)

Visual representations of scars are often described as promotional or

triggering, and just like other content considered celebratory of self-
harm, they are sometimes criticized for being ‘pro-SI’, pro self-injury.10
However, pro-SI is itself a contested category. The term is a parallel to the
so-called pro-ana phenomenon, which describes an attitude or a loosely
organized movement that objects to the pathologization of anorexia,
demanding instead that it be seen as a deliberate lifestyle choice. Pro-ana
emerged with the proliferation of personal homepages and the increased
accessibility of the Internet in Western countries, and the community-
building still happens online. Whereas a great deal of this is simply about
socializing, pro-ana content is also characterized by tips and tricks on
starvation and purging, and by so-called thinspiration imagery – photos
of emaciated bodies to be used as inspiration, spurring starving viewers
into even more extreme starvation practices (e.g., Boero and Pascoe, 2012;
Riley, Rodham, and Gavin, 2009; Yeshua-Katz and Martins, 2012). Media
alarms about a thriving pro-ana community, together with pleas from a
U.S. eating disorder advocacy group, led Internet service provider Yahoo
to ban pro-ana content from their servers in 2001 (Dias, 2003: 36). Other
Web hosts followed, but the closing down of pro-ana sites only led the
movement to go underground and develop various strategies to escape
surveillance (Brotsky and Giles, 2007: 95).
Although the discussion around pro-SI has not been as extensive or
unanimous as around pro-ana, the prevalence of self-injury online seems
to have increased together with the overall rate of self-harm over the past
decade. As mentioned in the introduction, it has led a couple of sites to
ban certain types of material. Although this sparked some critical discus-
sion, most of the responses on YouTube seemed to support their decisions.
A few critical voices were raised that pointed mainly to the difficulties in
distinguishing between harmful and non-harmful content and to the right
and need to vent one’s feelings in public:

I’m against the policy. I vent on my blog and I post a lot about my ED.
Sometimes I will put things that are seemed as proana/mia because
at the moment that is how I feel. Sometimes I become pro self harm
because I write about how a razor makes me feel. Keep in mind I
never post pictures or give tips. I would never wish this life to anyone.
If you are triggered by something don’t follow the blog or tag. This is
26 Johansson

what bothers me about the policy that my blog can be deleted when I
am at my weakest.

I’m kinda confused. How will they know if someone is a pro ana
or pro sh etc blog? And I don’t think there are very many pro self
harm blogs most of them are mostly are there to help others and
give advice plus most of them have a trigger warning in the bio so if
some doesn’t want to see that type of stuff why do they follow? Plus
I follow some of those blogs and a lot of them have helped me they
give good advice and ways to cope I probably would of cut more if
they wernt there.

The most prominent voices on YouTube seem to support the ban,

however, and, judging from the selected videos, the site’s self-harm
community tends to uphold the view of certain materials as bad and
harmful. As mentioned, an explicit policy on pro-SI materials has not
yet been implemented here, but questions of what can be shown and how
nevertheless appear to be central in the comments. Users are encouraged
to report material that promotes self-injury,11 and the produsers them-
selves are involved in an ongoing struggle over what is to be counted as
pro-SI. Typically, the definition comprises all kinds of graphic or visual
presence of self-injury marks. It is almost as if visual representations are
considered pro-SI by definition – and even more so when they seem to
lack justification or some sort of self-regulation, as in the example with
There are, however, attempts at challenging this definition. One example
is the idea presented below that graphic images can be used for preven-
tive or alleviating purposes (cf. Sternudd, 2012), which would redefine the
meaning of photos and other graphic material:

Has anyone ever thought that perhaps these pro-self harm blogs can be
helpful? Sure as hell stops me from starting up again.

thats a contradiction. Pro self harm are blogs that encourage people to
self harm or start. It may be different for you, but they’re thinking of
the vast majority of people.
(xsullengirlx replies to chryshtagross)

Actually, it’s not. They may be pro-self-harm, but at the same time
they’re easily showing why not to do it by glorifying it. Scars, cuts,
bruises, all of that has stopped a lot of people I know personally from
doing anything to hurt themselves. By openly showing what it’s really
Hybrid embodiment 27

like, you expose it. Only easily manipulated people actually look at it
as a way to continue/start the SH bad habits. I know I personally didn’t
start it from looking at pictures or blogs.
(chryshtagross replies to xsullengirlx)

Yeah for me seeing a bunch of scars on people as encouraged me not

to cut, and if I do cut not to cut a lot and deep because those scars look
sick. There’s some gruesome cuts people show that are huge and deep
and when I look at them it makes me not want to cut.
(haleygoeswhoohoo replies to chryshtagross)

That’s exactly my point. Everyone looks at things like that as if it could

be ‘triggering’ but really it usually has the opposite effect. Either way,
banning it from the internet is stupid. It’s still in movies, TV shows,
songs, magazines. And as we all know, when you blatantly tell people
not to do it, that it’s wrong, it makes them want to do it even more.
(chryshtagross replies to haleygoeswhoohoo)

This extract shows that the discourse around self-injury is not clear-
cut but fraught with conflicting opinion as to what constitutes a trigger
or what kind of materials should be seen as promotional or encour-
aging of self-harm. Furthermore, it reveals some of the underlying
tensions between different categories of self-injurers, for instance,
when chryshtagross positions herself in opposition to those ‘easily
manipulated people’ for whom visual representations of self-harm may
cause trouble. What is highlighted here is the ways in which discus-
sions on self-harm scars and pro-SI also involve attempts to define
how proper self-harmer identification is to be enacted and the ways
in which this involves not only certain bodily practices – such as
covering up or uncovering – but also a particular attitude towards the
injured body. Although there are divergent opinions and constantly
ongoing negotiations in the material, however, I would argue that the
stance represented by chryshtagross and others is often marginalized.
Instead, a different way of doing body seems to acquire hegemonic
status in the material: one that might be best described as the enact-
ment of embodied respectability.

Respectability as hegemonic embodiment

The devaluation of ‘attention-seeking’ practices or pro-SI attitudes can
be seen as ways of excluding some forms of embodiment from the destig-
matized self-harmer position and thus of managing the boundaries of the
online community. By positing certain approaches as Other, xsullengirlx
and other produsers are able to create and to claim a higher valued identity
for themselves:
28 Johansson

I’ve always had the stand against posting pro-self-injury things on the
Internet. Like I said in the, a lot of videos in the past, ehm, I’ve kind
of been lumped in with the, ehm … you know, the glorification videos
of self-injury and the pro self-injury videos, and the triggering and
grapher, graphic, videos on YouTube and on blogs and things like that.
And I think there is a huge difference between, you know, a regular
channel or a blog or something, someone talking about mental illness,
and a blog or a channel showing graphic imagery, glorifying self-
injury or eating disorders and basically giving people tips and tricks.

In other words, the antagonistic construction of pro-SI and visualized

scars can be interpreted as ways of attaching oneself to a respectable self-
harmer identity, which in turn is defined by doing a respectable body – a
body passing as unmarked, normal, and healthy. Respectability is here
defined in accordance with a normative young femininity that values
modesty in appearance as well as behaviour (Ambjörnsson, 2004: 57–65;
Skeggs, 1997: 158–76).
This ideal of moderation obviously exists in parallel with other forms
of embodiment, but it nevertheless tends to gain a hegemonic status in
the material. Not only is it frequent in videos and comments, but it is
also in line with views upheld by the site – that promotion of self-injury
is bad and that visual representations of self-injury are inherently promo-
tional. I would argue that the production of respectability in this particular
context is underpinned by a number of assumptions regarding gender, age,
and pathology. The idea that people engaging in self-harm (i.e., primarily
young women) are particularly susceptible to ‘harmful’ influences builds
on a discourse about girls as vulnerable and in need of protection (cf.
Aapola, Gonick, and Harris, 2005: 40–55), which is also entwined with
the view of mental illness as signifying irrationality and lack of self-deter-
mination or free will (e.g., Busfield, 1996: 51–75, 105–8).
In the context of YouTube, these discourses become further entangled
with the assumption that online content and practices can have a devastating
impact on offline lives. Embodied practices and experiences tend to be
understood as hybrid, in the sense that online bodies are assumed to interact
with the viewers’ physical bodies – and visual enactments are construed as
particularly threatening here. As Ferreday (2003) argues in the context of
pro-ana, the insistence on bringing the body online, in all its visuality, can
itself be provocative because it challenges the disembodied nature of digital
media. The understanding of visuality as a threat, however, seems to apply
mainly to parts of the body that do not conform to mainstream beauty stand-
ards or ideas about what a proper, healthy body should look like. The anal-
ysis of self-harm videos thus illustrates that not only bodies but also norms
regarding gender and, especially, young femininity and female embodiment
are brought online, where they inform the enactments of self-harmer iden-
tifications. In order to inhabit YouTube as a cutter, one should preferably
Hybrid embodiment 29

comply with these gendered norms regarding body as well as behaviour

and, as xsullengirlx phrases it, ‘vent all you want, responsibly!’

Conclusion: bodies in hybrid media culture

The survey of self-injury on YouTube points to three interrelated aspects,
which are all significant for the enactment of hybrid embodiment in this
context. First, and perhaps most obvious, the (gendered) body is clearly
present in online settings, contrary to early claims about the disembodied
nature of digital or ‘virtual’ media. In fact, online platforms such as
YouTube appear as the condition of possibility for – and also an effect of –
certain kinds of embodied enactments. As I have demonstrated throughout
this chapter, a shared sense of embodiment can be used as the starting
point for collective identifications and formation of online communities.
Second, bodies are subjected to various regulatory and disciplinary prac-
tices in online spaces, just like in life offline. Such regulatory practices may
contribute to the delegimitization or devaluation of certain bodies (male;
open; or visibly marked), whereas others (female; enclosed; unmarked or
invisibly marked) are rendered normative. This builds on and at the same
time reinforces existing norms, both regarding self-injury as a feminine
practice and regarding the desirable (female) body. As such, the disciplinary
practices and the view of visual representations as dangerous feed off ideas
about mental illness and young femininity, thus showing how discourses on
gender and body norms travel through different modalities.
The third aspect that I want to emphasize here is how online regula-
tion of embodiment relies on a certain conceptualization of the relation-
ship between the digital-representational and the physical-material. This
aspect is most clearly demonstrated in debates on pro-SI, triggers, and the
risks inherent in graphic representations. Not only might online interac-
tion and online social relationships affect produsers’ perceptions of their
physical bodies, but it is also assumed that online bodies have a more or
less direct impact on their physical counterparts.
In sum, the threat of online representations to affect offline bodies
works together with offline body norms transposed to online representa-
tions in order to regulate bodies on YouTube. This shows how online and
offline must not be treated as two separate domains, but that the very
hybridity between these modalities is constitutive of the body and enacted
embodiment in the context of self-injury videos.

1 http://staff.tumblr.com/post/18132624829/self-harm-blogs, 2012–04–24.
2 Information from http://blog.pinterest.com/post/19799177970/pinterest-
updated-terms (2012–04–24) and http://blog.instagram.com/post/21454
597658/instagrams-new-guidelines-against-self-harm-images (2012–04–24).
30 Johansson

3 Although the terms self-injury and self-harm sometimes refer to slightly

different practices, for stylistic purposes I have decided to use the terms
4 Not all of these videos are explicitly attributed to cutters – some are, for
instance, produced as part of school projects. I nevertheless have chosen to
include them in this study.
5 The term ‘produser’ was coined by Axel Bruns (2008) as a way of furthering
discussions around online participatory cultures and the collapse of the
producer/consumer binary in the wake of Web 2.0. In contrast to the previ-
ously popular concept ‘prosumer’, which is merely seen as a well-informed
and active consumer of traditional mass media, Bruns suggests that social
media may engender new forms of user-led content creation and collabo-
ration – a producer-user-consumer hybrid. While it may be argued that
YouTube is a commercial arena and thus not necessarily user-driven or user-
led, I have nevertheless chosen to describe video makers and commentators
as produsers, mainly because the term emphasizes their active involvement
with as well as the interactive dimension of the videos.
6 My use of the term identity is similar to that of ‘subject position’. One reason
why I prefer to use ‘identity’ is to avoid an overly theoretical language;
however I am aware that the term’s stronger ties to vernacular language also
risk evoking static or essentialist understandings of identity.
7 Pro-ana is short for pro-anorexia, a phenomenon that will be discussed at
greater length elsewhere in this chapter.
8 A somewhat similar perspective is also suggested by art historian Hans
Sternudd (2008, 2011, 2012), who demonstrates how user-generated photos of
self-inflicted cuts and scars can provide opportunities for identification and
intimacy because of their decontextualized and generic character.
9 http://www.youtube.com/t/community_guidelines (2013–01–29).
10 Another term that is sometimes used is pro-SH, pro-self-harm.
11 http://support.google.com/youtube/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=126269

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3 Visibility and surveillance in a
hybrid media culture
Eric Carlsson

It is often stated that, in today’s world, everything has become more open
and transparent because of the new digital media. Technologies such as
Web mapping, geotagging, smart phones, social networking media, and
the like, have enabled states, corporations, groups, and even individuals
to track events and people by coordinates of time, place, and vision, and
hence have made the world more visible in a sense (Lyon, 2007). These
changes are indeed signs of an emerging hybrid media culture, where
more and more people are connected constantly to various media devices,
Wi-Fi networks and cloud computing are increasingly accessible, and the
previously assumed borders between offline and online worlds seem to
The hybridity of mediated places also seems to carry with it a promise
of producing more active and engaged media users. New media have
been said to facilitate user activity and participation for a wide range of
purposes, often in the form of improvised, ‘low-quality’ visual recordings
and text messages, which are produced, distributed, and shared online.
As more and more people are using mobile technologies – publishing
images and texts on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and the like – the
flow of visual and textual representations has increased dramatically. On
Facebook alone, the number of photos uploaded each day exceeds 300
million.1 An explosion of visual documentation increases the opportuni-
ties for various agents to monitor social media users.
Digital media have also been made into political signifiers. They are
– just as streets, town squares or other public spaces are – presumed to
constitute a foundation for political action (Butler, 2011; Nilsson and
Carlsson, 2013). In recent demonstrations, such as those in North African
countries and the Middle East, however, protesters are not only political
actors, but are also objects and subjects of surveillance. People become
objects of surveillance because their activities and whereabouts both
online and offline are visible for authorities (and others) to monitor. At
the same, time they become subjects participating in surveillance as they
produce their own accounts in the form of visual and textual documenta-
tion of oppression and political mobilization.
Visibility and surveillance 35

New media have opened up increased participation and transparency

in many different sectors of everyday life. But they also have proved to
be an efficient tool for monitoring people and their behaviour. Digital
media are, as Poster states, always ‘double-edged … , allowing greater
freedom for individuals and groups and greater control by dominant
institutions’ (Poster, 2008: 690). In this chapter I explore different forms
of surveillance exercised in state and commercial sectors as well as in an
ever-expanding individual domain. In short, the aim is to examine some
of the various meanings of surveillance that may occur within a hybrid
media culture. The following questions are posed: What does it mean to
be watched and to watch over others in a hybrid media landscape? How
do these new forms of monitoring relate to power, control, and resist-
ance? How may digital technology and surveillance help individuals and
groups attain subjectivity and build identities? I will set out from three
intersecting positions or analytical perspectives: the position of being
watched (panopticism), the position of being an observer (synopticism),
and finally the position of being a producer of surveillance (individual-
ized surveillance).

Panopticism: digital watchtowers

Visibility, surveillance, and digital technology cannot be discussed
without mentioning Michel Foucault and his writings on the concept of
panopticism. In academia, Foucault’s (1977) presentation of the eight-
eenth-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s panoptical prison model has
dominated as the theoretical base for explaining contemporary surveil-
lance practices. Some claim that within the surveillance research field,
that very model has become synonymous with surveillance itself (Franko
Aas, Oppen Gundhus, and Mork Lomell, 2009). As a metaphor for power,
the Panopticon refers to an ideal system that functions as a ‘socio-mate-
rial template’ for control in a wide range of modern institutional settings
such as schools, hospitals, factories, and prisons (Simon, 2005: 2). At the
heart of this diagram of power is the notion of the visible subject. The
idea is simple: subjects placed under the panoptic gaze never know if they
are watched or by whom and they therefore will become their own over-
seers. The panoptical system attempted to connect bodies, social relations,
knowledge production, and the disposition of space to social control. As
a disciplinary technology, it would make social control subtler and more
efficient because the exercise of power would become anonymous, autom-
atized, and depersonalized (Dreyfus and Rainbow, 1983: 192). In this way
Foucault saw panoptic surveillance not mainly as a repressive power but
as a strategy to develop modern societies in terms of the rationalization of
economy, education, public morality, and so on. In short, it was a model
that made it possible to exercise power more efficiently in basically any
institution in modern society (Foucault 1977: 206).
36 Carlsson

But can one say that panopticism has become entrenched in the digital
age as well? Almost a quarter of a century ago, Mark Poster described
information societies in terms of a ‘Super-panopticon’, that is an ampli-
fied form of panoptic power under which publics seem to be disci-
plined to participate in surveillance through a wide range of electronic
communication (1990: 93). Present-day technologies like biometric ID
cards, commercial client databases, loyalty cards at the supermarket,
RFID-tags for tracking consumer products, digital video surveillance,
and, more recently, social networking media are examples of how new
technologies may help states and political institutions as well as private
organizations and individuals to monitor people and their behaviour
more effectively and more extensively (Lyon, 2007). ‘Behaviors are
mined for meaningful data, tracked for illegal data’, to use the words of
Galloway (2006: 319). One can side with those who argue that contempo-
rary surveillance has perhaps become more routine and more total than
ever before. However, the nodes of inspection are not always centralized
(as in the panoptic model) but are also, as Robins and Webster point out,
‘multiple and differential’ (1999: 121). Thus, in the age of digital media,
people are not only visible to multiple gazes at the same time, but they
are also surveilled for multiple purposes. Yet there is always a hierarchy
among different gazes.
Some parts of these newer forms of digitalized monitoring (or ‘data-
veillance’) include or exclude people on the basis of certain prescribed
codes and the users’ ability to participate interactively in digital media.
Although the effects of these systems may be automatic and continuous,
the rules of conduct are not necessarily internalized through self-discipline
as assumed in the panoptic model, but depend on access to certain codes
built into the different technologies of control that are available (Deleuze,
1993; Rose, 1999; Galloway, 2006). As Simon states, ‘[t]he object of tradi-
tional disciplinary surveillance is the body but in dataveillance the object
of control is simply the digital representation of the body. … Your biom-
etric double, already programmed into the machine, is what allows you to
pass (or not)’ (Simon 2005: 15–16).
How does this relate to a position of being watched? In some situations
it certainly may be difficult to fulfil the conditions ‘to pass’ or to conform
to the rules of ‘normality’, no matter how much you attempt to discipline
yourself. The purpose of at least some forms of today’s surveillance, such
as iris recognition or biometric passports, is to detect and deny access
for those who, for several reasons, do not fit in (such as ‘illegal immi-
grants’), whereas the main purpose with the panoptical model is inclu-
sion – to refine ‘useless and disturbed populations’, to use the words of
Foucault (1977: 210), by making them improve themselves with the help of
supervision and subtle coercion. Nevertheless, to be subjected to a field of
visibility (whether it excludes or includes) may indeed be related to power
and control, only now the watchtowers have multiplied and become digital
Visibility and surveillance 37

as well. Modern surveillance has therefore been described as ‘a regulation

at a distance’ (Yar, 2003; Lyon, 2007: 99).
A related aspect of being watched in a hybrid media culture is that
the fields of visibility that people may be exposed to have become omni-
present because of the different kinds of new media environments in
which people engage. The gathering of knowledge about individuals and
groups is thus bound not only to specific physical spaces like the cells in
Bentham’s prison, or to the factory, school, hospital, and so forth, but is
also more widespread. In brief, the opportunities to monitor people have,
as Trottier and Lyon (2012) also assert, increased because of the ubiquity
of digital media.
Parts of the multifaceted surveillance of today have also been described
in terms of a ‘digital enclosure’, which refers to a system of communi-
cation and distribution of data that feeds from information generated by
the many users of networked communication technologies (Andrejevic,
2007: 212). This system encompasses commercial and state surveillance
as well as more individualized forms of monitoring. In the digital enclo-
sure, information about individuals and groups accumulates by the minute
and is constantly collected, stored, shared, sold, and supervised, to a large
degree, simply for economic reasons and because people are encouraged
to participate in new media (see also Bauman, 1998; Brighenti, 2010;
Trottier and Lyon, 2012). A problem here, related to what surveillance
and visibility may mean, is that people simply might not be aware of the
constant monitoring (see also Andrejevic, 2007). The watching itself is
hidden, not always visible.

Synopticism: mediated observatories

Another area connected to the relationship between surveillance and an
increasingly hybrid media landscape is that of traditional mass media.
In the media, people (audiences) have not been primarily constituted as
objects under scrutiny, but as viewers. Mathiesen (1985, 1997) described
contemporary culture at the time as not only a panoptic society, but also
as a ‘viewer society’. In the mass media ‘the few’ (that is members of
the elite or of deviant groups) were put under the gaze of ‘the mass
audience’. He named this a synoptic system of power, where the many
watch the few, as opposed to panopticism, where the few watch the
many. These two systems are not separate, however, but work together
and reinforce each other. Synoptic power is exercised through the
reproduction of norms and opinions held by a few institutional elite
groups who have had the most access to mass media, those who suppos-
edly are watched by the many. Media power also lies in knowledge and
ideology production and in the media’s authorization as important and
trustworthy presenters and definers of what is going on in the world
(Hall et al., 1978; Allan, 1999).
38 Carlsson

As an example: due to intensified surveillance during the post-9/11

period, viewers of news media have, on numerous occasions, had the
opportunity to be informed how elite sources – such as security experts
and politicians – promise more control to protect society and prevent
new terrorist attacks, using refined security technologies and intensi-
fied surveillance (Lyon, 2002, 2003). News reports on the war on terror,
and more specifically the terrorist attacks in London in 2005, are exam-
ples of an expression of contemporary synopticism merging with the
panopticism of urban environments in modern societies (Carlsson,
2009). An often-quoted statistic is that the average Londoner is caught
on film from closed circuit television (CCTV) systems approximately
300 times a day.2 London, being one of the most camera-monitored
cities in the world, can for that reason be described as a good site for
panoptic surveillance (McCahill, 2003). Swedish newspapers, covering
the terrorist attacks in London, offered media audiences the position of
‘viewers’ of CCTV footage of terrorists. Images depicting the terrorists
practising in London ten days prior to the attacks, as well as only hours
before the bombs detonated, were handed out to the news media, which
used them in their reporting of the events as the major form of visual
representation of the perpetrators (Carlsson, 2009). The suicide bombing
in Stockholm in 2010 was also captured by a security camera in a nearby
shop, and the event aroused promises from authorities to intensify future
monitoring of potential terrorists in Sweden. In both these cases, news
media may have contributed to legitimizing demands for intensified
surveillance in society.
It is perhaps no surprise that the connection between surveillance and
visual media has been strong in the news, but arguably the strongest
connection has been forged in the genre of reality television (see McGrath,
2004; Jewkes, 2004). Images from surveillance cameras have circulated
since the mid-1980s in numerous so-called real-crime television shows
like Crimewatch UK (1984), Cops (1989), or the Swedish counterpart,
Efterlyst (Wanted) (1990). Long before that, photography (such as police
mug shots) was used for crime control and to produce records of ‘deviant’
individuals and groups in, for example, crime reporting (Jermyn, 2005;
Armstrong and Norris, 1999).
In September 2012 another crime, caught on video by security cameras,
took place in Stockholm’s subway. Swedish and international viewers –
the incident soon became a worldwide news story – were able to watch
surveillance footage showing an unconscious man on the rail tracks getting
mugged by a perpetrator who left the victim on the rails to be run over by
a train. The surveillance video was released by the police and shown as
a form of ‘video-wanted-poster’ (Doyle, 2003) in the Swedish real-crime
television show Efterlyst (Wanted, episode 3, s45). The fact-driven voice
of surveillance footage seems to place these kinds of images in a visual
regime of realism. The composition of them, as well as the way they are
Visibility and surveillance 39

produced, may contribute to the impression that such images represent the
raw material of reality – that they depict things as they are in ‘real life’
(Machin 2007: 137). There is little or no editing in this type of imagery;
and they are not staged because the presence of CCTV cameras in urban
settings, such as Stockholm’s subway system, ensures an automated and
continuous visual capture that is not dependent on photographers being in
a certain place at a certain time. In the show (Efterlyst), the potential audi-
ence were constituted not only as spectators, but they were also asked to
help identify the suspect depicted on surveillance video. Thus they were
positioned as active co-producers of surveillance. Real-crime television,
in general, has been said to promote itself as an extension of the law by
promoting ‘law-and-order solutions’ to crime and by inviting audiences to
help solve crimes that are presented; surveillance-related visual material
(CCTV footage, but also stories accompanied by ‘amateur’ photography)
therefore often triggers an impression of activation of the viewers (Doyle,
2003; Biressi and Nunn, 2003; Koskela, 2004).
And it was certainly so in this case. In the example of the ‘subway
mugger’, the spectacle seems to be the most important issue because it
allows viewers to watch the crime take place and it allows them to attain
a feeling of being potentially active in solving the crime if they happen
to recognize the person caught in the field of visibility. Perhaps one can
say that individual members of the audience attain a form of subjectivity,
where they are not only passive spectators but also more active users
of media. Soon after the crime became known to the public, Facebook
groups were started, with tens of thousands of ‘likers’ (2012–09–17). The
commentary threads showed examples of public engagement and outrage.
These sites flourished with comments about criminality, punishment, and
immigrants (often in a quite populist manner), which may indicate that the
users of media themselves actively contributed to the discursive produc-
tion of law-and-order solutions to crime. The example of the mugging in
Stockholm’s subway illustrates a form of hybrid merger between not only
old and new media, but also between synoptic and panoptic gazes. The
‘realness’ of the spectacle becomes as important as the deviancy of the
perpetrator and vulnerability of the victim, the ones subjected to surveil-
lance. Media audiences, on the other hand, are constituted as viewers of
crime, encouraged to participate indirectly in surveillance, and at the
same time are provided with the ability to reproduce knowledge and social
norms themselves through their involvement.
I would like to add to this the notion of an ever more ‘participatory
culture’ of digital media (Jenkins, 2006). This participatory culture can
be described primarily not as a few-to-many system (like the Panopticon)
nor as a many-to-few system (like the Synopticon), but as a many-to-many
system that may support a more multidirectional participation in surveil-
lance and communication (Jarrett, 2008; Carpentier, 2011). Buzzwords
like ‘social media’, ‘convergence’, ‘participation’, and ‘interaction’ signal
40 Carlsson

that previous binary relations like producer/consumer, offline/online,

analogue/digital as well as relations between the watcher and the watched
have become increasingly harder to separate. The recent expansion of
digital technology has extended the field of visual scrutiny and blurred the
line between the observer and the observed even further, and has led to
more individualized forms of surveillance.

Individualized surveillance: the power of the self-made

People may have a more direct role in producing surveillance themselves,
which is the third analytical perspective discussed in this chapter – the
individualization of surveillance. New technologies that fuel surveillance
have become much more refined; they have been given the function not
only of managing crowds, but also of recognizing individuals and making
individuals participate in surveillance, thereby even empowering them
(Koskela, 2003; 2009). The facial-recognition system incorporated in
Apple’s iPhoto may serve as a basic example of the function of everyday
surveillance practices that gather knowledge as form of organization and
control over individuals. The application automatically identifies a face
in a collection of images. Social networking media such as Facebook and
Google use a similar system, where users are prompted to tag images of
their friends. This information is automatically collected and recognized
by the system and shared to other clients in the network.
New equipment, like mobile phones and other networked devices, which
are now in the hands of a great number of people, and the emergence
of new media spaces where users can disseminate various content they
have produced have made it easier for almost anybody to produce surveil-
lance in the form of self-made media material (Koskela, 2009). Related
aspects are that new media also can help to build identity and increase
the possibilities to take control over the lifeworld of those who are using
digital devices (Albrechtslund and Nørgaard Glud, 2010). Technologies
of communication are seen as potentially enabling and empowering for
individuals and groups who may use, and often are encouraged to use,
digital media to act upon themselves and their identities. Digital media
are considered to function as technologies for self-development that may
help to achieve certain goals and improve the individual in terms of skills
and of attitudes – as a ‘technology of the self’, as Foucault puts it (1988:
18). In this final section of the chapter I want to consider how new tech-
nology may render people not only as objects of surveillance, but also as
subjects of surveillance, starting with an example of the power of self-
made images.
One of the first major media events that involved images from mobile
phones on a large scale was the reporting from the London bombings in
2005. Images taken at the bombsites, capturing the terrorist acts on video
as they unfolded, illustrate how individuals on the streets have become
Visibility and surveillance 41

a part of the production of news. More importantly, from the perspec-

tive of this chapter, the images also show how victims of crime and
passersby on the streets – traditionally portrayed as passive objects in
news media – attained a certain degree of subjectivity as they became
involved in surveillance as contributors of visual evidence and investiga-
tion (Carlsson, 2009). The so-called Twitter Revolution in Iran in 2009
and the Facebook Revolution in Egypt in 2011 are other media events
that relate to more individualized forms of surveillance. News accounts
portrayed protesters on the streets as well as on various social media
sites as engaged together in political demonstrations against the repres-
sive regimes. Reports of these events formed the notion of communica-
tion technology as significant for the organization of resistance (Morozov,
2011). Videos from mobile phone cameras were used to depict the authori-
ties’ abuse of demonstrators. Technology was seen as an emancipatory
force and came to represent how digital media could empower the indi-
vidual media user and contribute to social change. The notion of visibility
was at the heart of these media debates.
Scholars have for some time (Fiske 1994, 1998; Doyle, 2003; McGrath,
2004; Koskela, 2009; Carlsson, 2009, 2012) discussed how video record-
ings, captured by ordinary people’s cameras, can help to convey social
inequalities and abuse by authorities, especially when they enter main-
stream media. The hybrid mix between low-tech modes of representation
(the self-made) and the high-tech news discourse enhances an impression
of authenticity, as Fiske states (1994). Self-made visual material, uploaded
on sites such as YouTube, is indeed often badly framed, poorly lit, and
shaky in quality (see also Biressi and Nunn, 2003), which paradoxically
may strengthen the assumed ‘realness’ of such material. The home video
of the police beatings of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991 has become
an iconic example of this phenomenon (and of racism by the police). The
authenticity of that very video carried with it, as Fiske (and others) has
suggested, a metonymical linkage to ‘true’ experiences of the socially
disempowered (Fiske, 1994: 127; Butler, 1993).
According to the news narratives during the reports from the more
recent Twitter and Facebook Revolutions, protesters attempted to reverse
the relations of power with their mobile units as a means of counter-
surveillance and political resistance (Carlsson, 2009, 2012). These images
and videos spread through social networking sites and reached around the
globe to traditional media such as television and the press. In the reports
of the events, Western communication technology was seen as crucial for
the individual Internet user to organize protests and to unveil oppression
(Hands, 2011; Morozov, 2011). It was represented by the mass media as a
tool for making the regimes’ abuses visible to a global audience. Media
images of the revealing and monitoring of oppression and political injus-
tices thus became symbols of political resistance and of a power from
below (Carlsson and Nilsson, 2011). ‘Visibility is a trap’ is a classic phrase
42 Carlsson

describing the logic behind how power works in the panoptic sense
(Foucault, 1977: 200). To be visible is to be trapped under the normal-
izing power of the gaze. In other words, the discursive linkage between
social media and political resistance, articulated in mainstream media,
illustrates that even authorities (such as the military, the police, or other
institutions of power) may have to deal with the risk of being monitored
and therefore cannot escape the regulating forces of visibility.
Even though new media technology can be used for political resist-
ance and counter-surveillance by networked individuals (Koskela, 2004,
2009; Hands, 2011; Carlsson, 2012), as has been claimed in news reports
from the recent protests such as those during the so-called Arab Spring,
it might be important to acknowledge that such media material does not
function simply as unbiased description and proof of inequalities and
violence. On the contrary, I would suggest that the content of such mate-
rial is often contested and discursively fought over, both in the media and
elsewhere, such as in juridical settings. Communication technology and
self-produced media content thus can never be considered as neutral; its
meaning is always related to ongoing discursive struggles in society.
There are also other aspects of the individualization of surveillance.
Not only is it connected to a rapidly increasing digitalization of daily life
and to political resistance, but also to the privatization of control and a
general neoliberal development of societies (Bourdieu, 2000; Doyle, 2003;
Brown, 2003; Coleman, 2004; Fisher, 2010; Jarrett, 2008; Andrejevic,
2012). A neoliberal rationality is primarily focused on, as Brown states:
‘extending and disseminating market values to all institutions and social
action’ (Brown, 2003: 39). This rationality definitely seems to have found
its way into institutions and social practices of everyday media use and
especially into the realm of ‘social surveillance’ (Trottier and Lyon, 2012).
Risk management and personal profiling are today often executed, for
example, by private and commercial agencies – for commercial purposes
– in parallel with surveillance by state authorities. Here, however, I want
to focus on the individual as an agent of social surveillance, which recently
has become increasingly salient.
One way to describe these newer forms of surveillance practices is to
emphasize their alleged liquid and floating character. Much of today’s
online monitoring is ‘liquid’, Trottier and Lyon (2012) assert, because it is
flexible: it follows data flows, adjusts to unpredictable ways of using new
media, and adapts to the constant changes made in the features of social
media interfaces. An important aspect of the liquidity of surveillance that
Trottier and Lyon bring forth is that new technology is connected to iden-
tity construction. Social media can be seen as a powerful tool for building
identity because of the ‘ubiquitous opportunities for speaking about one’s
self as well as about one’s peers’ in today’s constantly connected world
(Trottier and Lyon 2012: 93). One of the major features offered by plat-
forms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the like involves the
Visibility and surveillance 43

practice of sharing personal data (profiles, conversations, photos, videos,

etc.) about oneself (and friends) online to be scrutinized by other networked
individuals and by third-party organizations that may have been granted
access to the shared information. In the realm of social networking media,
it thus seems that individual users voluntarily seek to become visible to
one another in order to be ‘successful’ in the others’ eyes. Put simply: the
whole point of this form of communication is to watch and to be watched.
An interpretation of the practice of producing visual and textual repre-
sentations about oneself on social media platforms is that it assists the media
user in developing as a subject and building identity. Participatory media
have the means to produce active subjects in a variety of ways. Sharing
personal information is, in some contexts, even celebrated as a form of
‘personal branding’ in line with a neoliberal idea of self-responsibiliza-
tion.3 The following excerpt is derived from the ‘Global Spokesperson of
LinkedIn’ at LinkedIn’s official blog: ‘Like professional athletes, we now
live in a time of career free agency, where we must regularly prove our
unique value in a competitive and frequently changing marketplace’.4 In
another example, Twitter is discussed as a platform for personal branding:
‘On Twitter you can get on the radar of recruiters, employer hiring deci-
sion makers, industry thought leaders, and subject matter experts. Identify
the right people to connect with, follow them, support them … , and posi-
tion yourself as a person of interest’.5
With a rhetoric derived from marketing discourse, social media users
are encouraged to empower and promote themselves by ‘selling’ differen-
tiated and competitive images and ideas about themselves and their lives
on various social media platforms. As Brown points out, ‘[N]eoliberalism
normatively constructs and interpellates individuals as entrepreneurial
actors in every sphere of life’ (Brown, 2003: 43). To place this argument
within the context of the realm of social media and personal branding,
individualization may come out as an important factor of these new forms
of social surveillance. Applications like LinkedIn may attempt to direct
users to ‘Check out who is viewing your profile’ and: ‘Learn about people
you’re meeting – right from your calendar’ (quoted from an e-mail ad by
LinkedIn, 2012–11–08). The practice of using digital media for the sake
of creating a brand of oneself facilitates both viewing others and being
viewed by others. So how does this relate to the linkage between social
surveillance and the production of identity?
This type of interpellation (Althusser, 2002), when users are addressed
as potential agents of social scrutiny and are encouraged to compete in
order to make themselves interesting and visible for others to see, adds to
the process of identity building because technology is assumed to enable
the individual user as an active and participatory subject. The practice of
sharing and viewing information can thus be considered as one way (of
many) to create a point of identification as to how one would like to be seen
by others. Social networking media can help us, it is assumed, to identify
44 Carlsson

with, as Žižek puts it, ‘the image in which we appear likable to ourselves,
with the image representing “what we would like to be”’ (Žižek, 1989:
116). The construction of identity in a social media setting is, of course,
not only in the hands of the individual user, but also in the hands of his or
her online friends: ‘“who you are” has always been a reflection of “who
you know”’ (Trottier and Lyon, 2012: 98).

Conclusion: power and resistance in a hybrid media

The aim of this chapter was to provide a discussion of the relationship
between visibility and surveillance in what has been labelled in this
book as ‘hybrid media culture’. The questions related to the intersection
between different analytical positions, reaching from the positions of
being watched and being a watcher to the individual production of surveil-
lance. In this chapter I have discussed only briefly some of the different
meanings of visibility and surveillance that occur in the context of digital
media and how they may relate to power, control, and resistance. It has
become easier and, supposedly, also more legitimate to watch others and
to be watched by others because of the features offered by the myriad
platforms for social sharing accessible today. In the first section of this
chapter, the linkage between the amplification of surveillance and digital
media was discussed in terms of panopticism. The emphasis was then put
on the relationship between surveillance and synopticism in old and new
media. Finally, the chapter discussed the individualization of surveillance
and how new participatory technology can help to manage political mobi-
lization and resistance as well as how technology can connect to identity
building according to overarching neoliberal ideals within contemporary
society (Brown, 2003).
In this chapter, digital platforms have not been considered simply as
tools for communication but as hybrid media places or ‘mixed places’
(see also Albrechtslund, 2012). The term hybrid media place signals that
it is not only a matter of the material structure of these mediated places,
but perhaps more importantly, as stressed by Koskela, about the social
processes that are bound to them or the networks of power relations that
define a certain space (Foucault, 1986; Koskela, 2003 :295). What relations
of power are bound then to the sites offered by Facebook, Twitter, and the
like? Following Butler (2011), who discusses political protests specifically
and their relation to communication technology, it is the use of such plat-
forms that might animate a room for different modes of social relations
– social surveillance, personal branding, political mobilization, repres-
sion, or whatever. But it is also true that the meaning of social processes
carried out at these sites is partly shaped by media representations in a
more synoptic sense and by the political economy of different interest
groups. The interplay between old and new media helps to constitute the
Visibility and surveillance 45

scene where political resistance and counter-surveillance may take place

through reports and images of street protests, but, at the same time, bodies
on the street form media representations of such events (Butler, 2011).
Technology makes information about repression reach global media, yet
the same information is bound to specific physical spaces and to those
who are protesting outside of the media. In other words, offline (localized)
worlds and online (globalized) worlds are linked together and dependent
on each other in a network of power relations that constitutes hybrid media
culture. Yet it is important to acknowledge the ambiguities of power that
these new technologies might bring about.
One can side with Brighenti (2010) and see hybrid media as ‘a certain
architecture of visibility’, where power and resistance are constantly exer-
cised (2010: 107). There are certainly fewer unseen locations today where
institutions, as well as individuals and groups, can exercise power without
the world knowing about it. As discussed previously in this chapter,
communication technology has allegedly become a weapon in the hands of
‘the oppressed’. The changes in media use triggered by digital media can
be seen as a new form of counter-surveillance: the distribution of digitally
produced images through the social media becomes a form of resistance
related to the production of knowledge. As Foucault put it, ‘[K]nowledge
follows the advances of power, discovering new objects of knowledge over
all the surfaces on which power is exercised’ (Foucault, 1977: 204). But
enhanced visibility and transparency may, of course, also be used as a way
to exercise power the other way around.
People who disobey, resist, revolt, or disturb the order in a society
are caught in the same fields of visibilities and might be subjected to
correction by the mechanics of control and surveillance. New hybrid
media places can be seen as ‘digital panopticons’ that make it possible
to record pretty much all events that take place on social media plat-
forms, with the consequence that media users, bloggers, and the like
may be corrected if they are seen as threatening to a certain regime or
organization. During the uprisings is Britain in the summer of 2011, for
example, political leaders announced the possibility of monitoring social
media users in times of street protests and riots. The authorities initially
even attempted to interrupt all communication that was considered to be
dangerous for society by shutting down social media.6 When this failed,
information and knowledge about rioters was gathered from social media
corporations in order to track down and prosecute the suspects. Many
bloggers and Internet activists around the world, also in democracies,
have been jailed and even disappeared for that reason (Morozov, 2011).
As Brighenti writes, ‘For subordinate people, the only effective resist-
ance may be invisible resistance, because whenever resistance becomes
visible it also provokes ferocious repression and retaliation from above’
(Brighenti, 2010: 181). A viable strategy then would be to avoid visibility
in an increasingly mediated culture, even though the opportunities and
46 Carlsson

the desire to become more visible to others unquestionably have increased

during the last decade or so.
It is salient that only a few years ago there was critical public debate
against intensified surveillance and monitoring. People seemed frustrated,
annoyed, and even resigned when they were exposed to surveillance like
security checks at airports, for example. Civil rights groups publicly
protested against visual surveillance practices, such as increased use of
CCTV cameras in urban environments or against the monitoring of ‘file
sharers’ on the Internet. A popular metaphor in these debates derived from
Orwell’s dystopian vision of a surveillance society where Big Brother, the
all-seeing eye, constantly keeps track of Oceania’s citizens with its ‘tele-
screens’ (Orwell, 1949). Now, ironically perhaps, people are doing every-
thing they can to place themselves into a field of visibility. Žižek talks
about a reversal of the panoptic society, where people’s greatest anxiety
seems to be not to be exposed to the gaze of a camera or to be invisible
to others in new media platforms (Žižek, 2002; Koskela, 2009). On social
media sites people and organizations even pay money to become more
visible (see Facebook’s ‘sponsored stories’).7
The will to put oneself under the gaze of others can thus be understood
as a way to ‘voluntarily’ become involved in a form of everyday social
scrutiny. The link between visibility and surveillance may thus come out
as more playful than what other dominant discourses of surveillance tell
us, such as the panopticism/synopticism metaphors discussed previously
in this chapter. Visibility and surveillance do not have to be associated
with a threat of intrusion of privacy or with a feeling of being under the
scrutiny of an anonymous and all-seeing eye, but rather as something that
people enjoy or even have a desire for – as something that may ‘empower’
the individual and build identity (see also McGrath, 2004).
One can imagine that the will to become visible to others comes from a
combination of panopticism/synopticism and neoliberal ideology. Digital
technology may help individuals and groups to attain subjectivity by
enabling them to socialize with other users, but also by defining them
as a kind of brand in a competitive market. These trends within digital
media are expressing, it seems, a form of self-discipline where people feel
obliged to adjust to existing norms of technology use. Some of the prob-
lems Fuchs (2012) stresses are that, even though many social media users
actually seem to be ‘well aware of surveillance and privacy risks’, they
might not see the option to stop using such sites because of potentially
‘reduced social contacts and the feeling of not participating’ in activities
that concern many people (2012: 61). Andrejevic describes this kind of
relation in the following way: ‘Thanks to market monitoring, the distinc-
tions between alienated and autonomous activity, at least in the context of
consumer behaviour, start to blur’ (Andrejevic, 2012:86). Perhaps one can
speak of hybrid media as part of a discourse that enables self-governance
and positions the individual as active, competitive, and willing to share
Visibility and surveillance 47

information about him/herself and friends in order to become the ideal

entrepreneurial citizen of the digital era (see also Jarrett, 2008). Visibility
and surveillance have thus become crucial parts of the hybrid media
culture of today.

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4 The hybrid emergence of Sámi
expressive culture
Coppélie Cocq

The Internet has become a locus for the adaptation of traditional cultural
practices as well as the production and emergence of new ones. This
chapter investigates the Internet as a venue for expressive culture in a
context of revitalization. It focuses on the specific case of the Sámi, indig-
enous people of Scandinavia. Today, a strong process of revitalization is
taking place within the Sámi communities, a movement that is a “delib-
erate, organized, conscious effort by members of a society to construct
a more satisfying culture” (Wallace, 1956: 265). Revitalization requires
changing community attitudes, a process initiated and put into practice on
many scenes, and the Internet is certainly one of them. Examining Sámi
practices in digital environments, this study investigates the intersection,
overlap, and tensions that result from the interplay between the online and
the offline.
For this indigenous people, expressive culture is a central aspect in
revitalization processes that finds articulation within the communities in
different arenas: at festivals, cultural meetings, political initiatives – in
the physical world and on the Internet. In this context, expressive culture
is emphasized in terms of continuity, but also through the production and
emergence of new expressions of folklore. Music, storytelling, and handi-
craft are examples of practices that have gained the status of traditions
and therefore have become essential in the articulation of Sámi identities.
Official websites, vernacular initiatives, digital environments, and social
media are places where traditions are shaped and emphasized.
In this chapter, I explore the dynamics of the emergence of expressive
culture in a contemporary Sámi context where online conduits are used
extensively. As I will show in this study, I identify three dimensions of
hybridity that act at different levels as mechanisms in interplay with one

Contemporary Sámi revitalization

Drastic changes in minority politics and the impact of digital technolo-
gies are only two of many aspects that have created new prerequisites,
52 Cocq

conditions, and possibilities for the Sámi minority. The complexity and
heterogeneity within the Sámi population urge us to be cautious when we
examine its contemporary expressive culture. Bearing in mind the width
of the Sápmi area, which encompasses parts of Russia, Finland, Sweden,
and Norway, the variety of languages and the various forms of livelihood,
the multiplicity of cultural traits and forms of expression is not surprising.
The lack of a census based on ethnicity makes any quantitative assess-
ments about the Sámi population vague; 2012 estimations indicate that
between 70,000 and 145,000 Sámi live in the Sápmi area. Politics of
assimilation affected the various Sámi groups in the four countries until
the Second World War and have resulted in the stigmatization of both
Sámi identities and symbols attached to them.
As a further consequence of minority politics, the ten Sámi languages
are today endangered. All of them are listed in the UNESCO Atlas of the
World’s Languages in Danger.1 According to the Atlas, one of the varie-
ties – Akkala Sámi, originally spoken in the Kola Peninsula – is already
“ extinct.” Three of the languages are “ critically endangered,” meaning
that the youngest speakers are grandparents and older who speak the
language partially and infrequently. Five of the varieties are “ severely
endangered” – that is, spoken by grandparents and older generations;
the parent generation may understand the language but does not speak
it to children or amongst themselves. The most spoken Sámi language,
North Sámi, is estimated by the UNESCO as “ definitely endangered,”
the second lowest level of endangerment, characterized by the fact that
children no longer learn the language at home as a mother tongue.
Despite this alarming situation, committed local communities suggest
confidence in an improvement in the situation for most of the Sámi
languages. Revitalization movements have been formed since the 1970s.
A first wave characterized by a strong political awareness resulted in
the establishment of Sámi parliaments in Norway, Sweden, and Finland
(Bjørklund, 2000; Solbakk, 2006). In the context of the early twenty-first
century, minorities and indigenous peoples the world over benefit from a
more favourable climate where injustices, infringement, or violation of
rights and loss of languages are debated, questioned, and condemned.
The United Nations, the European Union, and national governments make
efforts in that direction by supporting the development and strengthening
of minority languages. In the case of the Sámi in Sweden and Norway, the
focus of this chapter, the acknowledgement of a specific status in the legis-
lation along with language rights are steps towards an explicit improve-
ment of conditions for revitalization on national levels.
As underscored in previous research, revitalization as “a group-level
attempt to recapture an idealized past in order to reintegrate it with an
uncertain future” (Balzer, 1999:75) requires changing community atti-
tudes (Grenoble and Whaley, 2006:13). This change entails efforts both to
strengthen a language, towards language acquisition, and to increase the
The hybrid emergence of Sámi expressive culture 53

visibility and value of a specific culture. It is in this context that initiatives

aimed at a revitalization of language and culture take place today and
come into expression in many domains.
The use of media by indigenous people in revitalization efforts is
increasing (Dyson, Hendriks and Grant, 2007; Landzelius, 2006).
UNESCO recently stressed the importance of indigenous media on the
international day of the world’s indigenous people, August 9, 2012:

New information and communication technologies play a significant

role in enhancing the access to, and quality of, education, science and
culture. Their applications transform the way we share, preserve and
transmit knowledge and languages.2

The Internet and other modes of communication have been promptly

adopted by Sámi groups. NMT network (Nordic Mobile Telephony), an
early cellular phone system from the 1980s, was widely used by reindeer
herders in mountain areas even before cell phones reached urban areas.
SameNet, an online platform for communication including chat, forums,
and the possibility of sharing and uploading files, was launched as early
as 1998 (Landzelius, 2006: 9). It was widely used in the Sámi commu-
nity for, amongst other things, education purposes. SameNet was partly
funded by the European Union. Facebook is now one of the main channels
for communication within the Sámi community, with innumerable groups
and forums discussing language issues, events in Sápmi, or political
issues. Web 2.0 conduits – websites that enable users to generate content
and interact, such as blogs and Twitter – are increasing in number and
importance. Their role and value for indigenous languages and revitaliza-
tion has been underscored by, for instance, the sites Indigenous tweets,
Indigenous blogs, and Morsmål.3 Additionally, a wide range of Sámi insti-
tutions, authorities, and associations4 make use of websites for communi-
cation and as information channels.
The number of initiatives using digital technologies is rapidly increasing.
It would be a mistake to consider ICT as the locus for something completely
new and radically different, however. The extended use of online conduits
has to be understood in relation to offline practices such as festivals, song
contests, or cultural events. Sámi expressive culture is highly present at,
for instance, the Winter Market of Jokkmokk, the Sámi “weeks,”5 or at
festivals like Markomeannu and Riddu Riđđu.6
I therefore suggest approaching online initiatives in relation to already
existing practices, in terms of hybridity. This approach is applied by exam-
ining how the online and the offline interplay and overlap. First I discuss
examples of aesthetic practices where traditions are identified as a source
of origin, but where Internet-based self-representations cast their shadow
on contemporary traditions. Then I examine the mode of hybridity that
takes place between the vernacular and the institutional when expressive
54 Cocq

culture is relocated online. The third mode of hybridity I investigate is

between local and global aspects – that is, what happens when culturally
specific aspects address a global audience. In the final section, I discuss
how this three-fold approach to hybridity can constitute a fruitful model
for the study of indigenous expressive culture in a digital age.

Sámi aesthetics
Aesthetics play a significant role in digital environments not only for
visual and aural representations but also as a vehicle for values and identi-
fiers. In the case of Sámi websites, the use of symbols traditionally associ-
ated with Sámi identity indicates to the web visitor that s/he has entered
a Sámi space. In this section of the chapter, I will discuss the role of the
occurrence of Sámi aesthetics online for the intertwinement of online and
offline practices.
Identifiers of cultural attachment include, for instance, the gákti (the
traditional Sámi costume), the yoik (a form of singing and storytelling), or
symbols that relate to the geographical Samiland, such as a mountain land-
scape and reindeer. As symbolic identifiers, they are often presented and
perceived by people outside the community as uniform and homogenous.
Variations are extensive between different gákti because the costume
bears features specific to the area and the family one comes from, as well
as information about the person who wears it, such as marital status. As
for the yoik, it follows different patterns in the various language areas
of the Sápmi region (Graff, 2007). Variations are connected not only to
places but also to time periods. For instance, the length and textiles of the
gákti follow fashion trends. In a similar manner, Sámi music in relation to
the yoik occurs in various genres (Jones-Bamman, 2006).
These identifiers have varied through time. The gákti is today worn
on special occasions such as weddings, funerals, or festivities; the yoik,
classified as sinful by the Church and later also stigmatized as being a
less valuable cultural expression, has today gained the value of cultural
heritage and has found a place in many arenas such as music concerts,
churches, song contests, or inauguration ceremonies such as the Olympic
games in Lillehammer in 1994.
The traditional four colors of the gákti, which also appear on the Sámi
national flag, recur in the design of many Sámi-produced websites. The
website Gulahalan uses designs from Sámi duodji (handicraft) and gákti
in patterns (such as the one shown below) and choice of colors (see www.

Figure 4.1 Illustration by Maria Beskow (Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company).

The hybrid emergence of Sámi expressive culture 55

Gulahalan7 (“I make myself understood” ) is a site for language acquisi-

tion (North Sámi) produced by the Sámi Education Center in Jokkmokk
and the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company (UR). It addresses
Sámi speakers or beginners – that is, to a great extent a Sámi audience.
The website makes use of several elements associated with – or articulated
as – traditions.
In terms of aesthetics, the forms and shapes compose a grammar of
symbols and patterns that structure the overall narrative. Motifs inspired
by figures from Sámi drums representing the reindeer, the sun, gods, and
goddesses can be found on several websites.8 Sounds contribute to the
framing: on many sites; one can hear a yoik or the sound of drums when
entering the web space.9 Language is yet another means of establishing
a connection to Saminess. The words that appear in the background, the
voices that the web visitor can listen to, and the languages in the yoik s
frame a Sámi environment that easily can be recognized as such.
Offline, the heterogeneity of the Sámi community is expressed in the
diversity and variations of the gákti and the yoik, as mentioned above. The
representations online do not reflect this diversity, however, and are rather
a symbolism based on principles of form. In the same way, the representa-
tion of languages does not reflect the multilingual and complex commu-
nity. North Sámi is the language that is most often used in the websites in
Sámi, and the term “ Sámi” is often used as a synonym for “ North Sámi.”
The role of aesthetic cultural practices in revitalization processes has
been emphasized in previous research: aesthetics contribute to holding
together cultural values (cf. Glassie, 1995), as a means of identification and
self-representation. They articulate shared values and history. Artefacts
that were primarily made for practical use have now become pieces of art.
The gákti is used on only certain occasions. The yoik is not stigmatized
anymore; its role and recognition as a symbolic identifier today enhances
the value of Sámi expressive culture and articulates a collective identity
(Kuutma, 2006). To a great extent, the function of these aesthetic practices
today is to express cultural values specific to the community.
Aesthetics in online environments connect to offline practices, and
expressive culture emerges on the Internet as a means for representation.
The choice of design, as well as sound settings, in digital environments
originate in offline practices; the gákti, the yoik, and handicraft belong
to the expressive culture of the Sámi community. As such, they articu-
late membership of the group and of an ethnic identity. Even though such
practices cannot be inscribed in or interpreted as identity work exclu-
sively, their uses in design are the result of a conscious choice. Offline,
there is rarely solely a pragmatic motivation to choose to put on a gákti,
for instance. The specific situations in which the traditional costume is
worn – weddings, cultural and political events, and the like – indicate
the value and symbolism of this specific clothing. Online, the choice to
opt for a specific design is the result of a conscious work that includes
56 Cocq

selection and priorities. In other words, the meaning of expressive culture

may differ when actualized in digital environments, by the premises on
which these choices lie. The importance of communicating a recognizable
image and technological possibilities and limits are the core issues to be
dealt with in this case, whereas the practical dimension that exists in the
physical world is out of the equation. References to existing expressions
of folklore can be explicit, such as when artefacts, symbols, or elements
are labelled as “ traditional.” In other instances, associations to Saminess
are implicit and based on knowledge or assumptions of offline practices.
This aspect can partly be understood as the result of efforts to reach two
audiences: the community on the one hand and a global audience on the
other. Outreach initiatives are characterized by explicit homogeneous
representations, whereas in-reach initiatives are more likely to articulate
culturally specific aspects and be more implicit. As I will discuss later,
however, digital productions often address both a local and a global audi-
ence. Irrespective of the primary targeted audience, it is the Saminess that
is at focus in the discourse articulated in the online examples.
Another aspect of expressive culture often mentioned in contemporary
Sámi revitalization discourses is storytelling. It is a traditional means for
communication of knowledge, but it is also a recurring topic in identity
discourse. Storytelling instances can be found extensively in programs
at cultural events such as the Jokkmokk Winter Market10 as well as on
websites such as, for instance, the previously mentioned Gulahalan. In
a similar manner as duodji and the gákti, storytelling is referred to as a
strong tradition (Cocq, forthcoming).
This tradition can be observed in the Sámi examples in the strong
connection between the narratives that emerge online and their claimed
source: oral tradition. The emergence of narratives in online environments
intrinsically implies an adaptation and a process of creation that builds on
and results in hybridity. Early printed versions of oral legends and tales
were published in the first two decades of the twentieth century and are
today key references in new productions of storytelling.
Previous research has discussed digital storytelling as a form of second
orality (Ong, 1982; Sauerberg, 2011) and as a verbal marketplace (Foley,
2010; Ryan, 2011). Worth noting is the parallel occurrence of various forms
of storytelling. In the same way as the printed word did not substitute for
the spoken word, it would be a mistake to see digital storytelling as a new
genre of narrative that has replaced previous ones. In the Sámi examples, the
numerous mentions and references to traditional Sámi narratives confirm
the efforts to create a continuity of practices through different media.
This aspect illustrates the overlap between expressive culture online and
offline and how they also interplay. The use and recurrence of aesthetic
representations in online environments contribute to increasing the value
and visual strength of practices. An artefact such as a knife or a drum,
for instance, becomes a symbol when pictured online, whereas offline
The hybrid emergence of Sámi expressive culture 57

they have, through their materiality and beyond their symbolic aspects, a
primary or additional practical function. When approaching the websites
as parts of revitalization initiatives, the use and recurrence of cultural
elements associated with or articulated as Sámi traditions appear to serve
the purpose of strengthening Sámi identities. References to the past and
to tradition contribute to the definition of Saminess based on cultural and
traditional knowledge that is community specific and therefore strongly
connected to a sense of ascription and belonging.
Hybridity at this level creates something familiar out of something
new – through new conduits. It contributes to turning something time-
less into something innovative, artefacts into symbols. This hybridity
assesses continuity in aesthetics by reinforcing the ability to re-create
or adapt traditional cultural aspects to new conditions and prerequisites.
The different media are in this case only different vehicles for the same
The choice and selection of some cultural aspects also implies that others
are declined or rendered less visible, however. Their position and role in
Sámi communities are neglected in online representations, threatening to
affect the value of variations within forms of Sámi folkloric expressions.
Risks for exoticization and standardization might increase when online
representations create expectations that are then sought after in offline
environments. This concern calls for a problematization of the possibili-
ties, limits, and challenges for vernacular culture in emerging in digital
environments. In the next section, I address this issue based on additional
examples of Sámi websites.

Online vernacular practices

Vernacular forms of expressive culture such as storytelling, handicraft,
and music signal local qualities of communities of shared knowledge
(Howard, 2005: 328). The examples discussed above are online represen-
tations of such practices: storytelling from Sámi communities or design
inspired by traditional clothing handmade according to local patterns
specific to a small group or a family. The transfer of community-based
expressive culture to the Internet implies that vernacular expressions
circulate through new conduits. In the case of the Sámi, home pages such
as those presented in the section above are produced and administrated by
Sámi officials, education centers, or broadcasting companies. The use of
these channels is necessary in order to reach out to a targeted audience and
for financial purposes. This unavoidable change in the process of diffu-
sion and production of folklore hence requires attention.
As Howard points out in his research, “[N]o pure vernacularity exists
[online][,] only degrees of hybridity” (Howard 2008: 203). In a context
of revitalization, elements of folk culture are adapted and emerge in new
settings, to be re-injected into the community. Storytelling is one example;
58 Cocq

adaptations and creations based on older records ensure the continuity of

the practice.
Vernacular voices are present in official sites on several levels. First,
the online examples find their origin in local culture and are presented as
such. The digital folktale Cugu,11 for instance, is introduced as faithful to
the traditional storytelling (Sameradion, 2010). The beings the audience
meets duing the story make reference to Sámi legends and folk beliefs,
including the underground beings háldit or the ogre Stállu. Another series
of legends and tales for children broadcast on the Internet is Noaidegiisá12
(The Magic Coffer). The stories were written for the program, but versions
of the narratives and similar narrative elements can be found in collec-
tions of Sámi legends from storytellers at the beginning of the twentieth
century (cf., qvigstad, 1927).
Second, the use of an official (institutional) conduit – in this case the
Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company – strengthens discourses
of faithfulness to a genuine tradition. The educational purposes are here
explicit in relation to revitalization efforts and motivated by minority poli-
tics. The collaboration with Sámi producers and the use of older sources
contribute to create a sense of “ authenticity” in the stories. In this way,
web spaces can express representation of folk culture, albeit through insti-
tutional channels. In fact, it is thanks to this hybridity that the vernacular
can emerge online. Reference to a traditional origin in folk culture entitles
an institution to produce and distribute an indigenous cultural heritage.
Third, the form, structure, and genres within the websites follow a
pattern of a folk web rather than an institutional web in many instances.
The website www.samer.se, by the Sámi information center of Sweden,
links to Facebook and shows profile pictures of “friends” and the “like”
button. The site provides facts and information about the Sámi that
address an outsider audience; it also includes news updates of interest
for the community. By linking to features from social media platforms,
the site makes people-based networks manifestly visible on the home
page. As another example, the news site Ođđasat from the Sámi radio13
presents short articles connected to a technical feature that enables the
readers to post comments. This opens the possibility for a blog-like struc-
ture in which the user-generated content often dominates a page where a
news article is published. The website is thus often used as a platform for
discussion between people. The original frame – a site for news reports –
is rapidly lost in instances where discussions between visitors take over
the web page.
One example is an article published on the website on December 12,
2012, about a young woman whose application to the electoral register
for the Sámi parliament was refused.14 Criteria for being entitled to vote
at the elections of the Sámi parliament are not only self-ascription, but
also language, as stated in Chapter 1, Section 2 of the Swedish Sami
Parliament Act:
The hybrid emergence of Sámi expressive culture 59

In this Act, Sami refers to a person who considers him/herself to be

Sami and

1 ensures that he or she has or has had the Sami language spoken at
home, or
2 ensures that any of his or her parents or grandparents have or have had
the Sami language spoken at home, or
3 has a parent who is or has been listed on the electoral roll of the Sami
Parliament. (SFS, 1992: 1433)

The woman interviewed in the article questions the criteria of language,

referring to the fact that the Sámi in the Malå area where she comes from
have not used the language for several generations.
The article is rather short, but the web page rapidly filled with comments.
At the end of the day, the text of the article represented barely one-third
of the text on the page. A few people authored comments with names, but
most remained anonymous. The focus of the discussion was the legal defi-
nition of Sámi and whether it should be updated or not. Someone writes,
“You shouldn’t be punished because the State took the language from your
ancestors through education politics etc.,” whereas another one says, “The
rules should be even harder.” The comments turned quickly into a discus-
sion during which people reacted to one another’s posts rather than to the
content of the article.
The topic of discussion connects to the issue of Sámi identity and
ethnicity. Thus, it is not surprising to see a short article lead to an infec-
tious debate. The framing of the website, as a blog with the possibility of
commentary and discussion, opens it up for debate to emerge. From this
perspective, the website – originally a platform for journalistic informa-
tion – has become a discussion forum where anyone can participate.
This is one example of a combination of user-generated content
embedded in an official news website. Looking more closely at the Web
2.0, we find further vernacular aspects in the use of so-called hashtags on
the micro-blogging platform Twitter. They represent a form of user-gener-
ated categorization that emerges through collaborative creation and organi-
zation. The hashtags are used as keywords to categorize tweets. They are
created, spread, and applied by Twitter users and represent a form of folk-
sonomy (compare Bronner, 2009: 29). The hashtags #gollegiella (golden
language, in North Sámi), #sámegiella (North Sámi), and #åarjel (South,
for åarjelsaemien giele, South Sámi) are used to mark the language used in
a message. They make it easy for other users in the language community or
those interested in the language to find and categorize the tweets.
The use of Twitter in relation to minority languages has received atten-
tion in a global context, as I will discuss in the next section. Language is,
in this case, the core denominator of the network established by micro-
blogging, and this is articulated through the categories created by the
60 Cocq

hashtags. In social media, self-regulation plays a role for communication,

for instance, when language settings are established between users. In
this way, the choice to follow someone on Twitter or to comment on a post
on Facebook is motivated by the language – regardless of other common
interests or relationships.
The Web 2.0 illustrates the new role that consumers of folk culture have
taken in digital environments and/or through digital technology. Terms
such as prosumers (Toffler, 1980; Olin-Scheller and Wikström, 2010)
or produsers and produsage (Bruns, 2008) emphasize the active role of
consumers in the processes of peer production (Benkler, 2006) that take
place online. Twitter folksonomies illustrate this phenomenon.
So far, I have examined how hybridity operates in several dimensions,
for instance, in the emergence of aesthetic practices online and through
the intertwinement of a vernacular web and an institutional web. The
study of Sámi websites shows that the Internet has become a key venue
for discourses and practices concerned with the continuity of expressive
culture. It therefore is not surprising to find online expressions that have
their origin offline. But also, what is created and published online is part
of revitalization efforts striving to re-inject or preserve traditional prac-
tices. The use of official conduits that have the purpose of underscoring
the vernacular qualities of these practices implies a form of hybridity that
results in both a validation of the vernacular and gives authority to the
In the next section, I approach a third dimension of hybridity that results
from the two previous ones discussed. The interplay between the online
and the offline when it comes to expressive culture specific to a commu-
nity raises new questions in the light of globalization discourses.

The globalizing internet and localizing discourses

Hylland Eriksen declares that “[l]ocal identities are usually strengthened
by globalization because people begin to emphasize their uniqueness
overtly only when it appears to be threatened” (Eriksen, 2007: 6). For
minority groups, the need to articulate uniqueness is highly connected
to revitalization processes. As illustrated in the first part of this chapter,
symbols and markers of identity are means used in order to present and
represent Sámi culture.
Appadurai’s research stresses the importance of collective imagination
and how we are “moving from a shared imagination to collective action”
(Appadurai, 1996: 8). This line of thought follows Anderson’s emphasis
on the role of mass mediation in imagining the nation (1991). The elabora-
tion of a “ social imaginary,” or collective imagination, takes place, for
instance, through the construction of a place that can easily be identified
as Sápmi or through visual and audio cues where snow and drums, for
example, trigger associations with an assumed Saminess (Cocq, 2013).
The hybrid emergence of Sámi expressive culture 61

In this process of elaboration through self-representation, the Internet

and globalization function as prerequisites, triggers, and results of each
other. It is common in the digital age to try to communicate specific cultural
aspects to a global audience, but is not unproblematic. The globalized and
globalizing Internet challenges uniqueness, contributing thereby to the
search for new ways to articulate distinctiveness.
The hybridity between the local and the global comes into expression
as a form of intertextuality. It is nothing new that folklore can address
different audiences simultaneously. Previous research on yoik (cf. Gaski,
2000) and oral traditions (cf. DuBois, 1996) has shown how messages
can be embedded in a song or a story as vehicles for a specific meaning
for members of the community that still make sense to an outsider audi-
ence. This form of double communication is a strategy for transcoding
that succeeds in conveying norms and values specific to a community.
The same strategy can be observed when it comes to expressive culture
online; in this case, the outsider audience is a global one. The intertwine-
ment of different messages or layers of messages for several presumptive
audiences is the result of a form of communication – through digital media
– where in-reach and outreach are interwoven to a greater extent than in
other forms of media. From this perspective, the digital tends to be more
inclusive (Landzelius, 2006).
This inclusion can take place at different levels and in, for instance,
interactive networks that open to a wider group than Sámi expressive
culture would originally include. A characteristic of global/globalizing
media is its ability to host local networks. The website www.indigenoust-
weets.com, mentioned earlier, as well as its sister site, www.indigenous-
blogs.com, are examples of how an issue of concern in many countries
– endangered indigenous languages – becomes a platform for a global
network within which small language-based communities from all around
the world become visible on a global level. Consequently, revitalization
is included in a global discourse about minority groups and indigenous
languages, despite the great discrepancies between each of the language
groups. Revitalization processes are based on specific conditions and
premises, partly at the level of national legislation, but also, and more
importantly, when it comes to issues of implementation and grassroots
initiatives (Scheller and Vinka, forthcoming). These specific conditions
and premises are offline-based. Revitalization discourses and initiatives
thus take place through different layers, from a specifically local, at the
level of community members, to a global level. The cohesiveness of these
layered discourses is structured by the hybrid quality of the Internet that
interweaves local and global networks.
A global discourse “that entails a great number of formal commonali-
ties between ethnic groups struggling for recognition” (Eriksen 2007: 65)
emerges, for instance, with the issues of “cultural heritage” and “shared
customs” (Ibid.). Through the convention for intangible cultural heritage,
62 Cocq

UNESCO has identified cultural aspects (such as, for instance, story-
telling) at a global level. At a local level, the countries that have ratified
the convention look into practices that illustrate the global – illustrating
the reciprocity between the local and the global.
In the case of Sámi expressive culture, shared customs that recur in
contemporary discourse are, for instance, storytelling, handicraft, or
cuisine. Obviously, these aspects are present not only in Sámi contem-
porary discourses about traditions. In fact, these topics emerge in many
texts and booklets that address tourists. Indigeneity, cultural heritage, and
traditions act at a global level. The variations might be great at a local
level, but the rhetoric is the same. They turn the foreign into something
recognizable – and turn the local into something general.
When we focus on the communicative dimension of folklore (Bauman,
1986; Briggs and Bauman, 1992), it becomes obvious that the meanings
embedded in Sámi expressive culture on the Internet can be manifold.
Explicit references to folkloric expressions and implicit allusions to tradi-
tional knowledge reflect different levels of communication. These levels
can be observed in some of the examples mentioned above, be they in
aesthetics, in storytelling, or through folksonomy. At a local level, nuances
can be conveyed implicitly when, for instance, a website makes use of
symbols inspired by a local traditional costume. For a broader audience
without knowledge of the specificity of the pattern, the same design would
be interpreted as Sámi in a generic sense. Practices and artefacts become
symbols that respond to the social imaginary. Folklore expressions and
revitalization discourses emerge when global discourses are enacted at a
local level in settings specific to a local community. Through this process,
communities without direct – that is, geographical – connections become
interconnected discursively. The study of the globalizing Internet in rela-
tion to the specific Sámi case not only underlines the hybrid qualities of
digital media. It also stresses the need to take into account contextual
factors – such as language endangerment and the articulation of a cultural
heritage actualized by the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of
Intangible Cultural Heritage – in order to make sense of the hybridity
created by layered networks and the reciprocity of the local and the global.

Concluding remarks
The Sámi-produced examples discussed in this chapter illustrate various
ways in which expressive culture emerges in digital environments. As
such, they provide a perspective on hybrid practices for the articulation,
creation, and communication of folklore in indigenous contexts. Hybridity
arises when traditional forms of cultural expressions, by traveling through
new conduits, meet new challenges, meanings, and purposes. The adap-
tation and negotiation that take place through this process have further
consequences for the survival and revival of indigenous culture. On
The hybrid emergence of Sámi expressive culture 63

the Internet, we reach a level of intertextuality and intermediality that

renders traditional theories of adaptation obsolete (compare Hutcheon,
2006). Hyperlinks and re-productions create a non-hierarchical network
of sources and resources. Digital technologies are neither the only nor the
dominant mode of cultural and knowledge production or communication.
What takes place offline has long been the main arena for interaction, and
the networks that are built and maintained outside online communities are
significant for what can be perpetuated online. Moreover, online commu-
nication can exist only in relation to and in interplay with offline initia-
tives. In the case of Sámi expressive culture in a contemporary context,
revitalization originates offline. Initiatives are taken and implemented
by community members, and the Internet plays a secondary role. From
this perspective, the production of indigenous knowledge online loses its
meaning when interpreted out of the offline context.
Examining expressive culture online with a case study based on Sámi
digital productions, I have exposed three dimensions of hybridity. First,
the form of hybridity between the online and the offline is obvious but
complex, and is the one that forces – or entices – the two others. The
second domain of hybridity emerges through the intertwinement of the
institutional and the vernacular. The meeting and overlap between the
local and the global constitute the third dimension of hybridity in my
approach. These three dimensions interact simultaneously. In fact, expres-
sive cultures offline and online have become prerequisites of each other.
These hybrid conditions lead us away from binary thinking such as online
or offline, vernacular or institutional, global or local. Rather, this complex
set of dichotomies forms an intricate network in which every element must
be taken into account in order to understand the processes, driving forces,
and synergy that result from their interplay.

1 UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, http://www.unesco.org/
2 ht t p://w w w.u n e s c o.o r g /ne w/e n / u n e s c o/eve nt s /p r i z e s - a nd - c ele -
brations/celebrations/inter national-days/inter national-day-of-the-
3 www.indigenoustweets.com; www.indigenousblogs.com; www.morsmal.org
4 For instance the Sámi parliaments in Norway, Sweden and Finland, the
Swedish Sámi information center, Sámi associations.
5 Festivals with cultural activities coordinated by Sámi organizations
in several cities in Sweden, for instance in Ubmeje (Umeå), Likssjuo
(Lycksele), Vualtjere (Vilhemina), Árjepluovve (Arjeplog) and Orrestaare
6 http://www.markomeannu.no/norsk/english.html; http://www.riddu.no/home.
7 www.ur.se/gulahalan
64 Cocq

8 For instance Åvtese http://www.e-skuvle.no/portfolio/avtese1–2–3/

9 For instance the websites Gulahalan (www.ur.se/gulahalan), Sáivu (http://
10 http://www.jokkmokksmarknad.se/home/
11 www.ur.se/cugu
12 http://sverigesradio.se/sida/default.aspx?programid=3124
13 http://oddasat.se
14 http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=2327&artikel=5377614

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narrative (Vol. 10), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press .
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forms markets and freedom, New Haven: Yale University Press.
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community, Tromsø University Museum.
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lyric songs in Northern Europe. The Journal of American Folklore, 109(403):
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and indigenous people, Hershey, PA: Information Science Publishing.
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Ranković, L. Melve, and E. Mundal (eds.) Along the oral-written continuum:
types of texts, relations and their implications, Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 17–37.
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Government Offices of Sweden (SFS) (1992) Sami Parliament Act (Sametingslag

Graff, O. (2007) Om å forstå joikemelodier : refleksjoner over et pitesamisk
materiale. Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, 50–69.
Grenoble, L. A. and Whaley, L. J. (2006) Saving languages: an introduction to
language revitalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 231 s.
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case for pet cloning. Journal of Folklore Research, 42(3): 363–402.
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and changing images of indigenous ethnicity in Scandinavia, New York:
Routledge, pp. 351–367.
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Folklore Fellows, 31, 7–11.
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virtual age, London: Routledge.
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reading and writing in a new media landscape. Education Inquiry, 1(1): 41–56.
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Accents), London: Methuen, p. 201.
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sammenlignende kulturforskning.
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narrative texts. In R. Page and B. Thomas (eds.) New narratives: stories and
storytelling in the digital age, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, pp.
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kultur, læring, kommunikation, København: Samfundslitteratur, pp. 231–46.
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Websites and online resources

Indigenous Blogs: www.indigenousblogs.com
Indigenous Tweets: www.indigenoustweets.com
Jokkmokk Winter Market: http://www.jokkmokksmarknad.se/home/
Markomeannu: http://www.markomeannu.no/norsk/english.html
Morsmål: www.morsmal.org
Riddu riđđu: http://www.riddu.no/
Sameradion: http://oddasat.se
66 Cocq

Sámi information center: www.Samer.se

Ubmejen Biejvieh: http://www.samiskaveckan.se
Utbildningsradion / Samernas utbildningscentrum Gulahalan: http://www.ur.se/
Utbildningsradion/Driva produktion Cugu: http://www.ur.se/cugu/
Várjjat Sámi museum, Sáivu: http://www.saivu.com/
Åvtese: http://www.e-skuvle.no/portfolio/avtese1–2–3/
5 Hybrid political activism and the
online/offline divide
Michael Dahlberg-Grundberg

In politics, it has gradually become more difficult during the last decade
to separate the notions of the virtual world from its “real” offline counter-
part, that is, to distinguish the two domains with regard to their specific
characteristics. As social movements and different political initiatives
increasingly are applying the Internet and diverse social media to promote
their agendas, contemporary studies of computer-mediated communica-
tion (CMC) have disclosed a complex setting where online and offline,
virtual and real, are becoming more and more entangled.1 In other words,
“the internet is no longer simply a tool; it has become an inseparable part
of economic, social, and cultural processes” (Lovink, 2011: 69) – and, one
can add, to the world of politics.
As a result of this amalgamation, the “digital” now appears as an inerad-
icable aspect of sociality. It is becoming an everyday feature of human
as well as non-human interaction, more or less encompassing all sorts
of information exchange and communication. To discuss the intricacies
arising from this development, this chapter, based on media studies and
sociology, sets out to investigate to what extent these tendencies affect
politics in general and political activism in particular. The main aim of the
chapter is to examine, by way of an interview study focused on individual
activists from divergent movements, how certain political actors outside
the parliamentary sphere understand, relate to, and use social media and
the Internet for political purposes. In doing this, it advances the concept of
hybridity, a notion used here to describe situations where the borders sepa-
rating online and offline, Internet and non-Internet, are backgrounded,
asking whether this theoretical approach can help us understand some of
the digital sociopolitical processes that mark our age. Even though this is
a limited study, I hereby hope to be able to capture some aspects of how
the digitalization of the political sphere is perceived by political activists
– that is, how they comprehend and try to adapt to a process that could be
named the hybridization of politics.
68 Dahlberg-Grundberg

Activism can in general be understood as a movement away from
orthodox deliberative politics (Young, 2001). In another broad sense it
may be explained through the practices and strategies non-parliamen-
tary political actors use when trying to bring about social change (Harp,
Bachmann, and Guo, 2012: 300), keeping in mind that the concept often is
thematized as “referring to the ability to act and make or change history”
(Cammaerts, 2007: 217). Jordan (2002), on his part, stresses the collec-
tive dimension of the concept, while also accentuating that its goals, with
regard to how society is structured here and now, often are transgres-
sive. Digital activism or hacktivism – or “Activism 2.0” (Harlow, 2012a)
– can be defined as political strategies and tactics that are “relying on
the Internet” as “[a]ctivists now take advantage of technologies and tech-
niques offered by the Internet to achieve their traditional goals” (Vegh,
2003: 71). Digital activism represents a broad and diverse set of practices,
comprising entirely legal methods (information dissemination, distrib-
uting protest lists, coordinating both online and offline demonstrations) as
well as more – from a legal standpoint – questionable techniques (Web site
attacks, DDOS-attacks, virtual sit-ins as well as virus creation and propa-
gation) (Jordan, 2002; Jordan and Taylor, 2004; Hands, 2011; Rolfe, 2005;
Meikle, 2002; Cammaerts, 2007; Taylor, 2001; Constanza-Chock, 2003).
One can note here also that some researchers have claimed that the use
of the Internet and social media within the spheres of politics and autono-
mous social movements has altered the vocabulary of activists – and also
the image of activism – quite drastically: digital “activists have not only
incorporated the Internet into their repertoire but [have also] changed
substantially what counts as activism, what counts as community, collec-
tive identity, and political strategy” (McCaughey and Ayers, 2003: 1–2; cf.
Lovink, 2011: 158–76; cf. van Laer and van Aelst, 2009, for a discussion
of how this technological progress affects, modifies, and generates the
action repertoire of collectives). But to assess whether such a supposition
is accurate or not, one has to consider the politicization of digital media
and the digitalization of politics.

Digital politics and its effects

The significance of digital technology within politics, and questions such
as whether Internet and social media should be seen as instruments for
democratization or be viewed as mechanisms that can facilitate oppres-
sion and surveillance, has been debated and disputed (recent examples of
this are found in divergent reports concerning the political role of social
media during the Arab Spring or the so-called Twitter Revolution in Iran
during 2009–2010) (Morozov, 2009a, 2011; Hands, 2011; Gladwell, 2010,
2011; Tufekci, 2011).
Hybrid political activism 69

A number of optimistic accounts emphasize and celebrate the liberating

and democratic potentials of digital technology (Jenkins and Thorburn,
2004; Rheingold, 1993, 2002), perceiving increased political activity on
the Internet as a development that is “at worst harmless fun and can at best
help invigorate citizens” (Christensen, 2010). The technology, according
to some, also has given previously marginalized segments of society new
and improved means of political participation as the “digital communica-
tion forms such as the Internet and SNS [social networking sites] have
added new varieties and dimensions to public spheres of political discourse
in many parts of the world” (Harp, Bachmann, and Guo, 2012: 300–1;
cf. Jenkins, 2008: 219). It is also claimed that the utilization of digital
technology can amplify “radical democratic forms,” entailing a scenario
where “internet technology remains a possible locus for democratic, even
radical, potential” (Pickard, 2008: 642–3).2 The digital communication
technologies are also, by introducing a novel “culture of networking”
(Juris, 2005), said to offer means for new ways for organization and
mobilization, for constructing and acting out identities, for participating
in politics, for building communities, while also assisting in collective
action more generally (Rheingold, 1993, 2002; Castells, 1997; Jenkins,
2008; Bennett, 2003; Postmes and Brunsting, 2002). In short: even though
one can recognize cases of inequality in terms of access, the technology
could be a vital constituent in political action repertoires (Harlow, 2012b;
cf. Wilson and Dunn, 2011, which indicate that a low dissemination of the
actual technology does not equal low power of impact within a specific
In contrast, a set of more pessimistic accounts stresses the dangers
inherent in the present techno-social development, pointing to the fact
that the “new” communication technology might be used for oppressive
purposes (Hands, 2011; Morozov, 2009a, 2011). As one scholar notes,
“[T]he Internet does not automatically create non-hierarchical and flex-
ible networks but the structure of groups and organizations are reflected
in the existing structure” (Hara, 2008).3 Deterministic thoughts – for
example, notions that claim that social media will make people more politi-
cally active – must therefore be juxtaposed with more realistic ways of
thinking that recognize how “[t]echnologies are shaped by society and
reflect society’s values back at us, albeit a bit refracted” (Boyd, 2008: 113).4
Hence, one must consider the “virtual” as being partly reliant on and inter-
playing with the “real”. Yet another delicate issue, partly developing this
reliance, involves the fact that technologies tend to be situated within a
global economic network. Since the society within which the technology
is embedded is permeated by capital and commodities, technological inno-
vations risk further disseminating a capitalistic rationality (Jordan, 1999:
150; Kahn and Kellner, 2004: 93). This means – even if one keeps the
democratic possibilities latent in CMCs in mind – that some of the inad-
equacies and stratifications relating to such capitalist logics can affect the
70 Dahlberg-Grundberg

social role and use of a technology (cf. the digital divide: Norris, 2000;
Castells, 2001; Fuchs, 2008: 213ff; Albrecht, 2006; see also Feenberg, 1995,
2002, for a more general note on technology’s political and socioeconomic
embeddedness). The online cannot, in other words, be viewed as separate
from the offline world because the two, rather, always condition each other
(Cammaerts, 2008: 14; cf. Fuchs 2008; Petras, 2011).
Against the background of these relations of dependence, one can view
the Internet not as something that will replace traditional political inter-
action and organization but, rather, as a process or a device that may work
as a means of complementing and buttressing offline practices (Juris,
2005: 196). Diani (2000), for instance, believes that CMCs might very
well enable and enhance the growth of already existing social movements,
but is sceptical about the proposition that they will establish entirely
new social ties and organizations. It is quite clear, however, that in some
cases the use of digital technology and social media indeed can support
the production of political groups and arenas within which activists can
engender alternative public spheres and communities, raise awareness
in regard to their certain interests, produce critical counter-images in
relation to dominant paradigms, and so on. Thus, it is symptomatic that
various studies have indicated that, in some cases, online political activi-
ties not only underpin or multiply offline political events and actions, but
also actually create them (Wojcieszak, 2009; Harlow, 2012a and b). Such
situations – that is, contexts where the online can affect the offline (and
the other way around) – are where one finds expressions of political and
cultural hybridity. It is towards a theoretical exploration of that concept
that the chapter now turns.

In certain aspects, a “crossbreeding” of the online and the offline spheres
within present-day politics seems to be quite obvious. Certainly, the
offline dimension still prevails because it somehow needs to be addressed
if political views and opinions are to be converted into laws and policies
(i.e., materialize). The traditional forms of – offline – activism are there-
fore almost always, notwithstanding the progress of digital technology,
accounted for as a necessary feature in all political practices that have as
their objective to transform society: “An online social-movement group
must have some level of activism in the ‘real’ world if the changes it seeks
politically are to go beyond the realm of the Internet itself” (Ayers, 2003:
162). But the virtual dimensions of those political processes are to a greater
extent becoming salient through the growing use of digital technology as
a means of political communication. However, as the use of computer-
mediated communication rapidly is becoming a standard ingredient in
activist vocabularies, how is one to analytically separate the two frame-
works? Is this still feasible? An alternative procedure could be to interpret
Hybrid political activism 71

this dichotomy as false or obsolete and study contemporary politics from

a more hybrid perspective. Such a strategy, which neither fetishizes and
overvalues the technology nor neglects and disparages it, acknowledges
that most present-day political activity – in some measure – contains both
Bimber (2000: 329), in an article published before the hype of Web 2.0,
identifies and criticizes approaches that try to make a distinction between
“technology-related civic engagement and traditional civic engagement”
and instead proposes that we move beyond the notion of the Internet as a
separate technological entity. This is because “[t]he effort to distinguish
between ‘cyberspace’ and the ‘virtual’ world and the landscape of tradi-
tional civic engagement will in many cases grow futile” (ibid.: 330; cf.
van Laer and van Aelst, 2009). In this quote, which addresses the coming
intertwinement of online and offline, one may detect some – rather rudi-
mentary – preliminary sketches of what hybridity might be.
Moving towards politics in general and activism in particular, a more
exhaustive definition of hybridity – even though the author herself does
not use the term – is presented by Harlow (2012b). When describing how
activism “simultaneously is both online and offline, and not one or the
other,” she states that “the networks created via online technologies extend
into the offline realm, meaning that information generated and dissemi-
nated online is not restricted to a virtual reality” (Harlow, 2012b; cf. van
Laer and van Aelst, 2009: 233–4). Kluitenberg (2011) argues in a similar
way when putting forward the notion of a “Hybrid Space.” With the use
of this concept he is able to describe multi-layered contexts or situations
in which physical spaces and media are entwined in intricate ways: in
line with this theoretical approach online and offline, virtual and real,
should be interpreted not as opposing realms but, rather, as co-dependent
and enmeshed – however somewhat dissimilar – flows that structure one
another in a common social and spatial domain.
The remarks of Davidson, Joyce, and Ballard (2012) here may offer
some further guidance: in accordance with their interpretation, the study
of hybridity and politics means trying to recognize and identify how a
digital aspect of politics is never just digital:

A methodology of hybridity implicitly rejects monocausal logics that

give rise to misleading terms like “Facebook Revolution,” “Twitter
Revolution,” and “social media revolution.” If digital technology is a
factor in hybrid causality it is unlikely to be the single causal factor in
any political outcome.
(Davidson, Joyce, and Ballard, 2012: n.p.)

They argue that political practices, regardless from where they emanate
(i.e., online or offline), are rooted in a generic sphere of interaction. Hence,
a fixed image of online, on the one hand, and offline, on the other, is
72 Dahlberg-Grundberg

difficult to sustain because they both constantly tend to infiltrate and

strengthen/undermine one another. If one accepts this description, one
also needs to “[i]magine activism as a continuum with fully grounded
tactics at one end and fully digital tactics at the other. Each campaign
falls somewhere between the two poles, according to the mix of digital
and grounded tactics used” (ibid). The becoming of activist politics then
must be seen as a dynamic process involving tactics that traverse the spec-
trum of online and offline relations. As a consequence, a study interested
in political relationships and strategies that may include hybrid settings
or elements must advance, both theoretically and methodologically, the
empirical material with an open mind and try to avoid positioning itself
within a binary framework where the respective dimensions are seen as
self-sufficient. In conclusion, hybridity will in this chapter be seen as a
coming together of online and offline or, more dynamically, as the inter-
play between and – the always temporary and flexible – coalescences of
online and offline (regardless of whether it concerns tactics, technology, or
the building of political movements).

Data and method

The material presented and analyzed below consists of interviews with
four individuals, each with specific experiences of using digital communi-
cation technologies for political purposes. The interviews were conducted
according to a semi-structured approach where questions formulated
beforehand were complemented by themes that arose during the interviews.
Some of the broad themes that were discussed concerned the consequences
stemming from the growing political use of digital media; contributions of
digital media to activist politics; the relationship between online and offline
political practices and strategies; how mobilization and collective actions
can be facilitated by CMCs; and some possible problems ensuing from an
increasing focus on digital technology within the realms of politics.
The respondents were chosen strategically, partly on the basis of their
activist-like political engagement, partly because their political activi-
ties had an evident digital dimension: for all of them, the Internet and
social media are important pillars in their “repertoire of electronic conten-
tion” (Constanza-Chock, 2003; Rolfe, 2005). It is worth mentioning
that although they all have different backgrounds and have focused on
different aspects of politics, I consider their views and their experiences
to be comparable as they, first of all, share similar non-parliamentary,
grassroots approaches to politics and, second, channel these approaches
through digital technology with the purpose of promoting their causes –
and those of the movements they are a part of.
The interviews took place in different settings, and the activists are
operative in Sweden as well as in the United Kingdom. The interview
recordings were transcribed, and the material was coded and analyzed
Hybrid political activism 73

with the help of the theoretical notions introduced in the preceding

sections. The codes, which were thematically chosen, compared, and
studied, were derived also from the themes mentioned above. Some of
the codes used were: contribution; dualism; dialectics; risks; movements;
collectivity; and dangers. As I proceeded with the analysis, these concep-
tual constructions were brought together under the headlines below. By
way of this approach, I focused on the informants’ views on digital poli-
tics in general and digital activism in particular and, also, on how they
viewed the general usability of computer-mediated communication within
non-institutionalized political environments. Moreover, when analyzing
the interviews, I constantly compared the theoretical notions of hybridity
and the online–offline divide with the informants’ responses and coded
the latter accordingly. This comparison was meant to enable a discussion
where existing scholarly perspectives could be juxtaposed with accounts
of actual activist experiences.

• Respondent 1: a video activist, working in an independent media organ-

ization where s/he creates films depicting protests (and protesters) that
s/he distributes to other activists.
• Respondent 2: involved in the Occupy the London Stock Exchange
(LSX) movement, in particular in its media faction.
• Respondent 3: working with phenomena relating to urbanity and the
stimulation of – among inhabitants – direct actions and participatory
cultures in urban areas.
• Respondent 4: active in pirate politics as well as software and hard-
ware initiatives that strive to facilitate free and non-surveillanced

The political contribution of digital media

In approaching digital technologies and their political potential, one of
the more pressing issues one needs to address concerns the question of
whether the technology offers something entirely new or whether it is to
be viewed, rather, as a supplement to already established political prac-
tices. When discussing what social media contributes to activism and
social movements, it is often underlined that it helps circulate information.
While the interviewed informants recognized the subversive and demo-
cratic potential of the use of the technology, they viewed it primarily as an
instrument for coordinating offline actions and dispersing messages and
knowledge. This is clearly expressed in the following quote, where one of
the activists gives a temporal analysis of how a movement is constituted in
relation to the conditions of the media circumscribing it.

There is the question of, you know: what comes first, like, the move-
ment or the media around that ... that helps to build that movement? I’d
74 Dahlberg-Grundberg

still argue that the movement probably comes first and once you got,
you know, as that movement is growing, it can use these social tools
or social media to get the word out a lot quicker to more people who
are starting to get involved anyway. (Respondent 1)

This quote can be interpreted as a claim that social and political move-
ments are built not on connections established through media but, rather,
that the media is used by the movements after they have been constituted.
While this activist accepted that having a presence on social media is
pertinent, s/he understood this presence as mainly a matter of circulating
messages and garnering information (which is also one of the main ways
s/he has employed it when carrying out activism). This does not imply,
however, that one can disregard social media’s democratic promises. But,
one must then ask oneself, what does the technology add to the catalogue
of actions available to activists? What effects does it generate? One inter-
esting aspect concerns what several of the informants viewed as a new-
found ability – due to the diffusion and technological progression of social
media and the Internet – to confront and destabilize the authority of main-
stream media. This is possible because, as information more easily can
be shared between individual political actors and not just be distributed
by large media networks to a broad public, activists can now challenge
the hierarchies that often are inherent in mainstream media. From the
increasing possibilities of activist-to-activist communication, a democra-
tization of information distribution can follow:

Digital activism offers many tools. To some extent it’s like a democ-
ratization regarding the flows of communication. That is to say, this
movement from one-to-many to all-to-all, that is the aspect of peer-
to-peer, creates an opportunity for people to, for example, reach out
with information to people without having to go through [established]
channels, such as classical media. (3)

Such a democratization is not to be taken for granted, however: just

because individuals can communicate without already established media
channels acting as intermediaries, there is no pre-determined, straightfor-
ward development to a situation where hierarchical structures are weak-
ened. As several of the respondents note, even though the use of social
media carries with it substantial democratic potentials, the use of it for
destructive or repressive purposes is never to be forgotten. In each techno-
political situation, one respondent stated, only one or a few parameters
separate the rationale of subversive and independent use – of the tech-
nology – from an undemocratic equivalent.
A further novel aspect, which perhaps does not entail something
genuinely new but at least affects existing trends, concerns the velocity
of information. Replying to what social media brings to conventional
Hybrid political activism 75

forms of resistance or political practices, one of the respondents

emphasized that “it adds immediacy” (which s/he also sees as one of
its great assets). This aspect has also been noted by some theorists and
scholars; when trying to distinguish the qualities that separate online
activism from its offline equivalent, they have identified the speed with
which the former can mobilize and connect actors, proliferate strug-
gles, and diffuse information (van de Donk et al., 2004: 5; cf. Ritter and
Trechsel, 2011 and their emphasis on, apart from the “multiplication
and amplification of voices” within the Egyptian uprisings 2011, the
“tempo of the revolution,” largely brought about by the CMCs used).
Deepening such an interpretation, one can claim that if the political
use of social media primarily adds – unprecedented – immediacy, the
here and now aspect of politics is notably amplified. This contribution
can hold considerable value for non-parliamentary political activities
because it implicitly criticizes and supplements the complex and slow-
moving machinery of institutionalized politics (the latter often relies
on thoroughly prepared decisions, whereas the former often – but far
from always – aims at more direct changes). The Internet can thus be
said to facilitate a more unrestricted diffusion of information that, in
turn, may support the proliferation of more egalitarian politics within
society – but this development can be obstructed, if certain circum-
stances remain unchanged and prevailing power structures continue to
exert a wide influence.

The duality of spheres

Following this issue further, one needs to examine how activists them-
selves interpret the overall role of CMCs, as well as particular uses of
social media. One respondent agrees with observations that stress that
online discussions have a similar political potential as offline face-to-face
dialogues. However, and more to the point, for this activist and her/his
political activities, “the two things complement each other, rather than
that, you know, new media replacing old ways of doing things.” But s/he
also submits that some offline gatherings cannot be substituted by online

What’s going on with the social media at the moment is complementing

those basic things, where it can get the word out really quickly, it can
bring people together very quickly ... but I still don’t think, you know,
I don’t think it can completely substitute for the physical. (1)

When it comes to actually conducting political activities, s/he insists that

it is the simultaneous use of both spheres that is the most powerful, that
is, that realizes most of the political potential inherent in both the online
and the offline:
76 Dahlberg-Grundberg

If you use these things in tandem, you know having a physical space
where people come together, with that social movement to get out
requests quickly, to get out information quickly, so that you can get
immediate responses back, then that starts becoming quite powerful
I think. I think if you do either in isolation, maybe it’s not as powerful
as it could be but I think that the combination of the two is maybe,
you know, the key to how these things start actually building move-
ments. (1)

Another informant touches upon a similar theme when asserting that

an interplay, or a dialectical movement, has to be present between the
online and the offline if political struggles are to be made into enduring
and robust movements that exert influence on orthodox politics (such as
lawmaking and the design of policies). One has to combine as many levels
of resistance as possible, s/he claims:

It is a prerequisite to be present on all the different playing fields [to

collect and distribute one’s information], or as many fields as possible
– because centralization does not work. (4)

But there is also a general tendency among the informants to view

CMCs as a supplementary set of tools whose relevance has to be analyzed
in relation to predominant offline strategies and methods; even though
offline politics is aided by online tactics and techniques, the interviewees
seem to claim that online politics has to be accompanied by offline activ-
ities. Otherwise – that is, without offline structures through which the
resistance can be channeled and take on new and more influential forms
– the struggle and its content tends to be reduced to an instantaneous and
temporary form of resistance (which, in the long run, runs into difficulties
in affecting parliamentary politics). It is possible to interpret these views
as a general claim that Internet activity can be of great importance but
that there has to exist some sort of feedback loop that ties the online to
the offline, because online presence, several of the activists emphasized,
is by itself hardly sufficient. One of them even goes as far as claiming that
online initiatives that remain on the Net are a kind of “failure” because:

if they were really successful, they would take the leap towards phys-
ical space. … [I]n the end, politics has to be conducted in a physical
space. (3)

On the one hand, digital practices can lead to “real” political conse-
quences; on the other, they are basically viewed as complementary tools
(see also the previous section) rather than as instruments sufficient in
themselves. Nevertheless, either way they – for my informants – seem to
be necessary components of activism today, because, as one respondent
Hybrid political activism 77

(when relating to her/his own activities) quite aptly puts it, “You can’t
not be on Facebook, ‘cause you’ll just miss all this information.” Another
interviewee states that one cannot disregard that the interplay of online
and offline,

is a necessity today as such a large part of information, or rather the

exchange of information, goes through the Internet. I believe that it is
an excellent instrument for mobilization and I believe that it is very
hard to manage without it. That is, it takes massive efforts to manage
without it.

But it has to be combined with offline initiatives and movements as “the

interplay is a necessity” and “one cannot exclude one or the other.” As one
respondent, when discussing her/his own experiences, argues:

[q]uite a lot can be done digitally, that a large part of how the struggle
is constituted and created, that it can, like, can be done online. It’s just
that I feel that it has to be, like, a leap to the concrete. … [B]ut it’s not
like that there is a logical start and end point between the two; it rather
seems like a constant collaboration. (3)

The quote illustrates the notion of interplay between the spheres, but it is a
notion that is supported by the view that social media and the Internet are
a complement to the offline; that is, the former tends to be regarded as an
additional instrument. Still, there is here a certain dynamic between the
two – even though the digital often is seen to be reliant upon the “real.”
An interesting description of such a – dialectical – dependency can
be found when analyzing the informants’ relation to the mass media.
For instance: to reach large numbers of people, it is rarely enough to
rely merely on the more autonomous, digital outlets that the activists
themselves tend to have access to. They must also try to disseminate
their goals, struggles, and opinions through already established media
channels and platforms. This dialectical structure is, one respondent
says, quite ironic: on the one hand, as an activist one has to steer clear
of modulating one’s message to the prevalent media logic while, on the
other, one needs the distributive potentials of just that same logic. This
means, another interviewee notes, that activists and media critics – irre-
spective of their repudiation of mainstream media – often need to articu-
late and position themselves in relation to structures and actors they often
endeavour to distance themselves from: “Well, in the end, conventional
media plays a significant role in such a situation. Despite the fact that
we are in such a context [where one via digital technology tries to avoid
having to play according to the rules of conventional media] it is them
we relate to, and it boils down to gaining knowledge of how to relate to
it in a, like, good way.” In this quote, what the informant seems to be
78 Dahlberg-Grundberg

calling for are ways to formulate views or occupy positions that do not
entail getting ensnared in predominant media discourses (i.e., discourses
that some activists try to supplant or restructure). The dilemma here is of
course a question of dependency: if political actors are forced to rely on
conventional news-broadcasting structures it may mean, I would claim,
that they are forced to adapt their languages and their demands to the
norms of mainstream media, thereby – in a worst case scenario – having
their views misrepresented. An analogous problem – which also outlines
the hierarchies of power inherent in the context of mainstream media
– that the interviewees directed attention to is that said media tends to
fetishize the form of digital politics without observing its content, that is,
what it tries to do or change:

I believe that what is going on in the news media is a kind of exotifi-

cation of the experience that something is new and exciting. … [I]t is
good headlines and good, like, I mean, it is good in the media logic,
like, but it actually doesn’t say much about how it works in reality.
And I believe that the approach to Anonymous and what is going on
there also is quite, I mean I believe that hackers can do very interesting
things from an activist perspective, but I think that media is addressing
the issue in a very vulgar way, like, where they in some way are saying
“this is the new thing,” “this is the future,” “this is the way activism
will shape itself.” (3)

Such exotification, first, tends to conceal radical aspects of the actual

activities – because the form is highlighted at the cost of content. Second, it
tends to misrepresent the political use of digital technology by, for instance,
making people believe that the use of computer-mediated communication
in a political campaign is to be understood in a certain way, and that, as
some of the respondents point out, such narratives can delude political
actors into believing that the mere use of social media can bring about
fundamental social and political changes. This problem is addressed by
Meikle (2010: 367), who writes that “while the news media are drawn
to novelty and disruption, their coverage is also more likely to focus on
that very novelty and disruption than on the underlying issues or causes
involved, which may in fact work against the activist cause.” Nonetheless,
this challenging situation, one respondent maintains, can be balanced
out as established media channels are losing some of their strengths as
they – on account of the growing use of critical grassroots media outlets
– “become less and less authoritarian for each day that passes.” If such
changes persist, that is, if more autonomous uses of – digital – media
prevail, the often emphasized freedom (of speech, of information collec-
tion and diffusion, of opportunities to form communities) of that same
digital media can transfer some of its anti-hierarchical structures to the
offline world. But how?
Hybrid political activism 79

Mobilization and collectivity

Themes relating to mobilization and collective relationships frequently
arose in the interviews. One interesting feature that became apparent
was how one group (tied to the Occupy LSX movement) seemed to work
among members to diminish the cultural differences and knowledge
gaps that separated tech-savvy individuals from individuals with less
competence and less access to technology. This can perhaps be viewed
as an attempt to bridge a digital divide (described above) that is linked
to knowledge and cultural capital. The fact that the Internet in their case
was conferred some essential value is indicated by how some activists
helped people without access to sufficient technological devices (here:
smart phones) to get access to a Twitter-flow as SMS texts. This was,
according to the respondent, a pursuit to “bridge the gap between people
who are not used to using it [and those that are].” As a result, there was
a less fundamental divide in this sense among the individuals belonging
to the movement.
Another interesting aspect regarding how the activists perceived the
communication technology became evident particularly when movement
organization was contrasted to the way digital politics in itself was under-
stood. In a way, the use of social media was conceived as mirroring the
democratic structure of the movements in which some of the respond-
ents are involved. One respondent, when describing how her/his organi-
zation uses and interplays with the communication technology, noted
how “[o]nline platforms reflect a lot of the structure of the movement,
the non-structure of the movement,” which indicates the spontaneity of
both social media and social movements and, furthermore, their incessant
co-becoming. Therefore, they want to find platforms “that can represent
[the movement] best.” That is, they are searching for:

media platforms [that] reflect as much as possible the actual structure

of the movement [by] trying to work out a democratic way of actually
sharing [those platforms]. (2)

This implies that a growing political awareness can be a result of the

combination of the involvement in progressive, experimental social move-
ments and the use of social media (cf. Juris’s [2005] notion of “informational
utopics”). Interpreting this further, a sort of hybridity can be identified:
the belief is that if the egalitarian structures and approaches sometimes
encountered online are transmitted to an offline context, the consequences
may be an alteration of offline politics (while, of course, offline democratic
ideals also influence numerous online initiatives). Thus, as the constitu-
tion of a movement continuously is (re)invented, a democratic structure
pertaining to the use of social media and the construction of social media
platforms may strengthen the equality within movements – and therefore
80 Dahlberg-Grundberg

further distribute egalitarian tenets within society. “A democratic trans-

formation of an SMO’s [Social Movements Organization’s] organizational
form may,” Mercea (2012: 157) writes, “reflect the purported democratic
and collaborative values inherent to the Web 2.0 generation of websites.”
An increase in – democratic – participation through the employment of
digital platforms therefore may lead to an increasing democratization
of social movements and organizations. But in other circumstances, the
opposite can certainly also be the case (i.e., that oppression and surveil-
lance online enable repressive political practices and discourses offline).
(For a discussion on hybridity and surveillance, see Eric Carlsson’s contri-
bution to this book.)

Digital activism: problems to face

According to Jodi Dean (2005, 2010) and her notion of communicative
capitalism, one of the characteristics of the contemporary information
society is that the circulation of communicative elements – bits and pieces
of information – render a situation in which the circulation itself becomes
primary, rather than the reception or the use of the information sent (i.e.,
the exchange value, not the use value, is foregrounded):

In communicative capitalism, however, the use value of a message

is less important than its exchange value, its contribution to a larger
pool, flow or circulation of content. A contribution need not be under-
stood; it need only be repeated, reproduced, forwarded. Circulation is
the context, the condition for the acceptance or rejection of a contri-
bution. Put somewhat differently, how a contribution circulates deter-
mines whether it had been accepted or rejected. (Dean, 2005, p. 59;
for similar perspectives, concerning themselves with the concept of
information overload, see Wright, 2004, pp. 81–82 and especially pp.
84–86; Jordan, 1999, pp. 117–128).

In relation to this type of media-critical argument, it is also interesting

to note how the informants brought up a set of problems and potential
pitfalls relating to the use of social media for political purposes. Besides
the dependency on mainstream media already touched upon, one of the
dilemmas that was mentioned is connected to “not getting out beyond
the core audiences of people who are going to agree with you anyway,”
from which follows that the distribution of information (and the efforts
to constitute a movement) faces the risk of “preaching to the converted.”
A similar threat pertains to having one’s material compromised through
malevolent appropriations. For example, one respondent noticed how
his/her Facebook page, mainly used to circulate information, became
hijacked by non-members who wrote anti-movement statements or who
posted material with no pertinence for the group whatsoever. (Here, the
Hybrid political activism 81

structural openness of communication – which according to some is the

most interesting and important attribute of social media – becomes its
own enemy, the liberal notion of plurality a possible distress.)
Along the same line, several of the interviewees were concerned with
(and had experienced) the risk that the political use of social media will
lead to the formation of interactive “bubbles,” where small sections of
different populations interact – but only with each other. The problem
is that if you become lost in a bubble you may come to “believe that
your message has an effect when it really just is addressing the already
converted.” The difficulty here obviously is that such communication has
no effect outside the network bubble and consequently fails to reach or
address a large part of society.

You’re just deepening your friendship with the people that are
acknowledging your communication. The rest, like, disappears in the
flow … as those that are disagreeing with you are already filtered
away. (4)

On the other hand, this tendency can be viewed as quite uncontroversial:

as one cannot appeal to the entire population within a society (because
material and epistemological differences differentiate between and within
groups), one may have to accept that different settings target different
social groups. To solve such complications, what is needed is perhaps a
heterogeneous media approach that tries to reach out and include as many
as possible – but to reach all seems a futile attempt, given the multidimen-
sional forms of communication, identities, and organizations/groups that
inhabit the communicative environments surrounding us.
Most of the respondents understand the use of Internet as an instru-
ment for mobilization as rather natural: when one lacks access to large
and important networks through which one could spread one’s messages
(as a result, for example, of being deprived of access to hegemonic media
portals and outlets) one must, accordingly, find avenues that reach as large
an audience as possible. But as each informational venue – digital as well
as analogue – always has some limitations – material or economic, as
well as political or cultural – it appears as if multifarious communicative
sources and manifold social dimensions have to be combined if social
changes are to be attained; the dialectical movement between online and
offline, between the technological and the social, must thus be addressed.
“There exists a sort of dynamic here,” one informant points out. One must,
as a result, be aware of the fact that an either/or approach to online or
offline activism is an impasse. Despite the fact that,

[o]n the Internet it is easier [in comparison to the offline world] to

find people that are interested in the same things and, like, want to
contribute with their specific little part (4)
82 Dahlberg-Grundberg

it is important also to acknowledge that even though it sometimes

appears as though the digital is of, like, central importance, that it is

the place where one has one’s main forum, there in most cases exists
a more, how should one put it, a fundamental activity in physical
space. (4)

The opportunities to facilitate and create mobilization among larger

groups of members who are enabled by concurrent digitalization and
decentralization through the Internet (which is a development that in some
cases can destabilize hierarchies) must therefore constantly be placed
alongside offline political practices – and vice versa. Otherwise, one can
easily become caught in a monocausal logic that scarcely can explain the
complexities that political activities may face in the future of techno-polit-
ical developments.
As an additional problem, one also can discuss to what extent access
to technology is, in itself, enough to engender an egalitarian relation
towards using it, for there can be obstacles other than the material ones,
for example, such as those pertaining to knowledge and, as previously
mentioned, economy. In the words of one of the respondents: “that all have
real access to Twitter does not mean that they all also feel comfortable
with its form and with what is happening there.” Thus, the issue of cultural
capital is just as important as its social and economic counterparts, and so
it demands the same type of critical attention.

Concluding remarks and discussion

As a first conclusion of the presented analysis, one can discern a situation
where the political landscape has been transformed by augmented means
of communication – expanding the vocabulary of activists – which can be
employed to coordinate, plan, and execute political acts. The changes have
introduced, in a word, new ways to organize and structure different forms
of resistance (what it means to be an activist thus, as some claim, seems
to have undergone a revision of some sort). Also: even though several of
the respondents conceded that social media is dependent on the offline
world and the political economy with which it is connected, they stress
how these changes have supported new openings to activist groups and
social movements that hitherto have had limited resources to disseminate
their opinions and, in other cases, to criticize established politics and the
mainstream media. To some extent, the utopian ideas about the demo-
cratic potentials of digital communication technology addressed above
therefore seem somewhat accurate: the implementation of social media
can further democratization in society, at least in some cases, by allowing
grassroots approaches that, for instance, can put political power structures
under scrutiny.
Hybrid political activism 83

Important to note, however, is that the new technology is not believed

to be developed in a space void of relations to previously existing ways of
either conducting activist politics or to established structures of wealth,
power, and media. On the contrary, the informational and political infra-
structure produced by the use of computer-mediated communication
constitutes, as stressed by the respondents, a continuity involving previ-
ously existing strategies and methods for activist politics.5 While the
activists interviewed embrace digital technology and its ability to bring
about new venues for information circulation, thereby circumventing the
gatekeeping power of the mass media, they are also struggling with the
problem of addressing that media with the purpose of gaining attention.
To sum up, while these activists – partly – are working to redefine the
atmosphere of media production and distribution to generate democratic
and decentralized ways of gaining and publishing information and polit-
ical agendas, they are forced to rely on just that established media because
the latter often has to acknowledge them if they are to get the attention
needed to be able to affect political procedures. Therefore, the more scep-
tical perspectives that stress how relations of power and economy – the
digital divide – can curtail the development of more democratic forms
of political participation also appear to be of crucial importance when it
comes to understanding digital politics.
But what does this actually amount to, and where does it leave us when
it comes to the notions of hybridity and digital activism? When trying to
analyze and summarize the interviews, a question that insists on being
answered pertains to whether, with Bennett (2003), the new “communica-
tion practices merely reduce the costs or increase the efficiencies of polit-
ical action, or whether they change the political game itself.” The answer
seems to be somewhat ambiguous. On the one hand, the informants appear
to relate to social media as something that broadens their political reper-
toires, giving them exceptional instruments with which to confront main-
stream media, orthodox politics, and deep-rooted social values, while also
reconstituting and rearranging the role – and perchance also the identity
– of the activist. On the other hand, they interpreted the technology as a
“merely” complementing tool, understood as an instrument to be utilized
to supplement political approaches prevalent offline. Still, this does not
imply that the use of digital and social media is of no value. Instead, one
must note the dialectical movement between online and offline.
Even though this is a small-sample study, it may still indicate some
broad patterns. That activists believe that online and offline practices and
strategies sometimes need to be united is perhaps nothing new. What is
more interesting is that these activists view digital presence as a require-
ment or prerequisite for making autonomous political activity matter. This
conclusion is possibly skewed by the fact that all of the activists I inter-
viewed are or have been using digital technology for political purposes.
It can nonetheless give some suggestions apropos the future of political
84 Dahlberg-Grundberg

activism. Still, as digital technology is not perceived to be enough in

itself to accomplish the goals aimed at, the activists can be interpreted
as arguing that, with regard to established offline tactics, the digital is a
necessary but not sufficient feature of political activism.
I suggest that notions claiming that, one the one hand, Internet poli-
tics should be seen as a complement to traditional activism and that, on
the other, it can offer something profoundly “original” are not mutually
exclusive. Rather, hybrid relations – or the overall notion of hybrid poli-
tics – are of significance. One example of why this is so can be found in
the way in which the informants emphasize how the democratic struc-
tures that are a potential in digital technology (e.g., that everyone has
– in an ideal case, that is – access to information and can communicate
with everyone else) can affect how social movements offline are consti-
tuted. Here, the – assumed – democratic and equal aspects of informa-
tion sharing within computer-mediated communication are believed to
transfer some of their content to the offline world, to some degree altering
the latter by implanting certain democratic and egalitarian values. This
is maybe one of those situations in which it is possible, in a clear way, to
discern a real hybrid nexus, that is, a co-dependence of the online and
offline political worlds.
From this dual perspective, where we perhaps can identify what in the
opening section was termed a hybridization of politics (i.e., a societal state
of things in which the digital becomes a quintessential component that to
some extent has to be recognized within political actions and campaigns,
although in relation to already widespread offline methods), one can
extract a middle option that acknowledges that it is unlikely that social
media politics will either replace offline activist alternatives or merely
provide supplementary options. A more plausible reading is that the tech-
nological developments this chapter has touched on – although negotiated
and used in combination with offline strategies – will add new dimensions
and opportunities to the array of actions available for activists (while also
in themselves being transformed by this situation). One can thus conclude
by claiming that the pessimistic and optimistic accounts that were sche-
matically outlined in the introductory section both seem to be off the
mark: as digital politics is never just digital at the same time as the “real”
is never merely “real,” and they both tend sometimes to correlate with
and sometimes to contest prevailing hierarchies and power structures, a
more reasonable interpretation is, instead, to view digital technology and
social media as potentially emancipatory devices that, given that they are
intertwined with predominant discourses and relations of power, can have
a liberatory effect in some circumstances but might, in others, facilitate
the opposite development.6 The potential of their use has to be evaluated
critically, as a consequence, in each separate situation.
Hybrid political activism 85

1 Scholarly examples that assert this depiction abound: For example: Fuchs
(2008: 1) opens with the statement “The internet is ubiquitous in everyday
life” while Castells (2001: 1) starts his The Internet Galaxy by claiming that
“The internet is the fabric of our lives.”
2 “However,” the author adds, “internet technology is not a magical, self-gener-
ating terrain. There are impending policies, such as the end of net neutrality
provisions, that would irreparably damage this potential.”
3 One must, in short, avoid the trap of cyber-utopianism, which is the notion
that most political/social problems can be solved by introducing a digital
element (Morozov, 2009b and 2011). Harvey (2005), addressing a more
general phenomenon concerning the fascination of technological innovations
as means with which to transfigure the world, calls this a “fetish belief,” a
concept by which he aims to address the – somewhat problematic – notion
“that there is a technological fix for each and every problem” (p. 68; cf.
Harvey, 2003).
4 Internet technology cannot be interpreted, therefore, as containing a propen-
sity for facilitation of democracy and anti-hierarchical attitudes. Rather, such
an idea can be dangerous (Gamson, 2003: 267). The notion of ambivalence
of technology (Feenberg, 1995, 2002) – addressing the fact that technology
can be used both as means of liberation and as a means for control – can
here provide us with some insights. More specifically, Feenberg writes about
“the ‘ambivalence’ of the computer” which denotes “that the computer can
serve both as a control system and as a medium for disseminating knowledge
and communication opportunities throughout a fluid network” (1995: 132; cf.
2002, Part II). Dyer-Witheford (1999) asserts that the Internet, while it offers
the equipment to further the dispersion of the economic logic of capitalism,
also produces the possibilities for resistance: “To a degree, the very commu-
nication channels that circulate commodities also circulate struggle” (Dyer-
Witheford, 1999: 146). Thus, technologies aren’t “neutral, but rather they
are often constituted by contending pressures that implant in them contrary
potentialities: which of these are realized is something that will be deter-
mined only in further struggle and conflict” (p. 72).
5 When studying how new media emerge in relation to and with the help of
old media, one finds yet another way of describing hybridity. One can rein-
force this statement by comparing it to Henry Jenkins’s (2008) notion of
hybridity, a concept he uses to illustrate how advancements in media and
culture seldom can be conceived without also acknowledging their predeces-
sors and/or competitors. He states that “[h]ybridity occurs when one cultural
space … absorbs and transforms elements from another; a hybrid work thus
exists betwixt and between two cultural traditions while providing a path that
can be explored from both directions” (p. 114).
6 It is possible, if one follows this hybrid approach, to avoid getting caught
in a monocausal logic that, for example, overemphasizes the role of digital
technologies. As a result one can, given this more multidimensional way of
assessing the effects of said technology, reach far more complicated – and
adequate – conclusions (Davidson, et al., 2012).
86 Dahlberg-Grundberg

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6 The hybrid discourse of digital
Simon Lindgren

1 King Kong Defense

Legal strategy used by Carl Lundström’s lawyer in the Pirate Bay trial of 2009.
This defense is effective for its ability to come out of left field, catching the prose-
cution completely off guard and furthermore, obliterating their weak arguments.
Carl Lundström’s attorney: “The person responsible for uploads of copyrighted
files might as well be a user named King-Kong in the jungles of Cambodia.”
(urbandictionary.com/king kong defense)

On the third day of trial of The Pirate Bay at the Stockholm district court
in February 2009, the legal representative of one of the defendants used
a strategy that was quickly to become an Internet meme. The lawyer –
Per E. Samuelsson – argued that his client could not be deemed guilty of
assisting in copyright infringement because the client had no connection
to the person who had committed the actual crime in question. According
to Wikipedia’s transcription and translation of this part of the trial,
Samuelsson said that:

EU directive 2000/31/EC says that he who provides an information

service is not responsible for the information that is being trans-
ferred. In order to be responsible, the service provider must initiate
the transfer. But the admins of The Pirate Bay don’t initiate transfers.
It’s the users that do, and they are physically identifiable people. They
call themselves names like King Kong … According to legal proce-
dure, the accusations must be against an individual and there must
be a close tie between the perpetrators of a crime and those who are
assisting. This tie has not been shown. The prosecutor must show that
Carl Lundström personally has interacted with the user King Kong,
who may very well be found in the jungles of Cambodia …

The term “King Kong defense” was quickly taken up and popular-
ized in blogs, media reports, and news feeds commenting on the trial.
The King Kong defense also became an instant classic among pro-piracy
The hybrid discourse of digital piracy 91

advocates, as images and slogans invoking the meme were swiftly

employed as building blocks in the, often absurdist and ironic, pro-piracy
rhetoric surrounding a trial they felt to be a spectacle. The hashtag #spec-
trial – a combination of the words “spectacle” and “trial” – was coined
by the defendants and used by themselves and their supporters during the
The lawyer’s strategy ultimately failed, however, because the court
found in its April 2009 verdict that the defendants undoubtedly knew that
The Pirate Bay tracker facilitated illegal exchanges of copyrighted mate-
rial. The EU directive was said not to apply in this case, meaning that – at
least in Europe – those who operate peer-to-peer file sharing networks are
(at least in part) responsible for the data that users, even if independent
and unaffiliated, trade. All four defendants were found guilty and were
sentenced to a fine of approximately €2.7 million and sentences of one
year each in prison. The verdict was appealed and changed in November
2010, when fines were increased and prison sentences shortened.

Hybrid relations: what is interaction?

But the King Kong defense still touches upon the very centre of pro- versus
anti-piracy discourse. What Samuelsson obviously tried to do was show
the silliness inherent in claiming that a person simply providing an alleg-
edly neutral infrastructure is in part guilty of whatever people decide to
do with said infrastructure. The eventual court ruling, on the other hand,
emphasized that the infrastructure was not neutral. The court felt that the
tracker encouraged certain types of use and that the creators and suppliers
of the service could indeed be seen as responsible for the infringements
that it enabled.
This highlights a prominent feature of piracy discourse, namely that it
often tends to “reaffirm ostensible boundaries between materiality and
the ideational – the subject and the object” (Dent, 2012: 659). Arguments
coming from pro- or anti-piracy advocates often relate to themes that are
at the core of hybrid media culture. In the case of the King Kong defense,
we are dealing with a discussion about whether the digital relationship
between a provider of a torrent tracker and its users can be construed as
an “actual” relationship. Indeed, if Lundström had helped King Kong out
in shoplifting DVDs in a store, there would have been less perceived ambi-
guity. Also, if King Kong had ordered CD-Rs that Lundström mailed to
him in a postal package, we would have fewer problems agreeing that the
two were in fact engaged in a relationship. It is, however, the facelessness,
the vastness, and the relativity of digital interconnection that makes the
question about King Kong’s Cambodian whereabouts arise.
How could they possibly have “met” or “interacted”? In one sense, it is
quite obvious that they had not, but in another it might well be possible – at
least discursively, because this is all about how things are understood and
92 Lindgren

constructed symbolically. It is about what criteria we feel must be fulfilled

in order for a relation to be constituted.
Issues of this type abound in piracy discourse: Who is an author? What is
an original? Where does fandom end and theft start? How is value created,
or destroyed, in the digital economy? In this chapter, discursive dealings
with issues like these are analyzed with the help of two sets of data. One
was gathered from the Swedish online news repository Mediearkivet [The
Media Archive] and consists of 8,451 full text articles from Sweden’s five
largest newspapers. The other was gathered using Twingly blog search
(www.twingly.com) together with a Web content mining application (Web
Info Extractor), and comprises 6,903 posts from a wide variety of Swedish
language blogs. Both datasets span the period from February through
April 2009. Both of the sets were collected using the same search string,
including issues of online piracy and file sharing.
This chapter will map and compare discursive themes relating to pro-
and anti-piracy opinions in Swedish online public discourse. With piracy
being an issue that is highly affected by the hybridity of today’s media
system, the study also acknowledges the hybridity of discourse itself.
This will be highlighted in a comparison of major news media sites with
expressions of user-generated content, citizen journalism, and counter-
discourse in the form of blog posts.

Hybrid morality: to pirate or not to pirate

Even if many people think that piracy is unethical, our ideas concerning
where to draw the actual lines vary greatly (Hinduja, 2003). Whereas
some researchers have claimed online piracy to be an issue that lacks
moral intensity – that is, it tends to feel less “serious” than many other
ethically conditioned behaviors, such as theft of material property
(Logsdon, Thompson, and Reid, 1994) – others have stated that digital
technologies have a disinhibiting effect (Suler, 2004), leaving the users
feeling free of personal involvement and responsibility (Summers and
Markusen, 1992).
Issues of guilt and accountability become even more blurred because
piracy can be interpreted in terms of collective political action, as a form
of cyber activism where commercial and capitalist powers are resisted
(Lunney, 2001; Strangelove, 2005). This moral ambiguity of the issue
– together with its engagement with notions of hybrid objects (origi-
nals/copies) and subjects (thieves/consumers) – makes the discourses
surrounding it an interesting field of analysis.

Hybrid discourse: intertextuality and dialogism

Research designs that involve comparisons are usually based on the
assumption that the things compared will potentially differ from one
The hybrid discourse of digital piracy 93

another in some way. This study hypothesizes that the online texts of
major news corporations – gathered from the Internet outlets of “old”
media institutions – will be characterized by a traditional media logic
according to which meaning is produced in a stereotypical way (Cohen
and Young, 1973), to be communicated in a top-down manner (Thompson,
1990), reproducing the dominant ideologies in society (Fowler, 1991).
Furthermore, it hypothesizes that the user-generated online texts gathered
from blogs will represent another type of discourse, characterized to a
larger extent by the bottom-up dissemination of comparatively more rebel-
lious and divergent discourse. New media platforms have been claimed to
play an important role in the rise of new forms of political engagement
and, also, for new ways of understanding such things as democracy, the
public sphere, and civic culture.
Dahlgren (2007, 2009) has emphasized that the public discussions of
today are increasingly taking place online, through a new form of citizen
journalism and in relation to activist organizations and social movements
with an Internet presence. Jansson (2004) has written particularly on the
potential of new media audiences to resist the system and the institutions
within which media content is produced. Similar to Jenkins (2006), he
claims that the increased variety of media channels and platforms makes
it possible for the individual to choose actively and to create and circulate
his or her own content. Ito (2008: 2–3) summarizes this by writing of
“networked publics”:

The term networked publics references a linked set of social, cultural,

and technological developments that have accompanied the growing
engagement with digitally networked media. The Internet has not
completely changed the media’s role in society: mass media, or one-
to-many communications, continue to cater to a wide arena of cultural
life. What has changed are the ways in which people are networked
and mobilized with and through media. … Networked publics … are
communicating more and more through complex networks that are
bottom-up, top-down, as well as side-to-side. Publics can be reactors,
(re)makers and (re)distributors, engaging in shared culture and knowl-
edge through discourse and social exchange.

The commonsense, or hegemonic, understanding of any given social

phenomenon (such as piracy) must be seen as the result of a combination
of elements from several distinct discourses. This has to do with what
Kristeva (1980) labels intertextuality and what Bakhtin (1981) called
dialogism. Texts and their meanings are always dependent on other texts
and meanings, with which they enter into intertextual or dialogical rela-
tions. They draw upon each other, polemicize with each other, strengthen
each other, and the one assumes that the reader is already familiar with
the other.
94 Lindgren

Hybrid methods: connected concept analysis

For the discourse analyses presented in this chapter, I used connected
concept analysis (Lindgren, forthcoming) – a method combining discourse
analysis, content analysis, and network analysis – to map out the two
discursive spaces to be compared. An important part of this approach is
that it aims to bridge the divide between qualitative and quantitative text
analysis. The method demands that selective close readings of parts of the
empirical material are made in order to inform crucial decisions in the
quantitative parts of the analysis and, also, that the quantitative steps are
validated through qualitative measures (Lindgren and Lundström, 2009:
68–70, 74–9).
The main idea of Laclau and Mouffe’s (1985) discourse theory is that
the connections between elements in a discourse can be traced in terms
of how links between concepts are authorized and asserted, how chains
of signifiers are grouped, and how certain arrangements of these cling
together. Their perspective relies on a set of key concepts: A discursive
formation is a totality that can be defined as “an ensemble of differential
positions” (Laclau and Mouffe, 1985: 106). The differential positions are
labelled “moments” (p. 105), and they are potential discursive “elements”
that have been “articulated” in ways that assign them their particular
places in the discursive formation. In each such formation, some discur-
sive points (the “nodal points,” p. 112) are dominant in relation to others.
A discourse can thus be conceived of as a space in which a number of
themes, symbols, or concepts are positioned in relation to one another.
Whereas some of these may be peripheral and insignificant, others are
essential and central. Fairclough (2001: 124) writes that critical discourse
analysis must alternate “between a focus on structure [i.e., discursive
wholes] … and a focus on the productive semiotic work which goes on
in particular texts.” Consequently, the thematic categories represented in
the figures in this chapter were arrived at through an iterative process of
alternating between qualitative coding and quantitative processing of the
data. Whereas only parts of the data were coded qualitatively, all of it was
analyzed quantitatively. The results of the analyses were visualized using
the alluvial generator included in the Mapgenerator package (Edler and
Rosvall, 2010, mapequation.org).

Juxtaposing discourses
Figure 6.1 offers a visualization of the strongest co-occurrences of themes
between the two spaces – and shows that the two discursive spaces have
some topics in common, although they may be dealt with to a varying
extent and from different perspectives.
If we look at the black shapes in the news column, we see that the
issue of personal integrity in relation to the policing of file sharers is
The hybrid discourse of digital piracy 95


personal politics
conviction access
culture surveillance


the police rights
evidence The people
legal security
abetment democracy
The trial


The trial


Figure 6.1 Co-occurrences between discursive themes (strongest links)

discussed in both types of sources but is given a much more promi-

nent role in the pirate blogs than in the news coverage. Second, aspects
of online piracy relating to questions of cultural policies and politics
(culture and politics) more generally are prevalent to a comparable
degree in both discourses. Third, technicalities and consequences of the
implementation of the IPRED law in particular are dealt with in both
discourses. This is expected because the IPRED debate plays a crucial
role in how the data were selected. Still, it is obvious that much more
space was devoted to this issue in the pirate blogs than in the news texts.
Discourse on the court process (The Trial) was, on the other hand, much
more prevalent in the news.
This first step of the analysis gives some indication that although news
and blog discourse on online piracy overlap and often deal with similar –
if not the same – themes, these representational spaces are still discernible
as two distinct contexts of meaning production, each adhering to its own
logic. According to Bourdieu (2000: 15), any social field will always be
96 Lindgren

delineated by a “doxa.” The doxa is the set of fundamental rules, ideas,

and presuppositions that are specific to the field.

All those who are involved in the fields … share a tacit adherence to the
same doxa which makes their competition possible and assigns its limits.
(Bourdieu, 2000: 102)

The discourses of the news coverage and of the pirate blogs can be
conceived of as two “linguistic fields” (Bourdieu, 1977: 647), within the
respective boundaries of which individual speech acts are to be under-
stood. This means that even though individual journalists or bloggers
surely have a degree of agency and autonomy, there are – in each of the
fields – expected types of utterances that at the aggregated level evolve
and lead towards a terminology shared to some extent by anyone entering
the field. This terminology is the result of an interactive and constructive
process of what Cattuto et al. call “semiotic dynamics,” which is about
“how populations of humans or agents can establish and share semiotic
systems, typically driven by their use in communication” (Cattuto, Loreto,
and Pietronero, 2007: 1461).
When close-reading actual texts that lie behind the various building
blocks shown in Figure 6.1, the result was that both discourses revolve
around issues of morality and ethics. One characteristic form of news
report is the one emphasizing how the alleged amorality and unethical
behaviors of online pirates are a threat to social order, especially as regards
the functioning of the capitalist system through which creators of cultural
content get paid for their products. The two excerpts below are from news
texts that are typical of this perspective.

The four who stand convicted try hard to paint a picture of themselves
as rebels, and of the conflict with the music industry like David’s battle
with Goliath. That picture can be questioned. Apart from having made
millions off of pirated material, it has become known that these men
have a highly suspect history including anything from theft and drugs
to tax evasion and extreme right-wing politics. … The pirate move-
ment has generally wanted to see the net as something of a free haven
from the laws and rules of society.
(Dagens Nyheter, 22 February 2009, translated by the author)

Those engaging in illegal file sharing are not friends of the artists,
they rather undermine the conditions for all forms of cultural crea-
tion. Therefore, it is good that the men behind the largest file-sharing
site in the world have now been exposed as the simple criminals that
they in fact are. This will hopefully discourage others from engaging
in similar activities.
(Dagens Nyheter, 18 April 2009, translated by the author)
The hybrid discourse of digital piracy 97

Looking more closely at how these texts are composed, one finds exam-
ples of many of the characteristics of “moral panic” discourse as described
by Cohen (1972). He writes that the moral panic gets its specific resonance
by pointing to continuities:

… in space (it’s not only this … this sort of thing) backward in time
(part of a trend … building up over the years) a conditional common
future (a growing problem … will get worse if nothing is done).
(Cohen, 2002: xxx [30])

With wordings such as “apart from”; “it has become known”; “highly
suspect history”; “is good” that the “criminals” have been “exposed,”
this type of discourse draws on representational forms similar to those
discussed by Cohen as the “prophecy of doom” and “it’s not only this.”
Online piracy is constructed here as something that is reflective of a
large threat to society, as such, and as something that must be stopped.
Furthermore, the excerpts are illustrative of “spurious attribution” and
of the process of “symbolization” (ibid.). By invoking imagery of other
forms of criminality and of extreme right-wing politics, negative symbols
are imposed on anyone engaging in online piracy.
As a counter-image to this, one characteristic type of blog post is that
which states that it is rather the anti-pirates who are a threat to society and
culture, especially when it comes to the conditions and possibilities for
people to be intellectually stimulated and culturally creative. The argu-
ment is that it would be stupid not to harness the power and potential of
the new technologies as regards the possibility to distribute more content,
at almost no costs, to immensely larger audiences. The following extract
is from a blog post advocating this view.

IPRED, FRA and the suspect ACTA agreement, that are being devel-
oped right now, are a few examples of how states around the world
give in to the so-called representatives of the entertainment industry.
Representatives who have realized that their power is disappearing
and who mourn the fact that it is no longer as easy as it used to be
to lure creative people into evil deals and life-long slave contracts.
Today, the means of production and distribution have become democ-
ratized, and anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can
make their voice heard.
(http://www.nittondestolen.se, April 2009, translated by the author)

Blog posts of this type invoke images of an evil industry, in league

with all-powerful political and judicial state actors, doing anything to
protect copyrights and thereby its profits, while sacrificing the integrity
and creativity of individuals in the process. When we deconstruct this
kind of speech with the use of Cohen’s theory, it is obvious that it is
98 Lindgren

an example of a counter-hegemonic discourse but it nonetheless bears

several marks of a moral panic. Whereas news discourse is the vehicle
of a certain group of moral entrepreneurs defining the pirates and pro-
piracy advocates as folk devils, this blog discourse turns the tables. In
this context, the moral entrepreneurs constructing the moral panic about
online piracy as a social ill are themselves represented as folk devils in
an alternative moral discourse.
In this second panic, the roles as moral entrepreneurs are manned by
the folk devils of the first panic: the pirates and pro-piracy actors. The
threat identified in the first panic is how new technologies, coupled with
the driving force of networked publics, give rise to online pirate activities
disrupting the stable functioning of the cultural industries. In contrast, the
threat identified in the other panic is how these same technologies, paired
with the allegedly illegitimate use of the legislative and policing powers of
the state, promote the emergence of a surveillance society disrupting the
free flow of culture and hampering the creativity of individuals.
Just like the news texts, the analyzed blog posts include pointers to other
dimensions in time and space (“it’s not only this”), elements of predic-
tion (“prophecy of doom”) as well as examples of negative symbolization
and sensitization. The first extract below suggests that by implementing
IPRED, one opens up the door to privatizing more and more of the tasks
assigned to the police and the legal system, thereby undermining legal
security. It also uses the dramatic image of a vulnerable “family with chil-
dren” as a potential victim of the new system. The formulation “for the
first time in Swedish legal history” is used as a rhetorical means to argue
that an all-time low has been reached.

IPRED is an inappropriate law from every angle possible. It allows for

private corporations to take over parts of the jobs of police and courts.
It introduces dilapidation as a means of discouragement for the first
time in Swedish legal history. It puts ordinary families with children
up against slick copyright lawyers in trials where the accused must
prove their own innocence.
(http://christianengstrom.wordpress.com, March 2009,
translated by the author)

… I find it important that people can make a living doing what they
love. However, I cannot accept that human rights are undermined.
Trade agreements such as ACTA, the implementation of IPRED,
filters towards legal websites, threats to communication. Freedom of
opinion is more important to me than my respect for the worries of
individual artists. As I am writing this, copyright cartels have free
access to politicians and legislation. Their aim is not to be fair to
society at large, but to preserve the power of some representatives of
some industries, at any cost. They should be called to account, not the
The hybrid discourse of digital piracy 99

least morally, for the development that they have contributed to with
their well-paid lobby.
(http://opassande.se, February 2009, translated by the author)

This second blog excerpt is an example of how the anti-pirate threat

is constructed and dramatized through employing discourse referring to
“human rights” and “freedom of opinion.” Constructing the issue in this
way depicts it as something that may alter our future forever, rather than
something having to do with copyrights in a narrower sense.
As illustrated and discussed this far, one might hypothesize that during
the intense period of discussion of online piracy in the Swedish context
from February through April 2009, at least two major counteracting
discursive reactions emerged. One, mainly emanating from newspaper
texts, was focussed on constructing the pirates as folk devils engaging
in criminal activities and threatening the culture industries. The other,
expressed, for example, in blogs about piracy, engaged in the construc-
tion of the anti-pirates (representatives of big business and authorities) as
sacrificing the cultural lives of ordinary people in their relentless defense
of capitalism.
Pointing out some illustrative examples, I have been able to show that
both of these opposing reactions could be termed moral panics. They
certainly fulfil a number of the key criteria. If we look at Cohen’s defini-
tion, we see both reactions are about defining the convictions and actions
of the respective folk devils “as a threat to societal values and interests”
(Cohen, 1972: 9). “Stylized and stereotypical” (ibid.) ways of depicting
this group and their behaviors are certainly identifiable. Furthermore, on
both sides “the moral barricades are manned by … right thinking people
[who] pronounce their diagnoses and solutions” (ibid.). Finally, the quite
explosive nature of pirate discourse in the studied frame of time and space
(February–April 2009 in Sweden) illustrates the volatile character of
discourse, which means that it quite suddenly “disappears, submerges or
deteriorates” (ibid.).
Furthermore, as McRobbie and Thornton (1995) contend, it is important
to take into account that the media of today are far from univocal and
rather are characterized by fragmentation and multiplicity – by hybridity.
Drawing on the Althusserian notion of “overdetermination” (originally a
key concept of Freud’s psychoanalysis), Laclau and Mouffe (1985) write
of certain discursive nexuses being overdetermined – centres of intense
struggles over their meaning and significance. Looking at Figure 6.2 –
showing all coded themes in the data – it can be argued that online piracy
discourse is characterized by such overdetermination.
It seems to be a

[point] of condensation of a number of social relations and, thus,

become[s] the focal point of a multiplicity of totalizing effects. But
legal security copyright
Bureau of access
Anti-Piracy conviction
citizen The people
theft The State
rights citizen
The people Spotify
control prison
The State
ACTA sentence
surveillance the police
access Bureau of Anti-Piracy
Spotify surveillance
democracy VPN
Pirate Party evidence
personal spectrial
integrity legal security
the police
Bureau of Piracy
evidence ACTA
Bureau of Piracy culture
conviction illegal
Pirate Party


personal integrity





The trial




The trial


Figure 6.2 Co-occurrences between discursive themes (all coded categories)

The hybrid discourse of digital piracy 101

insofar as the social is an infinitude not reducible to any underly-

ing unitary principle, the mere idea of a centre of the social has no
meaning at all.
(Laclau and Mouffe, 1985: 139)

As Althusser argued in Contradiction and Overdetermination (2005),

one must realize that a multitude of forces may be at work at once in any
given political situation, without resorting to the over-simplified idea that
these forces are simply contradictory. This also goes for the patterns that
we have seen in Figures 6.1 and 6.2 of this analysis: If one looks at only the
most general patterns (Figure 6.1, showing the strongest discursive links),
the impression may be that contradictory forces are at work. But if one
looks at the full complexity (Figure 6.2, showing all links) a labyrinthine
force field makes its appearance.
This shift can be understood in terms of hybridity and against the
background of Lash’s (1991) argument that late modernity has entailed
a move from a discursive to a figural paradigm. Lash draws on Lyotard
and discusses what happens with modes of representation as the clear-cut
categories of modernity submerge: “What happens when we stop papering
over the cracks, stop covering up the lack? What happens when we stop
lamenting a lost totality that perhaps never was?” (Lash, 1991: 251). What
happens when we reconcile with hybridity?
The thesis about a transition from a discursive to a figural paradigm
suggests that the representational modes of modernity were rooted in a
rationally grounded, linear, and coherent form of discourse – discourse
referring in this case to the representational as well as the material.
The world was described in accordance with rules and conventions
that were universal and, thus, powerful but also limiting. In later
modernity, with the coming of the figural paradigm, representation
is increasingly embodied and situated. We live under conditions of
“syntactic indeterminacy” (Messaris quoted in Chaney, 2004), where
representations become more collagistic and where meanings “can be
assembled in any order and acquire their rhetorical force through a
multiplicity of levels of association, playful punning and complex allu-
sion” (Chaney, 2004: 44).
The discourse of online piracy in Swedish blogs and news texts as illus-
trated in Figure 6.2, showing a complex image of interdiscursive flows
that transgress the demarcation line between hegemonic and counter-
hegemonic representations, is illustrative of the hybrid conditions and
forms sometimes referred to as “supertext” (Castells, 1996) or “super-
culture” (Lull, 2001). The supertext visualized in Figure 6.2 is a hybrid
form of representation based on a mix of various realities “blending in the
same discourse” (Castells, 1996: 405). It is illustrative of the context of
digital superculture, where meaning “is being transformed into a far more
symbolic personalized panorama of images” (Lull, 2001: 132).
102 Lindgren

Epilogue: hybrid rhetoric

What is especially striking when analyzing the material upon which this
chapter is based is the quite large role played by multidimensional forms
of rhetoric and by “playful punning and complex allusion” (Chaney, 2004:
44). Looking, for example, at expressions of culture journalism, I found
that it was common that various types and degrees of irony were used. It
is impossible within the confines of this text to show the full complexity of
the variations, but the following excerpt from a newspaper column serves
as an example.

In my limitless naïveté I had thought that file sharing had been instru-
mental to the creative explosion in Swedish music during the first
decade of the 21st century. But of course, those who claim that file
sharing is a threat to culture that must be criminalized are right. They
are just as right as Per Gessle, Joey Tempest, Jill Johnson and the
other artists who demanded in a debate article that sharper measures
be taken to stop file sharing. … And what is, after all, the Swedish
indie pop, electro or metal of recent years – that is celebrated all over
the Western world – compared to the country of Jill Johnson and the
solo albums of Joey Tempest? … According to unconfirmed rumors,
The Pirate Bay are developing a new application, AWT (Artist Wealth
Terminator), that places the torrent files directly in the computer trash
bin, erases them, downloads them once more, erases them and so on.
This new application can make a rock star completely broke within 24
hours. … We should all immediately return all illegally downloaded
music to the record industry by mailing it to IFPI. In order for the files
arrive in order, genres must be sent alphabetically and during office
hours. In other words, acid house and afro funk can be sent already
today, but you will have to wait with calypso until Tuesday.
(Dagens Nyheter, 24 April 2009, translated by the author)

This is an obvious form of ironic and humorous text. The author

assumes a faux anti-piracy position, the irony of which becomes more and
more obvious as one reads through the text. A group of artists who are
outspoken anti-pirates, and who represent broadly popular mainstream
forms of pop/rock genres, are sarcastically defended while more under-
ground and culturally updated examples are scoffed at. To the reader, it
is quite obvious that the author’s actual opinion is the opposite, or at least
something other than the “denotative” (Barthes, 1964) meaning of the text.
As the text continues, the author writes of a new potential “threat”
posed by an application that is supposedly being developed by The Pirate
Bay: The Artist Wealth Terminator, which will download and delete files
repeatedly to make the economic “loss” of the artists as big as possible.
Continuing the reading of the text as ironic, this part can be interpreted
The hybrid discourse of digital piracy 103

as parodying the various campaigns of The Pirate Bay and their striving
to constantly align discourse so as to themselves occupy the subject posi-
tion of the rebel and, at the same time, as a way of exposing the absurdity
of some of the economic arguments presented by the anti-pirates. The
concluding part of the extract, about how we should all take responsibility
and return any downloaded content via e-mail, continues along this line
by, adopting an ironic tone, defending the outdated capitalist bureaucra-
cies that are often seen as connected to the fight against piracy. Whereas
this text employs an allusive rhetoric to get a form of pro-piracy sentiment
across, the following excerpt from a blog post is an example of similar
strategies employed to make anti-pirate points.

Thank you very much all you proponents of uninhibited file sharing!
You played a game where the stakes were high and now we are all
victims a legislation that violates our personal integrity. Thank you
so damn much! … I am in favour of file sharing technology. But I
am against using it to distribute materials that the copyright owners
do not wish to be spread in this way. To anyone who has followed the
debate during the last autumn and winter it may seem as if these two
standpoints are irreconcilable. But of course they are not. … Today,
many fans of file sharing are upset about the arrogance they claim
is displayed by the state as it ignores the will of the people. … Peter
Sunde [spokesperson of The Pirate Bay] and his friends are proud to
share all of the creative variations of “you can all go to hell” that they
have used over the years. With that attitude, how can one be surprised
that the response to IPRED is not much more sensible than the law
itself? … The Pirate Bay has since long succeeded in getting across
the point that one cannot let Swedish law stand in the way of universal
technological progress. Everyone gets it now. Good job. The problem
is that this philosophical debate has been hijacked by thousands of
Swedes who are downloading their asses off. … The Pirate Bay are
stuck in a debate that they think is all too fun to let go of, and an atti-
tude that they think it is all to fun to promote. … The saddest thing
about The Pirate Bay is that they have become the exact thing that
they are fighting against. Their philosophy is sound. But they have
since long stopped talking philosophy and instead started to engage
in legal quibbling.
(http://formatfabriken.se, February 2009, translated by the author)

The author ironically “thanks” the representatives of The Pirate Bay for
having ruined the fight for the legitimacy of file sharing technologies. The
post expresses anger over the idea that The Pirate Bay has led to a banali-
zation and narrowing down of the debate, at the expense of those who want
to use peer-to-peer platforms for doing things other than distribute pirated
content. Even though The Pirate Bay and their activities have come to
104 Lindgren

play a dominant role in Swedish public discussions about file sharing, blog
posts such as this one indicate that “the movement” certainly includes a
wide array of positions.
The tone of this text is less humorous than in the previous one, but
the two texts are unified in that they are expressions of the “figural para-
digm” in written discourse. Under the conditions of modernity, a culture
journalist would have been more likely to promote high culture, and a
subculture person would have been expected to display a larger degree of
solidarity with “the movement.” In these texts however, roles marked by
the complex social relations of late modernity are expressed: The culture
journalist voices a multifaceted position marked by anti-commercialism
and underground culture elitism, and the blogger does not buy into the
mainstream of the “rebellion.” Using the wordings of Lash, neither of the
two makes any attempt to “paper over the cracks” or “cover up the lack.”
They do not go to any lengths trying to clarify their position as belonging
to a certain camp. Rather the discourse they contribute to generating
appears in all of its situatedness and indeterminacy.

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7 Social support online
Between closeness and anonymity
Ragnar Lundström

This chapter investigates how Internet forums can be used for social
support. More specifically, it presents a case study analyzing discursive
patterns in a forum used by female victims of domestic abuse. The aim of
the chapter is to develop a closer understanding of the conditions for social
support online. A starting point for the analysis is that the online relation-
ships and practices being studied in this chapter must be understood as
inextricably intertwined with offline experiences. In order to understand
better the role of online support networks for victims of domestic violence,
the analysis needs to focus on the specific dynamics of the ways in which
online and offline practices and experiences condition each other.
In recent years, an increasingly significant body of research has investi-
gated different dimensions of online practices in relation to different kinds
of social support needs (Barak, Klein, and Proudfoot, 2009; Carlbring
and Andersson, 2006; Coulson, 2005; Coursaris and Liu, 2009; Johnson,
et al., 2011; Kim et al., 2012; Kisely, Ong, and Takyar, 2003; Prasad and
Owens, 2001; Zuckerman, 2003). Although empirically grounded knowl-
edge regarding the specific affordances of online resources still is limited,
research does indicate that social support online constitutes an important
resource for many groups, and particularly so in combination with other
forms of support and intervention practices. Increased academic attention
has also been directed towards the prevalence of domestic violence and its
consequences and, also, towards different kinds of services for victims.
Although research has indicated strong positive effects of social support
for victims of domestic violence (Carlson, et al., 2002; Coker et al., 2002;
Constantino, Kim, and Crane, 2005; Mitchell and Hodson, 1983; Tan, et
al., 1995), little is known about the actual benefits of networks for social
support online for this particular group. It has also been shown that abused
women appear to underutilize available counseling services (Henning and
Klesges, 2002). Although this group may be affected by lower levels of
distress and stigmatization from online alternatives for social support, it
is also possible that this group is particularly vulnerable to issues such
as disinhibited communication, group disruption, loss of privacy, and
cyberstalking (Finn, 2000; Finn and Banach, 2000) when participating in
Social support online 107

networks for social support online. With this in mind, this chapter directs
a particular analytical focus on the conditions for introducing victims of
domestic abuse to networks for social support online and also on the ways
in which this particular group frames their experiences of such networks.
Of particular significance in relation to victims of domestic abuse, it has
been shown that networks for social support online do have empowering
effects on participators (Barak, Boniel-Nissim, and Suler, 2008), but the
knowledge regarding the specific conditions for such processes is very
limited. Previous research on online social support networks for victims
of domestic abuse has indicated that processes through which collective
intelligence (Lévy, 1999) is organized and specific participators func-
tioning as “prime definers” in such processes (Lindgren, forthcoming)
are of particular importance for creating the necessary conditions for the
organization of networks for social support online. The presented analysis
therefore focuses on how forum participators frame the conditions for
receiving as well as giving social support online, on representations of
the relationships between supporters and victims, and, in relation to such
narrative, on an analysis of the conditions for creating discursive spaces
for organizing empowering collective intelligence in this kind of context.

Data and analysis

The analysis presented here is based on a study of the contents of a Swedish
public online forum used by victims of domestic violence. The dataset
consists of every unique post published in the forum between February
2003 and August 2010. In sum, a total of 16,850 posts, made by 4,345
participants in relation to 3,304 discussion threads, were collected. The
analysis presented in this chapter directs particular attention to dominant
discursive patterns in the data patterns and is based on a methodological
strategy for text analysis that draws on both quantitative measures and
qualitative readings of the collected data. As a first step, a network anal-
ysis of word co-occurrences (Lindgren, 2012; Lindgren and Lundström,
2009) was conducted to map conceptual relationships and general discur-
sive themes in the forum. Based on techniques for calculating co-occur-
rences of words in textual data and tools for visualizing social networks,
this part of the analysis was conducted using the software packages
Textometrica (Lindgren and Palm, 2011) for co-occurrence analysis, and
Gephi (Bastian, Heymann, and Jacomy, 2009) for network visualizations.
Based on the results of this first analytical step – through which the rela-
tionships between specific key elements in the dataset are identified and
visualized in a network graph – the second step of the analysis consists
of a qualitative study of a smaller selection of posts in the data set. This
part of the analysis was conducted through close readings of specific posts
in the dataset in which the conceptual relationships indicated to be of
particular significance in the first step of the analysis were identified. The
108 Lundström

readings were particularly focused on narratives in the posts in which the

participants write specifically about:

• relationships between experiences and practices online and offline

• relationships between participators in the forum
• social networks online and offline
• social support needs
• benefits and limits of social support online.

The analysis focuses on the ways in which the “subject positions”

(Laclau and Mouffe, 1985) of victims and supporters are constructed in
the forum. In other words, it investigates the discursive practices through
which certain kinds of subjects in the forum become positioned in rela-
tion to one another, at the symbolic level, as either giving or receiving
support. In relation to this, the analysis directs a particular attention to
the ways in which such constructions frame the actual practices of giving
and receiving support and, also, to the more specific relationship between
victims and supporters in the forum.

Discursive themes
Figure 7.1 shows a network visualization of word co-occurrences for the entire
dataset. The selection of words to be included in the network was primarily
based on word frequency analyses, focusing on words occurring often in the
forum. In the network, the words selected for analysis are represented by
nodes, whose size corresponds with the number of times they occur together
with the other words in the analysis. Co-occurrences between words are
represented by lines in the network. Co-occurrences that register as particu-
larly common are represented by thick black lines, while the thinner lines in
the network represent co-occurrences of words registered as less frequent
in the analysis. The spatial distribution of nodes in the graph is organized
in order to provide a clear visual illustration of the ways in which the more
common co-occurrences of words (the thick lines) organize relationships
between words in the forum. Words that co-occur often (that are connected
by thick black lines) are furthermore drawn closer together in the graph.
If we look more closely at the network, we can see that the analyzed
words are grouped together in six major sections. Studying the sections,
and analyzing the relationships between words in them, shows that they
represent different kinds of discursive themes, in which certain kinds of
words occupy central positions. In the network, the groups are labeled in
accordance with the kinds of discursive strategies or themes the words
they consist of are representative of; clockwise from the top of the graph,
the sections are named Emotions, Social network, Coping, Needs, Abuse,
and Bonding. In the following sections of the chapter, all six themes in the
network will be discussed in closer detail.
Social support online 109

Figure 7.1 Co-occurrences of words

Emotions and bonding

Figure 7.2 shows a close-up of the section of the network in which the
theme labeled Emotions is visualized. In this group of words, the largest
and most central node represents the word “feel.” Several of the other
words in this section are also related to representations of different kinds of
negative as well as positive emotional states, such as “anxiety,” “terrible,”
“awful,” “painful,” “amazing,” and “calm.” The figure also shows that
the words “read” and “write” also register as central words in this part
of the network. It can furthermore be noted that a few additional words
directly related to using the forum, such as “the Forum” and “posts,” also
are included in this group. Taken together, these observations indicate
that narratives depicting emotional states are often linked to representa-
tions of reading and writing posts on the forum. The prominence of words
denoting very strong emotional states also suggests that many participa-
tors use the forum for writing and reading about emotionally difficult and/
or strong experiences, but it also suggests that the practice of using the
forum is in itself an emotionally charged practice for the participators.
Close readings of posts in which these words are used show that many
users write about their use of the forum as a very positive experience and
frame their participation in the forum as a crucial condition for their being
110 Lundström

Figure 7.2 Emotions

able to handle their situation. The quote below illustrates how several
participants frame their use of the forum, and how many describe what
the forum means to them:

You are wonderful! ... I feel so much stronger and more free just from
writing here and from your responses. I can’t help but to think of the
enormous power there is among all the women here. Think what we
could accomplish if we really put our feet down, and acted together.
It is amazing that this forum exists. I wish you all the best. (translated
by the author)

Among the participants, a common way of describing the positive

aspects of using the forum revolves around making links between, in
particular, writing, and, to a lesser extent, reading, about their own expe-
riences on the one hand, and feelings of empowerment and strength on the
other. There is also often an explicit link in these narratives between feel-
ings of personal empowerment and experiencing increased freedom. As
this particular quote also shows, narratives of such processes and experi-
ences at the subjective level sometimes also are linked to narratives about
increased possibilities and conditions for collective struggles.
Social support online 111

At the same time, several users also describe links between their forum
participation and feelings marked by stress and anxiety. In particular, it
is not uncommon that participators talk about worries related to being
identified as a forum user by an abusive partner. The following quote
shows how one forum user describes how her participation in the forum
increases feelings of stress in relation to her partner, something that in
turn affects her ability to participate in the forum:

The last couple of days have been very stressful. I’ve been so worried
that he can see what I write here ... I couldn’t go online ... I tried to be
happy, but deep down I was worried. (translated by the author)

This observation indicates that anonymity is of crucial importance for the

ways in which victims of domestic abuse are able to take part in networks
for social support online. For some users, the experience of risking one’s
anonymity through online participation may have a negative impact on
their general emotional well-being, and it may also lead users to opt out of
further participation.
In sum, these observations reveal that participation in the forum is
indeed linked to processes of empowerment at the subjective level.
Furthermore, it is interesting to note that this empowerment is also explic-
itly framed in terms of experiencing increased collective empowerment
among the users. It also can be concluded that there is a particularly strong
connection in the data between feelings of empowerment and the practice
of writing about one’s own experiences in the forum. However, the ability
to experience forum participation in these ways may be complicated, and
even hindered, by stress caused by the fear of not being able to maintain
anonymity in the forum.
Immediately below the section labeled Emotions is the significantly
smaller group of terms that is centered around the word “hugs.” In the
upper right corner of Figure 7.3, this section of the network is visualized
in closer detail. In this section, words relating to courtesy and/or greeting
phrases, such as “thanks,” “good,” and “nice” are prominent. In Figure 7.1,
it can be seen that this group of words, labeled Bonding, is also the most
centrally placed in the entire network, something that indicates that the
words belonging to this theme often co-occur with words belonging to all
of the other themes in the network. When reading through the collected
data set, it also becomes apparent that these courtesy phrases in fact do
constitute a very central discursive dimension of the forum. A large part
of all posts in the forum end with greeting phrases in which the word
“hugs” is used and draw on different kinds of strategies to invoke feelings
characterized by emotional warmth and heartfelt empathy. In other words,
the use of the terms that belong to this group of words in the network can
also be said to be related to practices for strengthening the social cohesive-
ness of the forum community.
112 Lundström

The use of such bonding discourse is in fact a particularly salient char-

acteristic of the forum content in general. Almost all of the collected
posts include, in one way or another, courtesy or greetings phrases. In
relation to many other online forums, it can also be noted that expres-
sions of aggressive or rude discourse in the analyzed posts are extremely
rare. These circumstances condition the ways in which the communica-
tive practices in the forum take shape. The following quote shows that
bonding discourse is also present in posts that point to problematic or
negative behaviours among some forum users, as a tool for maintaining
a positive and encouraging spirit even in contexts where the main object
relates to claims for increased control. The quote shows a section from a
post directed to participators posting with anonymous user names, asking
them to use an identifiable nickname instead:

Please all anonymous, it is very hard to keep you apart. It is really

difficult to give the right answers to the right persons. Can everyone
please get themselves a nick. That’s how a forum works. Pick a name
that isn’t already taken, and that doesn’t disclose your real identity, in
case your ex or neighbor is reading.
Hugs to the ones keeping the forum running. Without you I wouldn’t
be here today …
Don’t take it personal, just want things to work for all who need a
place to talk. (translated by the author)

The quote shows some very common ways in which courtesy phrases
and greetings are used in posts. Often, they draw on formulations that
construct the relationships between users in the forum as being marked by
closeness and warmth but also physical tenderness. That this is a signifi-
cant feature of content in a forum used by victims of domestic abuse is
perhaps not surprising, but nevertheless is interesting to note because it
suggests that such features in fact constitute an important condition for
meeting the social support needs of this particular group online.
Although the practice of using words like “hugs” as greeting phrases in
social media could be linked to a process through which their significance
becomes devalued and watered down, the analysis conducted here points
towards a more complex process. The conditions for establishing and main-
taining a functional space for social support online are clearly linked to
discursive strategies that draw explicitly on physical dimensions of close-
ness and tenderness. This can be interpreted as a way of compensating for
the lack of physical closeness online, and it surely is related also to the fact
that many of the participators in this particular forum have been subjected to
physical abuse. But it also points to the inherently hybrid character of social
support online; the experiences of both giving and receiving support online
are indeed clearly marked and permeated by offline support practices.
Social support online 113

Figure 7.3 Bonding and abuse

The quote above is furthermore illustrative of another prominent theme

in the forum, namely, that of encouraging participators to employ identifi-
able user names. This theme indicates that it is important for participators
in social support forums to be able to relate to other users as identifiable
subjects in the forum, something that also points to the hybridity of social
support online. While the ability to remain anonymous while partici-
pating in Internet forums is one of the main benefits for social support for
victims of abuse, strategies for organizing relationships between subjects
that are simultaneously anonymous and identifiable are of crucial impor-
tance here. In relation to the fact that many users are worried about who
is actually reading the content of the forum, this also points to the signifi-
cance of developing relationships marked by trust between participating
users, and it supports the conclusion that the high levels of visible users
with anonymous user names has a negative impact on the development
and maintenance of trust in social support forums.

Abuse and social networks

Further to the left in Figure 7.3, a group of words centered primarily
around “abuse,” “violence,” “psychic,” and “threat” can be observed.
The words and the relationships making up the group indicate that they
114 Lundström

represent a discursive theme through which narratives about experiences

of abuse are articulated in the forum. It can also be seen that the specific
co-occurrence of the words “feeling” and “bad,” not surprisingly, also
registers as a particularly common wording in this theme. Furthermore,
it can be noted that the word “ex” registers as a central word in this part
of the network, which indicates that many of the participators are talking
about abusive partners they have already broken up with, and that their
forum participation takes place after an abusive relationship has been
ended. In particular, it suggests that discussions about abuse and violence
in the forum are primarily related to descriptions about circumstances and
events in past relationships.
Narratives about past relationships are, in fact, one of the more
commonly occurring topics found in the data. In relation to this observa-
tion, it can also be noted that a fairly large number of participants write
about their experiences from several different relationships in posts and
often also elaborate on the ways in which experiences from previous rela-
tionships condition how they experience their current relationship. The
following quote shows one example of a post in which a user in part draws
on experiences from a past relationship and in part makes references to
her current relationship to describe her emotional situation:

I received a mail from my abusive ex, a year and a half after we sepa-
rated ... I wrote him back to say that our relationship is definitely over
and that he shouldn’t contact me again ... The biggest problem right
now is that I’m having problems leaving my current partner ... He
has a very self-centered perspective on sex and love, and constantly
seeks confirmation from other women ... This is very difficult for me
to handle – his lies and so on ... This has a very destabilizing effect
on me and I’m having trouble focusing on what’s important ... I have a
son who needs love and care. (translated by the author)

The quote illustrates, first, that the narrative repertoires of the forum
users are not confined to the experiences of only single relationships,
but rather draw on their entire life histories. This suggests that the
relationships that become meaningful and provide conditions for both
receiving and giving support in the forum are actually established
through the practice of communicating life histories, something that
in turn can also be understood as a way of establishing intimacy and
understanding between one another in an environment marked by anon-
ymous and faceless communication. Second, the quote shows that the
participating user’s experiences of abuse and her forum participation
are often separated in time. Third, it points to the fact that the forum
is used not only for finding support in relation exclusively to experi-
ences of having been subjected to domestic violence. These observa-
tions furthermore suggest that many users have found their way to
Social support online 115

the forum only after having broken up with an abusive partner, and it
also suggests that people who have experienced social support online
continue to use the forum to find support in relation to other, more or
less closely related, problems in their lives.
Below the section of nodes representing bonding discourse, a group of
words in which “friends,” “answer,” “why,” and “understand” are domi-
nant can be found. This part of the network is also shown in more detail
in Figure 7.4. Also present here, but represented by smaller nodes, are
the words “family,” “socialize,” and “meet” in the top of the section
and, towards the lower end, “break” and “difficult.” The included words
clearly relate to discussions about different kinds of social networks, but
also to discussions about the ways in which social networks are linked to
processes of understanding and answering questions, primarily related
to the conditions for breaking up from abusive partners. A particularly
interesting theme, intimately linked to the use of these combinations of
words, relates to difficulties users have finding and receiving support
from their families or friends. Similar to the content discussed in the
previous section, such difficulties also are linked to support needs related
both to previous experiences as well as current ones, as illustrated by the
following quote:

Figure 7.4 Social network and coping

116 Lundström

Hello, I just found the forum. Strangely, it’s been 4, 5 years since I left
my abusive partner, and it is not until now that I have started looking for
a network like this. I feel kind of stupid because I’ve started to feel worse
in the last couple of months about what happened. I’m married now to a
wonderful man, I finished my degree and have been working for a while
Now I’m starting to remember things I thought I had left behind,
and I think it is really hard to talk to my husband about this. (trans-
lated by the author)

That many participants often frame their use of the forum as related
to a lack of social support in their everyday lives – and that this also is
a significant pattern among users who have been able to break up from
abusive partners – suggests that victims of domestic abuse have signif-
icant difficulties in locating, as well as receiving, social support. With
this in mind, it might be the case that online networks for social support
are particularly beneficial for victims of domestic abuse. The fact that the
experiences of being victimized and of using the forum often appear to be
temporally separated, however, suggests that the specific benefits of social
support online – in particular in relation to other forms of social support
and/or therapeutic interventions – for victims of domestic abuse may also
be temporally separated.

Coping and needs

The group of words in the bottom right corner of the network (visualized
in closer detail in Figure 7.4), dominated by one central node representing
the word “life,” also include several other terms, such as “change,” “try,”
“living,” “continue,” and “end,” that relate to narratives about different
kinds of strategies for either coping with or trying to transform everyday
life. This section in part indicates that a central theme of the forum, and also
of discussions about the lives of the participants, relates to looking for and
giving support in order to be able to engage in transformative processes,
that is, leaving an abusive partner. But it also suggests that forum participa-
tion is linked to finding and giving support to be able to cope with the situ-
ation of living in a relationship with an abusive partner. Often, participants
talk about their lives as characterized by a tension between being able to
change their lives and engage in transformative action and being able to
cope with their current situation. Moreover, it can also be noted that many
users ask for support in relation to both of these needs simultaneously. The
following quote shows how one forum user describes her needs as being
related both to strategies for coping as well as transformation:

After several years of ... abuse, I have finally decided to get a divorce.
I have talked to him, and explained that I don’t want to, or have the
Social support online 117

strength, to live with him anymore. But he’s not listening, he doesn’t
believe that I have the courage to leave him. I have an appointment at
the Women’s shelter next week, but I don’t know if they can help me.
How could they help me when he refuses to move out, and when my
son doesn’t want to move and leave all his friends, should I leave my
son with him and move to live on my own. I think I’m going crazy
with all these thoughts in my head, I know I can’t stay with him, but
am I strong enough to leave him? I hope you understand what I mean.
(translated by the author)

This quote also shows some common characteristics of posts that bring
both coping and transformative discourse to the fore. First, there is often a
tension between framing oneself as already having decided to break from
an abusive partner while simultaneously expressing worries about one’s
abilities to realize this decision. Second, participators often frame diffi-
culties in changing their lives as being related to considerations regarding
the needs of their children. There is, in other words, a tension between
representations of subjective strength and personal empowerment, on
the one hand, and representations of emotional stress and weakness, on
the other. Furthermore, there is also a closely linked conflict between
narratives through which the participators identify themselves as actors
with transformative capacities and discourse through which responsible
parenthood is constructed. Representations of responsible parenthood
could be analyzed in relation to the ways in which respectability (see also
Johansson, this volume), and respectable motherhood in particular, are
articulated and linked to the conditions for social support for victims of
domestic abuse. These observations suggest that a core dimension of social
support for victims of domestic abuse relates to supporting processes of
reconciling and negotiating discourse through which – in particular –
empowering, transformative actions and notions of responsible parenting
are constructed as conflictual. With this in mind, a particularly interesting
topic for further research regards the specific ways in which support for
such process are constructed successfully, both online and offline.
The final group of words, in the lower left of the network, visualized in
closer detail in Figure 7.5, primarily is centred on the word “help.” The
other words in this section, such as “problem,” “need,” “wish,” and “could,”
suggest that one important dimension of the forum is linked to partici-
pators asking for help with different kinds of problems and describing
their needs. Many of the words in this part of the network, such as “cry,”
“hope,” and “sleep,” point to the fact that many users ask for support in
relation to different kinds of emotional experiences, something that has
been mentioned above in relation to the previously discussed themes. Of
further significance in this section are words related to judicial processes,
such as “lawyer,” police,” and “report,” and words such as “money,”
“welfare,” and “society.” This illustrates the fact that a lot of participators
118 Lundström

Figure 7.5 Needs

use the forum to ask for help in relation to financial, technical, or judicial
matters, in addition to finding support for emotional needs. The following
quote illustrates how discussions about these aspects of support needs are
articulated in the forum.

Hi, I promised earlier to explain what you have to do if you want to

report text messages to the police. You need to give the sim card to
the police, in my case they took the entire phone. I fully understand
that you might wish to delete threatening and mean messages, but
just writing them down on a piece of paper does not make for good
evidence. So give your phone to the police – I did!
Warm greetings and hugs. (translated by the author)

The quote shows that even in texts primarily about technical issues,
in which the maintenance of emotional intimacy could be assumed to
be of limited importance, the use of the previously mentioned bonding
discourse and discursive strategies for establishing a tone marked by
familiarity and affection can be found. It furthermore can be noted that
the supporter writing the post uses her own subjective experiences as a
victim of domestic abuse as a tool in her narrative, in order frame herself
as well as the information she presents as credible. This is a very common
Social support online 119

feature of posts, which in part can be described in terms of a blurring of

the distinction between the subject positions of supporters and victims in
the forum, so that a collective identity for all forum users is constructed.
But more importantly it also points to the importance in social support
forums for victims of domestic abuse of having active supporters with
personal experience of successfully having broken from an abusive
partner. As can be observed in the quote above, such experiences are
intimately linked discursively to establishing relationships of trust in the
forum. The processes through which distinctions between the subject
positions of supporters and victims become blurred are, in other words,
related both to the conditions for constructing collective identities as well
as to the conditions for emancipatory discourse in this particular context.
In sum, the themes and patterns discussed above direct attention to the
centrality and importance of relationships characterized by trust and inti-
macy for social support online. Although further research is needed to
analyze the specific dynamics of the ways in which relationships of trust
are developed and maintained in online networks for social support, the
observations made here strongly support the conclusion that the condi-
tions for such relationships are intimately linked to the creation of, in
particular, two kinds of discursive spaces. The first enables narrative
practices through which common experiences of victimization are shared
collectively. The second provides specific positions for participators who
have personal experience breaking from victimized positions and leaving
abusive partners to tell their stories and thereby provide support to other
participators in the forum. Of particular significance for the creation of
these kinds of spaces in this case are the use of bonding discourse, strat-
egies for establishing closeness and understanding between identifiable
subjects – such as life histories and narratives through which the tension
between personal empowerment and emotional weakness is negotiated.

The data analyzed in this study indicate that victims of domestic violence
have difficulties finding social support offline, and that this group in
particular therefore may benefit strongly from online alternatives. The
analysis also shows that forum participation in general is experienced
positively by users, and expressions of very high levels of appreciation are
very common in the data. In relation to this, it can also be noted that the
practice of writing is often highlighted as a particularly important aspect
of participation in the forum. But, participation can simultaneously also
induce stress for many users. Issues linked to anonymity and cyberstalking
are common topics in the forum, and many users express strong negative
experiences linked to worries of having their forum activities monitored
by abusive partners. Conditioned by these circumstances, discussions
are marked by a tension between the need to maintain anonymity – and
120 Lundström

encouraging participators to make posts that do not reveal offline identities

– and strategies for simultaneously strengthening the collective identity
and the emotional closeness between and among the users. In other words,
the forum is marked accordingly by the tension between maintaining
anonymity and establishing relations of trust online. A particularly salient
feature of the forum is the use of different kinds of bonding discourse, for
instance, the use of greeting phrases drawing heavily on an imagery of
physical tenderness. Another closely related feature is the fact that many
participators often provide detailed narratives about many different kinds
of life experiences through their forum participation, something that, in
turn, improves the conditions for understanding how people experience
and react to sometimes very complex and difficult situations.
The relationship between anonymity and collectivity also manifests
itself through the ways in which users connect their forum participation to
feelings of empowerment. In part, users frame empowerment as experi-
ences at the subjective level – something often most explicitly linked to
the practice of writing in the forum – but it is also constructed in terms
of a collective experience. The conditions for empowering participators
of online social support forums is, in other words, linked to processes
through which one identifies with the collective identity of the forum. At
the symbolic level, the collective identity and social cohesiveness of the
forum also is constructed through discursive strategies that blur the distinc-
tion between victims and supporters. This also is linked to the hybrid
character of social support online; it is not only the online and offline that
become intertwined, but also the subject positions of the supporter and the
victim. But although such strategies are important for organizing relation-
ships of trust between forum users, it should also be noted that the identity
and legitimacy of supporters in the forum are closely linked to their expe-
riences breaking up from relationships with abusive partners. To be able
to function successfully as a “prime definer” (Lindgren, forthcoming) in
this discursive space, to be able to take part actively in organizing the
collective intelligence of the forum, personal experiences and practices of
empowerment are of significant importance. These observations highlight
the links between social support and trust. In order to organize a network
for social support that is able to provide its members with the resources
and services they need, supporters need to be able to organize the trust
of victims. In the case under analysis here, this is primarily organized
through the practice of sharing common experiences collectively.
In the forum, there is also tension between users asking for support in
order to be able to cope with feelings and conditions in relations they are
currently in, on the one hand, and, on the other, asking for help and strate-
gies for transforming their lives in more radical ways, that is, breaking
from abusive partners. Participants often describe their situation as char-
acterized by a tension between being able to engage in transformative
action and being able to cope with their current situation. The analysis
Social support online 121

shows that this tension is also linked to narratives through which a conflict
between personal empowerment and emotional weakness is constructed.
Furthermore, there are narratives through which responsible, respect-
able parenting is framed as being in conflict with radical transformations.
Consequently, providing social support for victims of domestic violence
is linked intimately to the creation of discursive spaces in which such
conflicts can be negotiated.

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8 Hybrid churches
Transcending the physical, virtual
and sacred
Stefan Gelfgren

Christian churches and representatives have used the Internet as a means

of communication for some decades, but what happens when a church
moves into a virtual world – when a building of brick and mortar, loaded
with information and religious meaning in itself, transcends into the
digital, non-physical world? This chapter will discuss this transformation
and will use the concepts of the physical, the sacred, and the virtual to
interpret and understand the process.
What is of interest is what happens in the area in between the three
different modes of “realities” (I use quotation marks here to indicate that
the reality of the different spheres is contested). I understand the physical–
virtual–sacred as the space that overlaps all of these different realities, all

Figure 8.1 The intersection areas of the sacred, the virtual and the physical, encapsu-
lated within the church
124 Gelfgren

of them interrelated with the concept of the church in both the physical
world and the virtual world. The model visualizes and helps us understand
the different aspects of hybridity involved when dealing with the church
building as a hybrid space.
The concept of “church” can refer both to the group of people believing
according to the Christian faith as (as in the worldwide Church – often
then with a capital C), and to a specific building – a church building, or
maybe a chapel, a shrine, or a prayer house. This chapter deals primarily
with this latter aspect of the concept of church – the church as a building.
The actual physical church building is in itself an intense media place
and, indeed, a hybrid place, transcending different modes of reality.
However, thinking, discussing, and writing about churches and the sacred
in virtual worlds is far from straightforward: The physical space of a
church separates it from the rest of the world, but what is a church if not
an earthly manifestation of an attempt to reach the sacred? On the other
hand, the sacred is by its very nature something virtual and beyond the
realities of the physical world. In a virtual world the distinction between
the physical and the sacred is more difficult to maintain (Wagner, 2010).
The realm of the sacred can be defined as something other, and separate
from, the physical and material world, whether it is based upon something
untouchable or on something that is experienced. According to Durkheim’s
sociology of religion, the sacred is a separate sphere, essentially different
from the physical, that one can approach only with great caution. Religion
and its institutions attempt to bridge this divide (Durkheim, 1912/2001).
Another interpretation, stemming from psychologist William James,
emphasizes how the sacred is based on an individual experience, which
can be supported by religious institutions (James, 1902/1996). Theologian
Fenn claims that the sacred is supported by “the institution by which indi-
viduals and groups, communities and societies attempt to transcend the
passage of time” (Fenn, 2003: 4–5). The Church is such an institution,
attempting to transcend the present and the future and also the different
modes of reality – the physical and the sacred.
Virtual reality is described in similar polarized ways as the physical and
the sacred, through dichotomizing the two different realms of reality. The
virtual is consequently separated from the physical world. Most people
would not say, however, that virtual reality and the sacred are the same.
The virtual church is a hybrid space, a space encapsulating and connecting
the physical space with the sacred and also the digitally virtual. What is in
between the different spaces is here called, drawing upon Wagner’s idea,
“the virtual sacred” (2011). That space is neither virtual nor sacral; it is a
combination thereof. She writes:

The sacred and profane are at root simply a means of considering

reflections, of making sense of signs and signifieds, of understand-
ing echoes. The “virtual” is, like the profane [physical, in the model
Hybrid churches 125

I promote here], a space into which something might erupt, a ground

into which something different can be put, and through that tension,
invite reflection on the Other. The virtual, that is, is not in itself trans-
cendent. It is a space in which the transcendent might appear. Its
partner is neither the sacred nor the profane – it is the sacred virtual.
… [The “virtual sacred”] exposes the potential difference between
the virtually sacred and the sacred. If there is indeed a Sacred that is
ultimately Other – be it God, Heaven, or the Platonic realm, it remains
true that we can’t enter it, we can only know it, and it is Ineffable as it
ever was. It is still accessible only via imagination, religious experi-
ence, performance of ritual, and sheer hope. But the “virtual sacred”,
by contrast, is a veritable feast of manifestedness. It is here, now, rich,
obvious, visual, and constantly in flux.
(Wagner, 2011: 97)

Although Wagner uses the concept “profane” in her model to describe

the relation between the two modes of reality (the sacred and the profane),
I prefer, in my model, to add the “physical” to construct a tripartite model
applicable to the purpose of this chapter.
There is a relation between the physical world and the sacred where the
two different dimensions of reality meet. The counterpart to sacred might
rather be profane than physical, but in this chapter I prefer the term physical
for clarity, since I discuss the actual church building – the physical and the
virtual. The physical and the sacred do meet in the church building, and this
is what the first part of this chapter deals with. Second, there is a section on
the meeting point between the church in the physical world and the virtual
world – here mainly on the basis of what is happening in the virtual world
Second Life. Second Life is a good starting point when examining virtual
churches because of its in-world building capacity and the fact that anyone
can build a church, both in terms of a building and a congregation. Third,
there is a section dealing with the virtual–sacred relation. The question is
how the sacred is constructed in and through the virtual churches.
As Wagner puts it, the sacred, if there is anything like that, is still inef-
fable, but in the intertwined area in the middle (according to the figure),
the virtual sacred is manifest and under a process of constant negotiation.
This chapter will discuss the relation between the physical, the virtual,
and the sacred respectively. The concluding section of the article will
discuss how the sacred in virtual worlds is constructed and how it relates
to the physical world. The three intersecting areas between the different
realms of reality and the fourth area, symbolizing the virtual sacred, all
can be categorized in terms of hybridity, areas where different forms of
realities or worlds are mixed and thus “hybridized.” This example also
illustrates the diverse meanings of the term “hybridity” in this context.
At the same time, the term hybrid opens up a discussion and gives a new
understanding of the church in a digital world.
126 Gelfgren

Church and digital media: an introduction

The church and its representatives have throughout history used modern
technology to reach people – sometimes at the frontier of technological
advancements, sometimes more reluctantly. The codex (the book), the
printing press, tracts, radio, and television have been used to commu-
nicate the Gospel, but also the church building in itself has been a place
for modern technology; just think about the actual building (medieval
cathedrals and modern megachurches), stained glass, church organs, and
so on. Which technology has been used, then and now, has been analyzed
by, for example, Heidi Campbell. She uses the concept of “religious-
social shaping of technology” to analyze the process that takes place
while negotiating and implementing technology within a religious group.
The religious and social context is of great importance in this process
(Campbell, 2010).
It was in the early 1980s that some churches and Christian representa-
tives began to explore the possibilities that online communication gave.
E-mail lists developed into Web pages for networking and rituals, chat
rooms, virtual worlds, and now social media have been used widely to
promote the Gospel and gather believers (Campbell, 2005). Along the
way, research on religion and the Internet has also developed. In the
1990s, when the phenomenon was relatively new, research focussed on the
novelty of Internet culture and on how a separate “cyberspace” competed
for participants with the offline worlds. Focus shifted in the second wave
of research; enthusiasm diminished and researchers accredited the diver-
sity of online religion and also considered contextual factors to a larger
extent. In the third wave of research, the distinction between offline reli-
gion and online religion is dissolving (Højsgaard and Warburg, 2005). The
interaction between what is happening online and offline respectively is
taken into account; it is acknowledged that we all (in the connected world)
live in a culture colored and influenced by our daily use of Internet. This
development also reflects how cyberspace merges (is hybridized) with the
offline world.
There is also a current tendency in religious studies to turn towards
the study of the material and visual aspects of religious life, including
sources other than text such as pictures, music, and artefacts (Heidbrink
and Miczek 2010). Morgan writes that “another way of putting this is
that belief is mediated, which brings us to another key term to consider
– medium” (2005: 8). Studying the church building as a medium where
beliefs are practiced is in line with this wider notion of religion.
Research within the field of religion and media is moving towards a
hybridized concept of church. In previous studies I have pointed out how
“digital religion” should not be seen as a separate phenomenon, but should
be related to historical and contextual processes. What is happening online
cannot be separated from what is happening offline, neither today nor in
Hybrid churches 127

history (Gelfgren 2012a and b). According to Hogan and Wellman (2012),
the Internet is no longer apart from our lives, but rather embedded into
our everyday life. This fact also influences how church and “digital reli-
gion” are conceptualized. Knut Lundby (2012: 31) argues in similar ways
when it comes to the church and claims that “[t]he church in cyberspace is
church in the world, simply, because Net communication has become part
of everyday life.”
Media scholars such as Bolter and Grusin (1999) also object to the
tendency to separate the virtual from the physical by emphasizing the
fact that the Internet as a medium by necessity depends upon previous
forms of media. Our understanding of the Internet, or what is labeled as
cyberspace, is based on the understanding of photography, television, text,
and film. “Cyberspace is not, as some assert, a parallel universe. It is not
a place of escape from contemporary society, or indeed from the physical
world,” Bolter and Grusin claim (p. 179).
There are no sharp divisions between the online and the offline world,
between religion and how it is mediated, between the sacred and the
profane. Instead, according to Stewart Hoover, the space in between is in
“a state of fluidity and flux” (Hoover 2001: 50). The concept of a “third
space” has also been picked up to break down the dualism between the
offline and the online church, the virtual and the physical church, and to
indicate a place where the two modes of reality get together.
To talk about the church both as a building (but also as a community)
in terms of hybridity and as a “third space” gives us a language to talk
about these phenomena in a more accurate and relevant way. The alleged
dualism between online and offline obscures the fact that the church in
both senses transcends both place and modes of reality. The digitized
world puts a finger on the complex relation between concepts of the phys-
ical, the virtual, and the sacred.

The relation between the physical and the sacred

The mere church building is a space created to transcend the borders
between the realms of the sacred (or divine) and the physical, just as
do other holy places. Cult places such as mountains or pyramids, syna-
gogues, mosques, or churches are all places where people meet and have
met throughout history to encounter the divine. The buildings are created
to both manifest the sacred and to transcend the dichotomy between the
sacred and the physical. These were all places where the line between
the two dimensions of the world, the immanent and the transcendent, life
and death, could be exceeded. The whole “genre” of sacred architecture
is intended to make the division between the flesh and the spirit trans-
parent. Religious faith and practices, the search for the meaning of life,
are communicated through symbols, rituals, and artefacts – of which the
actual church building is one (Seasoltz, 2005: 2–3). “Religious buildings
128 Gelfgren

arise as human creations, but they persist as life-altering environments …

[as] expressions and sources of religious experience,” according to Jones
(1993: 211–12).
In the Christian history and context, this movement of reaching out from
the mundane world into the divine has been aided by the use of space,
symbols, rituals, and artefacts such as icons, relics, and holy water or oil.
Pictures and sculptures have been used in churches to present and illus-
trate the gospel to the people. Icons, for example, are in some Christian
traditions thought to depict and represent a divine reality reaching out
through the flat surface of the painting. Different rites manifest the world
of the other side and help practitioners enter a new world, to stretch from
the material world to interact and immerse with the divine (van Gennep,
1960). In the Christian church, for example, there are a number of so-called
sacraments (seven in the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches and usually
two in the Protestant Church). The sacraments – for example, the Holy
Communion, baptism, or burial – are acts with both a symbolic meaning
and acts through which God is considered to communicate with humans.
Through the sacraments, God acts to strengthen and give his grace to the
ones who enact these rites.
An obvious manifestation of the connectivity between the present reality
and the reality beyond the present is the altar rail (the place where the
congregation kneels during the Holy Communion), separating the chancel
with the altar from the rest of the church. In Scandinavian churches, the
altar rail is often shaped as semi-circle with the other half of the circle
imagined on the outside of the church wall, connecting the present congre-
gation with those who have gone before and entered the kingdom of God.
Also, if a group of people gather to express and share their faith in an
ordinary “profane” building or place, it is considered, among believers, to
be an act of transcending the boundaries between the mundane world and
the sacred.
In other words, the physical church building is a hybrid space in itself,
with the aim to be a node where the sacred and the physical modes of
reality meet. Through architecture, artefacts, symbols, and various prac-
tices, the boundaries between the realms of the physical and the sacred are

The relation between the physical and the virtual

In early research on religion and digital media there was, as mentioned
before, a tendency to emphasize the otherness of churches in “cyber-
spaces.” They were thought of as something radically different, and one
only could guess which way religion was heading. In one handbook on
how to be a church in the virtual world of Second Life, the author claims
that the world has never seen anything like a virtual church before
and, also, that it has the power to break down social barriers, and all
Hybrid churches 129

this for a very small amount of money (Estes 2009). Researchers have
noticed, however, that the otherness of the Internet is rather overesti-
mated (Hutchings 2010). Still, in a world such as Second Life, anyone
skilled can build just about anything without being restricted by gravity,
shortage of material, or use of expensive material. If someone wants
to build a church as, let us say, a bubble made out of gold and ivory,
surrounded by a herd of dragons, lying on the bottom of an oceanic
trench, (s)he can do it, and therefore one might expect a variety of church
buildings to be created in virtual worlds.
While studying and mapping the Christian sphere in Second Life, 114
explicitly Christian places were discovered by the end of 2011 (Gelfgren
and Hutchings, forthcoming). What was notable among these places
was the high number of fairly ordinary and recognizable church build-
ings. Approximately two-thirds of all the sites had a traditional church.
Some places had a church building as the main feature on their specific
site; others consisted largely of some sort of nature-simulating land-
scape or a complex mix of areas for living, spaces for socialization,
amusement areas with fishing facilities, roller coasters or dance floors,
and other entertaining features, but still there was often also a proper
church building.
Only nine sites (approx. 8 percent) had what we characterized as a
“fantasy church”: a church building functioning as a designated place
for Christian worship but not reproduced as an ordinary physical church.
Catholic and Orthodox sites are more inclined to host a traditional church,
as compared to Protestant sites. There are not many Orthodox churches,
but the spaces the visitor can enter are restricted. The area behind the
so-called Beautiful Gates, at the center of the iconostasis, in front of
the altar, is an area you cannot enter even in Second Life. The Catholic
churches are more inclined to invite people to individual contemplation
and prayer, rather than to collective acts of practicing faith. The reason
for this is most likely related to traditions and the role of the church as
institution in their Christian branches (compare with Morgan 2011 for a
discussion on media and Christian traditions).
There is a significant difference between dissimilar church buildings
depending on tradition and other contextual factors, as in the physical
world, but still you often recognize a church when you see one, with its
symbols, pews, pulpit, and so on. Most churches are in that sense quite
generic, and that is the case in the virtual churches as well.
The churches we labeled “representational” are all constructed as build-
ings with walls and a roof (often in a fairly square shape), rows of well-
defined pews where the congregation can sit while attending services,
windows (often with stained glass), and an altar or pulpit in front of
the parish where the priest or someone of equivalent position can stand
while preaching and celebrating the service. These recognizable features
do not always make sense, however, in a world where it is easier to use
130 Gelfgren

the avatar’s flying ability to enter a church rather than using doors and
stairs, where your legs are never tired or where it also might be diffi-
cult to maneuver your avatar to a non-occupied seat. In a terminology
from design and architecture, one can talk about skeuomorphic elements
within the church – elements that used to have a considerable function in
previous versions. But now, with new materials or functions, these have
no purpose and are mainly replicated for ornamentation, recognizability,
and familiarity (roofs in a virtual church, cigarette filters printed to look
like cork, online calendars with a leathery and papery appearance, and so
on) (March 1890).
Often you also find the traditional symbols as well. The cross is prob-
ably (and naturally) the most used Christian symbol in Second Life to
show and manifest the Christian adherence of the building. There are
also other well-known symbols such as Bibles, art with familiar motifs
from biblical history, candle holders, baptismal fonts, and so on. The
whole church environment often clearly signals familiarity and recog-
nizability (Hutchings 2010). A visitor to a virtual church identifies what
kind of place he or she has come to. The majority of the church buildings
clearly draw upon ideas and constructions we usually find offline, in the
physical world.
The traditional style of a church indicates a structure within the church
and also a hierarchical order between the leadership and the parishioners
(Drane 2008). This structure is recreated through the virtual church
building. This is done through a medium considered to be anti-hierar-
chical and something we have never experienced before, according to, for
example, the previously mentioned Estes (2009), and to others who have
high hopes for the promises of the digital world we now have entered.
The churchyard, the surroundings of the church, is a place where it also
might be possible to experiment with forms and functions. A large propor-
tion of the churches have a garden or a park with grass, shrubs, and trees,
sometimes with well-known objects such as notice boards, gravestones,
and crosses. More effort seems to be put into the actual church building
compared to what is done outside.
A Christian place, however, often consists of features other than a single
church building. One important and characteristic aspect of Second Life
religiosity is the emphasis on fellowship, and outside the churches there
are sometimes spaces designated for this, some more elaborate than others.
Circles of pillows or stones surrounding a fire are a common sight, but also
cafés, dance floors, and games can be found at the more complex sites.
Only a few places however, seem to put emphasis on Christian fellowship;
at least most places are not designed with this primarily in mind.
The physical church can be said to have been moved into the virtual
world, and thereby to have reproduced many of the aspects you normally
find in a physical church. The aim of the churches is still to aid people to
get in contact with the third realm – the sacred.
Hybrid churches 131

The relation between the virtual and the sacred

The church building aims at transcending the physical and the sacred
world. In the case of virtual churches, it is clear that a majority of them
attempt to emulate physical churches. But there are also church buildings
in virtual worlds that try to use the affordances of the media and aim to
do something other, something that differs from the traditional church
building and structure. Only a small proportion of the church buildings
are of a more innovative and imaginative character, but still these churches
give an indication of what is possible if church structures are put under
These fantasy churches attempt to manifest and indicate something
other than the traditional, established church structure. There is a discus-
sion within parts of the Christian sphere that raises the question of whether
the traditional church manifests a consumer culture with a divide between
the consumer (the parishioner) and the producer (the staff – clergy, priests,
deacons, pastors, and the like). Inspired by digital culture, the original
church, and different revivalist movements, there are attempts to tear
down the barriers between the different categories within the church
(Drane, 2008). With a terminology originating from digital culture, there
are efforts to create a more produser-like (Bruns, 2008) culture in the
church, where the barriers between the producer and the consumer are
One way in which the traditional church is affected when going online,
according to several researchers, is the undermining of church structures.
As pointed out by, for example, Castells (2001), the Internet is a many-to-
many media, and therefore different from previous one-to-many media
such as books, radio, and television. The Internet has the potential to be
a medium in the hands of anyone, who then can reach anyone else with
an Internet connection. Therefore, it also has the potential to undermine
any objective truth. Discursive power structures upheld by institutions
and their representatives will inevitably be undermined in an age of wide-
spread Internet access. Research points in this direction, but it is also an
idealistic idea that has to be nuanced in an age when we see how offline
authorities also tend to have a strong online position and, also, how new
structures evolve with new, strong emerging actors. Economic interests
and also national states try to circumscribe the current relative freedom
and openness of the Net. That is, however, another discussion.
The interpretative prerogative regarding religious truth, of course, was
questioned before the dawn of the Internet. One aspect of the postmodern
condition is the relativization of any objective narratives, whether they are
religious, ideological, or scientific. Today, at least in the Western world,
we tend to talk about individual religious faith and commitment to a larger
extent as being a pick-and-mix, a smorgasbord, or a bricolage kind of
religious faith. Individuals are free to choose their own mix of religious
132 Gelfgren

beliefs, and therefore institutionalized religion represented by established

churches and denominations is undermined and dwindling (Martin, 2011).
The sociologists Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead characterize this
process as a “subjectivization of faith.” Beliefs in an objective religious
truth have in our time been replaced by a subjective truth and are now
a matter of internal personal negotiating (Heelas and Woodhead, 2005).
In recent years the development of the Internet has coincided with the
process of the subjectivization of faith and possibly has strengthened this
tendency (Gelfgren, 2012a).
This trend is manifest among the virtual churches of Second Life as
well. Thus, even if it is obvious that a majority of Christian places copy
physical church buildings, there are also some places where the bounda-
ries of what a church is are challenged. They are affected by and drawing
upon the affordances of the media – the digital virtual world. There are
no well-defined designer rules or church traditions to follow. There is only
the imagination of the designer and the market to adapt to (if one wants
visitors to the site).
In the aforementioned article by Gelfgren and Hutchings (forthcoming)
there is a category labeled “fantasy churches,” describing churches that
try to do something different, compared to churches in the physical world,
by using the possibilities of the virtual world. Only nine churches out of
114 are of this imaginative kind, but in terms of creating a hybrid space
between the virtual and the sacred, they are of course of interest.
These churches attempt to create an open and inviting environment
reflecting the alleged openness of Second Life. One church is constructed
as a white semisphere, in a group of others, in a green forest-like landscape.
There are also churches with no specific walls to define the inside of the
church from the outside. For example, one church comprises a structure of
pillars or scaffoldings to hold something similar to a roof – a stone cupola
with huge brass bells. This particular church lies next to the shoreline
(a bit above), and the visitor can see the crashing waves while attending
services. Another church has giant glass walls and a glass roof in a rather
cube-shaped form with wooden pillars holding up the whole construction.
There is also one round, black church with a cupola-shaped roof, with a
circular hole in the middle with a glowing neon cross hovering above,
under a second, smaller cupola. One of the most impressive Christian
sites, when it comes to imaginative constructions, has an empty basilica
with a richly ornamented floor, some random chairs, pieces of art, and an
altar at the end of one side. The whole building is constructed mainly in
gold and marble.
There are also churches that look fairly traditional on the outside, but on
closer inspection, have another, alternative structure on the inside. Some
buildings have the function of a church but are built to look like an ordi-
nary house. Instead of the usual rows of pews you find in more traditional
churches, you might find circles of cushions or comfortable sofas around
Hybrid churches 133

a fire or a table with a Bible and a candle, or something equivalent. The

inside of the church might just be an empty space open for any form of
These forms of virtual churches manifest or draw upon ideas of imagi-
nation, inclusiveness, fellowship, sharing, and anti-hierarchical orders,
which are aided by the affordances of digital media. The fantasy churches
cannot be made in the physical world, but in the virtual world it is possible
to design other forms in order to transcend the division between the
church and the sacred. The hybrid, innovative church in the virtual world
attempts to aid the visitor to seek the sacred through fellowship in the
name of God and sharing to a larger extent than otherwise.
According to the presentation in this chapter, there might seem to be
a sharp distinction between the reproduction churches and the fantasy
churches, and in terms of the actual church buildings, there is. In reality,
at least some of the more traditionally constructed churches are comple-
mented with more social spaces, created with fellowship and interac-
tivity in mind. There are places outside the churches for conversation,
with people seated around, for example, a campfire. You will also find
Christian places with dance floors, cafés, nightclubs, meditation areas,
and so on. Some places consist of landscapes with the underlying ambi-
tion of encouraging solemn contemplation, and others are designed with
Christian artefacts and messages to direct your mindset to the realm of the
sacred and divine.

The physical virtual sacred: the area in between the

different modes of reality
The physical virtual sacred is in this chapter defined as the small inter-
secting area between the different spheres in the figure presented at the
beginning. So is the virtual church by any means different from, in this
case, a traditional church in the physical world, and vice versa? There
have been assumptions about the newness and potential of the virtual
church and the digital and virtual overall. When it is possible to construct
any kind of church building, what might the reasons be for building
mainly representative and reproductive churches in the virtual world of
Second Life?
Even though it is possible to build basically anything, it is rather difficult
to construct something without reference to already existing things – it is,
by definition, hard, or even impossible, to grasp the unimaginable. There
is also a matter of being sincere and serious when building a religious
community. For a Christian believer, the core of faith and the community
of believers is not a thing to be easily played around with. Then there is the
issue of familiarity. One can assume that many constructors of Christian
places want the guests to feel at home and to be comfortable while visiting
a church and, therefore, build places that are easily recognizable.
134 Gelfgren

Jones (1993) argues that sacred architecture needs to combine tradi-

tional, conservative, and familiar elements with unexpected and chal-
lenging elements to give meaning to the viewer. Tim Hutchings has shown
the importance of familiarity in virtual churches in his study of two
Second Life churches. In both churches, familiarity is a way of providing
the visitor with a safe and comfortable environment that demonstrates
authenticity. Interestingly enough, familiarity in environmental design
could be used to support change within the given frame (Hutchings 2010),
which will be dealt with below.
Bolter and Grusin point out how virtual reality attempts to create a
reality that is as “close as possible to our daily visual experience” (1999:
22), whereas Wagner means that “our fascination with virtual sacred
space also reveals our desire for structure” (2011: 237). Both Bolter and
Grusin and Wagner, and others, emphasize the similarities between how
we perceive and experience the offline and the online world. Bolter and
Grusin show how one important aspect of virtual reality is to dissolve
the experience of the media itself – in other words, the creators of virtual
worlds tend to strive for immediacy. The search for immediacy has a long
story, stretching back to the Renaissance and the “invention” of linear
perspective. The viewer was supposed see through the reproduction and
experience it as part of reality, a notion coming back in relation to photog-
raphy, film, and television as well. A too-disruptive virtual environment
disturbs the possibility of immediacy.
On the other hand, a computer-generated virtual world is founded
on previous media, as new forms of media always are, going back to
McLuhan’s often quoted phrase saying that “the ‘content’ of any media
is always another medium” (1964). Henry Jenkins reasons along similar
lines, also claiming that new media are always based on old media. His
concept of “media convergence” pinpoints how the Internet as a medium
is based on the merging of different types of media. “History teaches us
that old media never die – and they don’t even necessarily fade away.
What dies are simply the tools we use to access media content” (Jenkins
2006: 13). New forms of media attempt to legitimize their existence and
relevance by referring to older forms of media (Bolter and Grusin, 1999).
In this perspective, it is no wonder that a majority of Christian places
have erected traditional church buildings. If we go along with Wagner’s
understanding of the constructed sacred in virtual worlds, the quest
for something sacred is searching for the “meaningful, predictable and
comprehensible” among the disordered (2011: 237).
There are several causes for the construction of churches and overall
recognizable places in Second Life, ranging from showing authenticity
to the fact that new media rely upon previous media. But there are things
stretching the familiar and traditional, as mentioned by Tim Hutchings
(2010), despite familiarity. He claims that “reliance on the familiar also
supports other kinds of change,” and mentions how the familiar structure
Hybrid churches 135

in innovative ways, for example, “supports the inclusion of wider pools of

untrained lay people in the production and performance of ritual” (p. 79).
Indeed, the weakening of power structures, authority, and traditions is
an often-mentioned aspect of digital media. There are examples of how
priests, clergy, and pastors (positions that in the physical world often are
connected to some form of formal ordination) in Second Life are self-
proclaimed leaders without ordination. Instead of being a “real” ordained
clergyman, s/he might be a layperson, a student training to be a pastor,
or just anyone willing to take on that kind of mission. The anonymity
of Second Life supports and maybe also encourages such manners, but
simultaneously many appointed leaders within Second Life Christianity
seem to be open about their “true” identities in their in-world biographies
and are not trying to deceive people as to whether they are ordained or
not. If someone has something to say that is in any way is relevant to other
people, s/he has the possibility to use Second Life as a platform to reach
people with the word of God.
As mentioned above, the church building is central to a majority of
the Christian simulations, but in many cases it is not the only construc-
tion on site. There are areas where you can rent a house; there are parks,
cemeteries, beaches, amusement areas, cozy seating for relaxation and
fellowship, dance floors, contemplative nature, resource collections
(books, T-shirts, slide shows, animations, links, and so on) connected to
the churches. These more complex places constitute a rather small fraction
of the total number of Christian places. There is a tendency to emphasize
fellowship in a Christian environment as part of Christian life, however,
and Second Life certainly gives new possibilities for that. If you want a
roller coaster, a beach, or a circle of stones around a campfire – just build
it or buy it for a relatively small amount of money. And apart from gath-
ering for services in the actual church building, you may partake of sched-
uled occasions for Bible discussions, prayer groups, and non-scheduled
opportunities for chatting and hanging out among friends (Gelfgren and
Hutchings, forthcoming).
This is nothing new. The practice dates back at least to the nineteenth
century and the so-called Evangelical movement, when parties, outdoor
picnics, brass bands, soccer teams, youth groups, and so forth, became
common activities to attract people among the growing revivalist churches
and denominations (Gelfgren, 2012b). Second Life seems to further push
Christianity and the Christian sites in that direction.
In a competitive and pluralistic market such as Second Life, the sites
have to attract people, and amusement and friendship is one way of doing
that. Similar approaches of adaptation can be seen among churches active
in a world where institutionalized Christianity is in decline (Martin, 2010).
Here we can see different approaches among the different religious tradi-
tions. Sites connected to Protestant traditions are more geared towards
collective fellowship and amusement, whereas Catholic and Orthodox
136 Gelfgren

sims are more likely to emphasize personal reflection and prayer within
the church. This can be explained by the significance of tradition and
history within specific religious affiliations, something Campbell (2010)
relates to her concept of the “religious social shaping of technology.”
Each religious tradition formulates and negotiates its response to new
technology according to tradition, history, and core beliefs, according to
Campbell. The “socializing” and experimental aspect of faith has been,
and is still, stronger, whereas tradition is weaker within Protestantism
compared to the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches,
which place a stronger emphasis on tradition and institution. At the same
time, the Protestant churches are more likely to conduct sacraments/rituals
such as baptism, marriage, and the Eucharist, because they have a looser
view of the Church as an institution.
In other words, what is specific about the virtual Christian places is the
tendency to stress the importance of amusement and socializing. Here
the medium itself gives new possibilities, or maybe it is more accurate to
talk about enhanced possibilities. What is done in the virtual churches is
not something radically new; rather they work in the prolongation of what
Protestant churches and denominations already have done for 150 years
in the physical world. The inclusion of laypersons is also stronger within
Protestant churches and denominations, which is something that also lies
within the tradition. Protestant churches are often, to various degrees,
founded upon the idea of the importance of laypersons, and the churches
are disestablished in opposition to established church institutions.
The church building is a hybrid place in the sense that it is intersecting
the physical and the sacred, where rituals and artefacts aid the believing
visitor in experiencing the divine. The virtual church building transcends
in similar ways the physical and the secular, but in a virtual world. Wagner
asks rhetorically (quoted at the beginning of this chapter) if the virtual
is sacred because both realms are separated from the physical. In this
case, the virtual cannot be said to be sacred by default. However, what
is considered sacred is not significantly something else in a virtual world
only because it is mediated through a virtual world. The virtual church is
only a mediator, another channel, for the effort to reach the sacred.
The use of the concept of hybridity in relation to virtual churches high-
lights the fact that what is happening online, in the virtual world, is not
inseparable from what is happening offline. In-world churches rely upon
churches offline. This is visible in design, function, and activities. The
Church, as “the body of Christ,” is remediated through the virtual world
and is therefore necessarily dependent upon previous forms of churches.
Because humans construct these sites based upon their personal offline
experiences, and also in an overall societal context, these virtual churches
are by necessity a part of the physical world and already existing Christian
churches. Hence they share their prerequisites. That is why it is accurate to
talk about a “hybrid church,” and the virtual church as a “hybrid space,”
Hybrid churches 137

where the different modes of reality meet and intersect rather than to hold
up any preconceived concept of “cyberspace” as a separate reality with
other rules.

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Seasoltz, Kevin R. (2005) A sense of the sacred: theological foundations of
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details, London. Routledge.
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9 Towards a heterotopology
Unlayering the reality of hybrid media
Simon Lindgren

Foucault (1986) writes of how the spaces in which we live always have a
degree of heterogeneity. This is because life is by necessity taking place
inside a set of relations that lead to the emergence and delineation of “sites”
that are irreducible. The Internet is also one such “heterotopia.” Among
the many dimensions – social and spatial – of twenty-first century life,
the duality of online versus offline, virtual versus material, cyberspace
versus meatspace has become increasingly highlighted throughout the last
decade. This is partly because some understandings of the informational
age are caught up with maintaining this distinction and partly because the
inevitable and continuous blurring of this distinction is now at the center
of a number of noteworthy socio-cultural debates (over sexualities, iden-
tities, copyrights, privacy, politics, etc.). In his essay on “other spaces,”
Foucault (1986: 24) outlines an approach to heterotopias that takes as its

the study, analysis, description, and “reading” (as some like to say
nowadays) of these different spaces, of these other places. As a sort of
simultaneously mythic and real contestation of the space in which we
live, this description could be called heterotopology.

The chapters of this book can be read as a set of such heterotopolo-

gies of specific fields where the online/offline negotiation is at the fore-
front, which together constitute one larger heterotopology on the state of
hybrid media culture. Indeed, as Foucault argues, heterotopias may be
constituted from the tension between “normality” and “other spaces”
(constituted through deviance from normal states) such as theatres, mental
institutions, cemeteries, boats, sacred places, brothels, and so on. But at its
core, the notion refers to the capability of the heterotopia “of juxtaposing
in a single real place several spaces, several sites” and its power to render
time relative by opening onto “heterochronies” (ibid.: 26).
As in museums and libraries, time online tends to stop, accumulate, or
in other ways disrupt the traditional temporal chronology. In essence, this
is also what Castells (1996) refers to when speaking of “spaces of flows”
140 Lindgren

and of “timeless time.” What happens when – in spite of Foucault’s claim

that the “other spaces” are “irreducible to one another and absolutely
not superimposable on one another” – the tension of the heterotopia is
dissolved and this space and other spaces morph? This is an overarching
question to which the chapters of this book all provide partial answers.
This chapter sets out to deepen the discussion of how the online/offline
divide can (and should) be destabilized, and to provide a conceptual
framework for furthering our understanding of hybrid media culture.

Dissolving the binary into augmented reality

The binary of real/virtual has been a continuing preoccupation within
Internet research, stealing focus and energy from more pertinent ques-
tions relating to how the entanglement of these two domains affects how
people relate to each other, how groups are formed online, and how new
conditions for the production of meaning and knowledge emerge at this
nexus. This preoccupation is a result of much thinking about “new media”
being heavily influenced by postmodern ideas of hyperreality and simula-
tion (Baudrillard, 1981). Notions of cyberspace and virtual reality have
painted our understanding of the digital in the colours of science fiction
and transcendence, while our relationships with dented smartphones and
coffee-stained laptops are in fact highly physical and grounded.
Baym (2000: 199) writes that “[a]lthough in many ways research has
become more sophisticated, the continuing debates over the nature and
worth of the virtual community belie an ongoing presupposition that
there are two types of communities, one authentic and the other virtual.”
Similarly, Tuszynski (2008) argues that a discussion of an alleged split
between what is said to be real and what is said to be virtual haunts
Internet research.
Obviously, it is not very productive to get caught up in debates over this,
as it diverts attention away from questions that are more practical and
pressing (Bakardjieva, 2005: 168). Tuszynski goes on to argue that even
though the idea of a divide between virtual activity and “real” life may
not be entirely false, it has definitely been largely misrepresented. She
rightfully claims that differences certainly exist between, for example,
purely textual e-mail communication and interacting face-to-face with
someone in a coffee shop. Her point, however, is that the difference is one
of degrees rather than one of complete separation.
But the fact that these two domains of interaction tend to be treated
so radically different, and that they are valued in relation to each other,
results in a bias where online interaction is often seen as less significant
than face-to-face connections. Tuszynski (2008) writes that as computer-
mediated communication is devalued, a number of biases – ranging from
the misleading to the illogical – arise. She shows how some researchers
have claimed that commitments to online groups tend to be transient and
Towards a heterotopology 141

shallow, and that we therefore never have to confront people we dislike. In

general, communication over the Internet tends to be seen as secondary
and superficial (Bird, 2003; Norris, 2004). Furthermore, online commu-
nication has been construed as following its own rules, detached from
offline “reality” (cf. Suler, 2004).
According to Jones (1998), face-to-face communication has been held
as an ideal since it is a form of communication that we recognize and
associate with community. But, as he points out, already Schudson (1978:
323) questioned this by stating that “[w]e are not really interested in what
face-to-face communication is like; rather, we have developed a notion
that all communication should be like a certain model of conversation
whether that model really exists or not.” Citing Cohen (1985), Jones also
argues that the idea that people in small-scale society interact with each
other as “whole persons” is a simplification. Even though people may meet
in a wider range of activities, and more regularly, than in more large-scale
and anonymous settings, this in no way guarantees that they have a less
fragmented perception of people. Jones concludes that we, because of this:

[t]otter between belief that CMC will, to borrow from Marshall

McLuhan, “retribalize” us by providing for us a technologized, but
nevertheless ideal, form of communication we have found lacking
and belief that our interaction will become mechanized and hollow
without the “richness” of face-to-face conversation. It is important to
note that even in face-to-face interaction much of what is most valu-
able is the absence of information, the silence and pauses between
words and phrases.
(Jones, 1998: 25).

In other words, there is more to unite online and offline communication

than there is to separate them. Instead of placing the real and the virtual
on either side of a clear-cut and unbridgeable dichotomy – like a binary
opposition – they should be seen along a spectrum. Tuszynski writes:

Sitting in a coffee house eating, drinking and speaking directly to

another person would count as “real” interaction and also would be
privileged as the most valuable of all forms of interaction between
people. The sense is that this encounter is direct because the two
people are in the same physical location and communicating without
any machines in between them. However, this encounter is still medi-
ated. The two people are using spoken language and body language,
both of which mediate the interaction. If one person does not speak
the same language, the interaction grinds to a halt. While this kind
of face-to-face activity may be less mediated than online interaction,
it remains on the continuum of mediated social activity. Indeed, the
only way to remove all forms of mediation from human interaction
142 Lindgren

would be a direct psychic link between people, which would remove

the need for representative symbol and sound systems known as
language. Anything short of that pure communion of minds will be
mediated in some fashion. In any case, a meeting at a coffee shop
would, in terms of the binary, be an example of the privileged “real.”
Supposedly at the other end of the spectrum would be an anonymous
interchange of words, either in email or on a online forum, where the
two participants know nothing about each other besides their handles,
avatars or email addresses. This is a purely virtual interaction in that
it is entirely mediated through machines. Differences do exist in the
ways these two encounters work.
(Tuszynski, 2008: 66)

But these differences are not the result of the two situations being on
either side of an imagined divide between digital reality and real reality.
Rather, this has to do with much older arguments stemming from the
fact that new media technologies have been treated, over and over again
through history, as entirely new phenomena. In spite of long-distance
relationships through letters and telephone having existed for a very long
time, the “newness of the technology and the rush to proclaim a revolu-
tion before the actual effects of the technology could be observed” (ibid.)
creates a lack of historical contextualization.
Jurgenson (2011) argues that we must abandon the dualist notion, that
online and offline are separate, replacing it with the idea that they rather
mix together to form an “augmented reality.” Criticising early Internet
researchers such as Turkle (2005), and her notion of a “second self” online,
Jurgenson underlines that “social media has everything to do with the
physical world and our offline lives are increasingly influenced by social
media, even when logged off.” In light of that insight it becomes necessary
to leave any idea of a dualism behind, since our Tweets, blogs or Facebook
pages are as much a part of real life as anything else. All the while our
offline existence is also moving further into the virtual.
Of particular danger is the idea that the Internet should have the power
to override or remove the geographical or social locatedness of its users.
According to Jurgensen, things like the classic hacker ethic, the open-
source movement, and the emergence of Wikipedia have fuelled the
understanding that the Internet promises “the possible deconstruction of
dominant and oppressive social categorizations such as gender, race, age
and even species.” He continues:

Essential to these projects was the idea that the Internet can be created
as a sphere separate from (perhaps even better than) the offline world.
Digitality promised a Wild-West frontier built without replicating the
problems of our offline reality, fixing its oppressive realities such as
skin color, physical ability, resource scarcity as well as time and space
Towards a heterotopology 143

constraints. The new digital frontier was a space where information

could flow freely, national boundaries could be overcome, expertism
and authority could be upended; those old structures would be wiped
away in the name of a utopian and revolutionary cyber-libertarian path
blazed by our heroic cyber-punk and hacker digital cowboys (indeed,
those were boy’s clubs).
(Jurgenson, 2011, n.p.)

But that utopian dream could only be kept alive if the digital was held as
something distinct from the physical. It was soon to be realized, however,
that none of these things actually had an existence outside of long-standing
and established hegemonic social relations, institutions and inequalities.
Against this background, Jurgenson calls for replacing the dualism with an
augmented perspective situating digitality and physicality as always being
mutually constitutive. This is important not only because the dichotomi-
zation is misleading as a scholarly theory, but also since it might mask
social inequalities. This is why the project of this book is so important. In
fact, mapping out the new heterotopology of hybrid media culture marks
a contribution to furthering the understanding of what Jurgenson calls
augmented reality. He writes that “[o]ur augmented reality is one where
the politics, structures and inequalities of the physical world are part of the
very essence of the digital domain; a domain built by human beings with
histories, standpoints, interests, morals and biases” (ibid.)

Understanding layers of reality through practice

Such augmented reality, in Jurgenson’s sense, could be researched, decoded
and understood in a multitude of ways. One way would be to envision it
as a set of intersecting layers. Drawing on Lefebvre’s spatial triad, we
could envision three such layers (Lefebvre, 1974). First, there is the lived
layer (cf. Lefebvre’s “representational space”) – the dimension that users,
participants or inhabitants of digital and social media seek to appropriate
or transform. The representational layer of lived reality overlays physical
reality, making symbolic use of its objects (Lefebvre, 1974: 39). It is the
layer of subjective experiences (Elden, 2004), through which subcultural
noise (Hebdige, 1979) and symbolic challenges of the symbolic order may
be deployed (Melucci, 1989). It is the source of disruption (Lindgren,
2013) and social movements.
The lived layer, however, is constrained by a second layer overlying
it. This is the layer of conceived reality (cf. Lefebvre’s “representa-
tions of space”). It is dominated by ideologies, theories and world-views
that rasterize the physical/material dimension. From the perspective of
discourse (Foucault, 1971) or social constructionism (Gergen, 1985), this
dimension is constituted by the textual arrangements that uphold any fixa-
tion of meaning (Laclau and Mouffe, 1985) in a given context. This layer
144 Lindgren

is the source of discriminating and ordering systems (Lefebvre, 1974: 39)

such as language, designs, maps, protocol, network architecture, digital
platform affordances/limitations, and so on. All such code is political
(Galloway, 2004) and rooted in ideologies that have become manifest
through it (Lefebvre, 1974: 116). While these systems change over time,
the dominant conceptions of reality that they express still intervene – as
an architecture – defining the limits and possibilities of social action.
The third layer, finally, relates to the social practice that constitutes –
and is constituted through – the lived and conceived layers of reality. It
has do with how people experience, decipher and act upon their situation
(Lefebvre, 1974: 38), and with how “mental and social activity impose
their own meshwork” upon space (ibid.: 117).

Traversed now by pathways and patterned by networks, natural space

changes: one might say that practical activity writes upon nature,
albeit in a scrawling hand, and that this writing implies a particular
representation of space. Places are marked, noted, named. Between
them, within the “holes in the net,” are blank or marginal spaces. …
Paths are more important than the traffic they bear, because they are
what endures … This … has more in common with a spider’s web
than with a drawing or plan. Could it be called a text, or a message?
Possibly, but the analogy would serve no particularly useful purpose,
and it would make more sense to speak of texture rather than of texts
in this connection.
(Lefebvre, 1974: 117–18)

This focus on a texture of practices, as well as the notion of a layered

reality, is also in line with Bourdieu’s idea of a social topology wherein
“the social world can be represented as a space (with several dimensions)
constructed on the basis of principles of differentiation or distribution
constituted by the set of properties active within the social universe in
question, i.e., capable of conferring strength, power within that universe”
(Bourdieu, 1985: 723). Figure 9.1 provides a visual illustration of the
layered conceptual apparatus suggested above.
Throughout this book, the entanglement of these layers has been
brought to the fore in a set of case studies. It has been illustrated how
limiting structures related to the layer of conceived reality have trig-
gered various responses enabled by digital media. Such limiting struc-
tures may have to do with regulatory and disciplinary practices relating
to how bodies are displayed in public (cf. Chapter 2), with panoptic top-
down systems governing the visibility and movement of social subjects
(cf. Chapter 3), or with stagnating cultural heritages in need of revitali-
zation (cf. Chapter 4).
Furthermore, such constraints may include any type of social condi-
tions that certain groups strive to change through activism (cf. Chapter 5),
Towards a heterotopology 145

L _,
(1 ll

~ ··· ,----
bsvisonoO Conceived
Lived reality 'lfilss1 bsviJ
'lfiiS91 reality


I r:r II
"'~ "~.c

" J
Figure 9.1 Hybrid media culture at the intersection of lived, conceived and practiced

antiquated regimes of property and copyright (cf. Chapter 6), a lack of

adequate support structures or recognition for victimized groups (cf.
Chapter 7), or challenges for religious groups in reaching out through new
avenues (cf. Chapter 8). These are examples that are highlighted in this
volume. However, it should be obvious that any number of other situations
where conceived reality fetters or restricts the acting space of subjects
could be imagined.
We have also dealt in this book with the responses – in lived reality –
that have been triggered by these discursive constraints. The formation
of strategies to enact alternate bodies (Chapter 2); countering panopti-
cism with synopticism or more tactical and hybrid forms of seeing and
being seen (Chapter 3); the digital deployment of a cultural revitaliza-
tion process (Chapter 4); social movement conception and mobilization
(Chapter 5); forming opposition to prevailing world-views (Chapter 6);
and forming alternate arenas for interaction (Chapter 7); or new places
for worship (Chapter 8). These are all examples of more or less aggres-
sive attempts at appropriating space or transforming conceived reality
by bringing agency into effective action. These strategies are realized
through the layer of practice where the disruptive or transformatory
tactics are put in play.
But the circumstances and effects of these are by necessity messy and
ambiguous – they are hybrid: Bodies put on display online turn into pixels
that unavoidably pour down into actual flesh once more (Chapter 2).
Age-old cultural artefacts and symbols are digitized and transmitted as
zeroes and ones that rehash geographical territories and spatially rooted
identities (Chapter 4). The best tactic for individualizing surveillance
might in fact be to try to escape digital eyes and ears altogether (Chapter 3).
146 Lindgren

Similarly, the power of digital activism (Chapter 5) and of hacktivist

rhetorics (Chapter 6) appears to be the strongest when online and offline
– traditional and new forms of resistance – are combined or juxtaposed
for increased effect. Efficient social support online demands the invoca-
tion of warm emotionality and closeness in conjunction with the sense
of cold anonymity provided by networked technologies (Chapter 7), and
cyberplaces of worship animate the brick and mortar of real life church
buildings (Chapter 8).
This persistent wobbliness and oscillation illustrates the key point of this
argument: We are not dealing with a linear process where (1) limitations are
perceived, (2) transgression is desired, and (3) change is achieved through
effective digital practice. Rather, conceptions, desires and strategies happen
all at once – as does the offline and the online. The ubiquity of technology and
the messiness of the social render them layered on top of each other, making
any techno-determinist approach faulty. Hybrid media culture must be under-
stood as practice – in terms of the intersection of constraints, resistance and
tactics. These layers cannot be dealt with in isolation from each other.

Epilogue: “Secretaries will have OLIVERS”

In a paper from the late 1960s – “The Computer as a Communication
Device” – Licklider and Taylor (1968: 21) wrote that “[i]n a few years,
men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than
face to face.” They also discussed what “on-line interactive communities”
would be like, and concluded that they would

consist of geographically separated members, sometimes grouped

in small clusters and sometimes working individually. They will be
communities not of common location, but of common interest. In
each field, the overall community of interest will be large enough to
support a comprehensive system of field-oriented programs and data.
… The whole will constitute a labile network of networks – ever-
changing in both content and configuration.
(ibid.: 37–38)

They also realized however, that digital technology itself would not
constitute its own separate mode of interaction. Rather they imagined
that actual people would be “active participants in an ongoing process,
bringing something to [technology] through our interaction with it, and
not simply receiving something from it by our connection to it” (ibid.:
21). They envisioned the future Internet to bring about a hybrid state
where online communication would be “as natural an extension of indi-
vidual work as face-to-face communication” (ibid.: 40), arguing that “the
computer alone can make no contribution that will help us, and that the
computer … can do little more than suggest a direction” (ibid.: 28).
Towards a heterotopology 147

With this book we argue that such cyber realist perspectives must be
strengthened in Internet studies. The social action and interaction that
relates to the digital must be approached as “living paradoxes rooted in a
messy praxis” (Lovink, 2002: 226). This book is an effort towards shaping
a framework for the study of this messiness. This entails articulating “the
net with materiality, for herein lies the possibility of a politics that recog-
nizes the embeddedness of social practices” (ibid: 13). We conclude with
a quote from Licklider and Taylor’s seminal paper:

A very important part of each man’s interaction with his on-line

community will be mediated by his OLIVER. The acronym OLIVER
honors Oliver Selfridge, originator of the concept. An OLIVER is,
or will be when there is one, an “on-line interactive vicarious expe-
diter and responder,” a complex of computer programs and data that
resides within the network and acts on behalf of its principal, taking
care of many minor matters that do not require his personal attention
and buffering him from the demanding world. “You are describing a
secretary,” you will say. But no! Secretaries will have OLIVERS.
(Licklider and Taylor, 1968: 38)

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Achildatheartforever 22 bodies, physical 16–29; moderation

ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade 28; and online communities 19, 20;
Agreement) 97 respectability 27–8, 29; and visuality
“Activism 2.0” 68 28
Adams, Paul C. 5 Boero, N. 19
Akkala Sámi 52 Bolter, J. D. 8, 127, 134
Althusser, L. 101 Bourdieu, P. 7, 95, 96, 144
Anderson, B. 60 Boyd, D. 69
Andrejevic, Mark 46 Brighenti, Andrea Mubi 45
anonymity 24, 35, 46, 59, 111–14, 119–20, Brown, Wendy 42, 43
135, 141, 142 Bruns, Axel 30n5
anorexia 19, 21, 25 Burgess, J. E. 18
Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement Butler, Judith 44
(ACTA) 97
Appadurai, A. 60 CAMillekolXX 24
Arab Spring 42, 68 Cammaerts, Bart 68
Atlas of the World’s Languages in Campbell, Heidi 126, 136
Danger (UNESCO) 52 capitalistic rationality 69
attention seeking 22–4 Castells, M. 131, 139
augmented reality 142, 143 Cattuto, C. 96
augmented space 6 CCTV (closed circuit television) 38–9,
authenticity 58 46
authority 37, 60, 74, 135, 143 censorship 17, 24, 25, 26
Ayers, M. D. 70 Chadwick, Andrew 7
Chaney, D. 102
Bachmann, I. 69 Christensen, Henrik Serup 69
Bakhtin, M. M. 93 Christianity, decline in institutionalized
Ballard, M. G. 3, 71, 72 135
Balzer, M. M. 52 chryshtagross 26, 27
Barthes, R. 102 churches: buildings 125, 126–8; and
Baym, N. K. 140 digital media 125–7; dualism 127;
Bennett, L. W. 83 hybrid 123–6, 127; and social media
Bentham, Jeremy 35 126; symbols 130; virtual 124, 125,
Berry, C. 5 128, 129, 130, 131–3, 134, 136
Big Brother 46 closed circuit television (CCTV) 38–9, 46
Bimber, B. 71 CMC (computer-mediated
blogs 17, 26–8, 45, 58, 59, 90, 92–3, communication) 67, 69–70, 76, 77
95–101, 103–4 see also vlogs Cohen, A. P. 141
150 Index

Cohen, S. 97 Egypt 41
collective identity 55, 68, 119, 120 elite groups 37, 38
Colquhoun, H. 6 embeddedness 5, 10, 59, 61, 62, 69, 70,
communicative capitalism 80 147
“The Computer as a Communication embodiment 16–29; feminism
Device” (Licklider and Taylor) 146 16; moderation 28; and online
computer-mediated communication communities 19, 20; respectability
(CMC) 67, 69–70, 76, 77 27–8, 29; and visuality 16, 28
connected concept analysis 94 Eriksen, Hylland 60, 61
continuity 51, 56, 57, 58, 60 Estes, D. 130
Contradiction and Overdetermination European Union (EU) 52, 53, 90, 91
(Althusser) 101 expressive culture 51–63; vernacular
Couldry, Nick 4 practices 57–60
crime 38–9, 41, 90, 100fig
critical discourse analysis 94 Facebook 53, 58
Cugu 58 Facebook Revolution, Egypt 41
cultural capital 79 facial-recognition systems 40
cultural practices 56–8 Fairclough, N. 94
cyberstalking 119 Falkheimer, Jesper 5
familiarity 118, 130, 133, 134
Dagens Nyheter 96, 102 fellowship, Christian 130, 133, 135
Dahlgren, P. 3, 93 femininity, norms of 28
dataveillance 36 Ferreday, D. 19, 21, 28
Davidson, B. 3, 71, 72 file sharing 91, 92, 96, 102, 103, 104 see
de Souza e Silva, Adriana 7 also piracy, digital
Dean, Jodi 80 Fiske, John 41
democratization 69, 74, 80, 85n4, 97 ‘flagging’ 24
destigmatization 20, 21, 22, 27 folk culture 57
determinism 69 folklore 62
deviant groups 37, 38 folksonomies 60
dialogism 93 Foucault, Michel 35, 36, 40, 45, 139,
Diani, M. 70 140
digital activism 68 FRA (Försvarets radioanstalt) (Swedish
digital piracy 90–104; dialogism 93; intelligence agency) 95fig, 97, 100fig
hybrid morality 92; intertexuality Frith, Jordan 7
92, 93 Fuchs, Christian 46
discourse theory 19, 94
disembodiment 16, 28 Galloway, R. Alexander 36
display 22, 23, 24 Gamson, J. 10
diversity, cultural 55 Gelfgren, S. 132
domestic violence 106–21; empowerment gender 28, 29
of individual 107, 110, 111; forum use geographies of communication 5
114 Glynos, J. 19
Donk, W. van de, Loader, B. D., Nixon, globalization 45, 60–2
P. G., Rucht, D. 3, 10 Guo, L. 69
Downtownpatrol 21, 23 Green, J. 18
Dreamer4eva 26 Grusin, R. 8, 127, 134
dualism 127, 142, 143 Gulahalan 55
Durkheim, E. 124
hacktivism 68
editing 39 haleygoeswhoohoo 25, 27
Efterlyst (Swedish television programme) Hara, N. 69
38, 39 Harlow, S. 71
Index 151

Harp, D. 69 Joyce, M. 3, 71, 72

Heelas, Paul 132 Jurgenson, N. 142–3
heterogenous media approach 81 Juris, J. S. 69
heterotopia 139–47
hierarchies: digital resources 63, 69, Kim, S. 5
82, 85n4; and disembodiment 16; King, Rodney 41
mainstream media 74, 78; online/ “King Kong defense” 90, 91
offline 6, 7, 84; within religion 130, Kluitenberg, Eric 7, 8–9, 71
133; and surveillance 36 Koskela, Hille 44
Hogan, B. 127 Kristeva, J. 93
Hoover, Stewart 127
Howard, R. G. 57 Laclau, E. 19, 94, 99, 100, 108
Howarth, D. 19 languages 52–5, 59–62
Hutchings, T. 132, 134, 135 Lash, S. 101, 104
hybrid churches 123–6, 127 Lefebvre, H. 7, 143, 144
hybrid political activism 67–85; activism Lessig, Lawrence 18
68; digital politics 68–70; duality Lévy , P. 107
75–8; hybridity 70–2; mobilization Licklider, J. C. 146, 147
and collectivity 79–80; political LinkedIn 43
contribution, digital media 73–5; local discourses 60–2
problems 80–2 London 38, 40, 41
“Hybrid Space” 6, 7, 8–9, 71 Loreto, V. 96
hybridity: as analytical concept 10; Lovink, Geert 67, 147
as concept 4; definition of 71; and Lundby, Knut 127
mobility 7; as social production 7; as Lundström, Carl 90, 91
spatial occurrence 8–10 Lyon, David 42
Lyotard, Jean-François 101
icons, religious 128
identity: collective 55; discursive 19; The Magic Coffer (Noaidegiisa) 58
embodied 20, 21, 27; local 60–2; Sámi Manovich, Lev 6
54–7; and user as active 43, 44 marginalized communities 69
immediacy 134 mass media, traditional 37, 41, 77, 78,
information, personal, sharing of 43 83, 93
information, speed of circulation 74, 75 Mathiesen, Thomas 37
in-reach initiatives 56 McCarthy, Anna 4, 5
The Intellectual Property Rights McLuhan, M. 134, 141
Enforcement Directive (IPRED) 95, McRobbie, A. 99
97, 98,100fig, 103 The Media Archive (Mediearkivet) 92
intertextuality 61, 92, 93 media convergence 134
inu449 23 “MediaSpace” 4, 5
iPhoto 40 Mediearkivet (The Media Archive) 92
IPRED (The Intellectual Property Rights Meikle, G. 78
Enforcement Directive) 95, 97, 98, Mercea, D. 80
100fig, 103 Meyrowitz, Joshua 4
Iran 41, 68 micro-blogging 59
Ito, M. 93 Milgram, P. 6
mixed reality 6, 7
James, W. 124 mobile technologies 7, 21, 34
Jansson, André 5, 93 modernity 101, 104
Jenkins, Henry 8, 85n5, 93, 134 monitoring 34–46; individualized 40–4;
Jones, L. 128, 134 panopticism 35–7; synopticism 37–40
Jones, S. G. 141 montage videos 18, 22–4, 23
Jordan, Tim 68 moral panics 97, 98, 99
152 Index

Morgan, D. 126 post-structuralism 19

Mouffe, C. 19, 94, 99, 100, 108 power 34–46, 47; ambiguities 10, 45;
empowerment of individual 41;
neoliberalism 42, 43, 44, 46 individualized surveillance 40–2;
9/11 38 Koskela on 44; mainstream media
Nixon, P. G. 3, 10 78, 83; marginalized communities
NMT network (Nordic Mobile 69; offline 6; panopticism 35–7;
Telephony) 53 prevailing 75, 84; synopticism 37–40;
No Sense of Place: the impact of undermining of 131, 135; visibility
electronic media on social behavior of 45
(Meyrowitz) 4 pro-ana movement 19, 21, 25
Noaidegiisa (The Magic Coffer) 58 produsers 18–21, 26, 29, 60, 131
Nordic Mobile Telephony (NMT pro-SI (self-injury) 25, 26
network) 53 prosumers 30n5, 60
norms, and redefinition of technologies
5 real-crime television 38–9
realism 38
Occupy LSX movement 73, 79 reality, separation from 141
Ođđasat 58 recognizability 133, 134
Online Territories: globalization, regulation 17, 20, 29, 37, 42; self-
mediated practice, and social space regulation 26, 60
(Christensen, et al.) 7 relativization 131
oppression 34, 41, 45, 68, 69, 80, 142 remix culture 18
Orwell, George 46 resistance, political 41, 42, 45
Otherness 21, 27, 125, 128, 129 Robins, Kevin 36
outreach initiatives 56 Rucht, D. 3, 10
overdetermination 99
sacraments, Christian 128
panopticism 35–9, 42, 44, 45, 46 SameNet 53
participatory culture 39 Sámi: aesthetics 54–7; culture 51–63;
participatory media 18, 39, 43, 44, 73 identity 56, 57; oral culture 56;
Pascoe, C. J. 19 revitalization 51, 52–4
personal branding 43 Sámi Education Center 55
personal integrity 94 Samuelsson, Per E. 90, 91
photography, police 38 Sápmi area 52, 54, 60
Pickard, V. W. 69 Schudson, M. 141
Pietronero, L. 96 Second Life 125, 128, 129, 130, 132, 134,
piracy, digital 90–104; dialogism 93; 135
hybrid morality 92; intertexuality 92, self-injury 17–29; effect of Internet 17,
93; The Pirate Bay 90–104 25–7; physical marks 19–21; research
political activism 68, 70–2; and digital on 17; respectability 27–8, 29;
media 73, 75, 80–2; methodology visibility 22–4
72–3; mobilization and collectivity self-regulation 26, 60
79–80; offline 70–1; online/offline “semiotic dynamics” 96
75–8 Should we hide our scars?
political elections 58, 59 (Downtownpatrol) 21
political signifiers 34 Simon, Bart 35, 36
politics, digital 67–85; activism 68, 60reeve 20
70–2; duality 75–8; hybridity 70–2; sleelyNbored 26
mobilization and collectivity 79–80; social reality 19
political contribution 73–5; problems social control 35
80–2 “social imaginary” 60
Poster, Mark 35, 36 social movements 67, 68, 70, 73, 76, 79,
postmodernism 131, 140 80, 84, 93
Index 153

social networks 113, 114–16 Tumblr 17

social support online 106–21; coping Tuszynski, S. 140, 141, 142
116–19; discursive themes 108, Twingly 92
109fig; emotions and bonding 109–13; Twitter 43, 59, 60
empowerment of individual 117; Twitter Revolution, Iran 41, 68
methodology 107–8; narratives 108,
109, 110, 114, 116–19; needs 116–19; UNESCO (United Nations Educational,
networks 113, 114–16 Scientific and Cultural Organization)
social topology 144 53; Convention for the Safeguarding
space, theories of 7 of Intangible Local Culture 62
“spatial turn” 4 United Nations 52
Spigel, L. 5 UR (Swedish Educational Broadcasting
Sternudd, Hans 30n8 Company) 55, 58
stigma, physical 20–4
stignatization 20, 24, 52, 55, 106 video blogs (vlogs) 18, 19, 20, 21, 22
Stockholm 38 virtual churches 124, 125, 128, 129, 130,
subjectivity 41 131–3, 134, 136
subjectivization 132 visibility 34–46, 47
Sunde, Peter 103 vlogs (video blogs) 18, 19, 20, 21, 22
‘Super-panopticon’ 36
surveillance 34–46, 47; and access 36; Wagner, R. 125, 134, 136
avoidance of 25; individualized 40–4; Wallace, A. F. C. 51
social unrest 45 Web 2.0 30n5, 53, 59, 60, 71, 80
Swedish Educational Broadcasting Webster, Frank 36
Company (UR) 55, 58 Wellman, B. 127
symbolic identifiers 54–6 Woodhead, Linda 132
synopticism 37–40
“syntactic indeterminacy” 101 xsullengirlx 19, 25, 26, 27, 29
xXJeeXTeeXAyeXmanXx 24
Taylor, R. W. 146, 147
television 5, 38–9 Yahoo 25
territorialization 7 yourjustsocute 23
terrorist attacks, London 38, 40, 41 YouTube 16–29; lack of policy 17;
thinspiration imagery 25 removal of videos 24, 26
Thornton, S. L. 99
Trottier, Daniel 42 Žižek, Slavoj 44, 46

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