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Academics, new media and the Swedish situation

March 14, 2013

I’m based in Sweden. Sweden is a country with a very small population, something, which of course, also is reflected in the academic setting. A rather limited number of academic institutions and a limited number of scholars colour the scene. Regarding anthropologist, the situations is even further restricted. We have one “pure” anthropology department, at Stockholm University, and a small number of “subdivisions” integrated in bigger departmental structures, combined with for example sociology, ethnology, cultural studies. Include the ever-present bickering and rivalry in the academic setting and your social network and interaction gets further limited.

For me, online networking, interacting and participation through new media and social media have become a refreshing and important asset. Interaction on email with my medianthro friends, twitter exchanges and more informal and personal interaction on Facebook with international research colleagues constitutes a substantial part of my academic life today. However, few Swedish colleagues and even less Swedish anthropologists are into those forums!

One area where I’ve found the online interaction more than ever helpful is in the academic work situation. I can without hesitation state that most of my knowledge on important topics as publishing, how to approach an editor, the editor’s role, the writing process, OA, and the position of the academic in general, stem from online interaction with international colleagues and new media sites. One example is Savage Minds, one of the first anthro blogs, started in 2005, producing interesting blog posts as “how to edit a volume”, “advice on writing grants”, “how to use CiteULike with AnthroSource” and so on.

My new media adventures started in 2004 with the EASA medianthro network. EASA medianthro network was initiated by a small informal group of European anthropologists that recognized the importance of a focus on new technologies in the research field. The area was new and so far, rather unexplored. The base for the network was (and still is) the email list. One characteristic of the network is regular e-seminars run on the mailing list. Members put up papers for discussion, often presenting new and unexplored research areas. We have so far had 42 e-seminars. Often, informal discussions appear on the list, where everyone that is interested just pitch in with info and opinions. Now, the network has turned into a multidisciplinary, global research network including more than 1000 list members.

I was more or less forced into Facebook at an early stage when the medianthro group adopted the new platform. I was very sceptical, and it took years until I started using it. When I finally entered into the Facebook community, I found several of my medianthro friends there, interesting groups and organizations, and of course other friends. Several of my favourite India photographers were into it and it also gave me possibilities to keep an eye on my field, through for example news sites. I’m still very restrictive in my Facebook use, and keep my account closed to be able to monitor and choose the persons that I want to interact with. For me, Facebook has turned into a “fun” platform where I interact in a relaxed and informal way with colleagues and friends.

My latest social media adventure, twitter, has a quite different character than Facebook. Here the exchange very much concentrates on info. By selecting interesting persons, organisations and sites to follow, I get a constant stream of info, news and ideas. In my turn, I share the things that I find relevant with my own followers, mainly into the academic sector. In contrary to many physical academic environments, the ambience on twitter is very much OA. Instead of clinging to and guarding our goodies for ourselves, we share it openly. Through my twitter flow, I’ve got access to a lot of info on interesting articles, new publications, relevant blog posts, conference calls, academic news and discussion posts. And I hope that I have been able to contribute in the same way to my twitter colleagues.

According to my point of view, academic work has taken a new form and shape with the new media. The work situation is no longer confined to limited institutional areas and restricted personal contacts. On an international level new media and social media have got an increasing recognition as an important academic tool and the topic is frequently discussed on academics sites as the LSE Impact blog, the Chronicle, Inside Higher Ed and others. I’ve tried to locate Swedish colleagues active in the new media sphere but with a rather limited result, a handful scholars active on Facebook and single appearances on twitter. And I’m quite surprised by it….

Kerstin B Andersson

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