From Ivory Tower to Twitter: Rethinking the Cultural Critic in Contemporary Media Culture

 

FITT is a large, three-year (2015-2018) research  project funded by the Danish Research Council for Independent Research: Culture and Communication (FKK). The main research group involves six scholars from four Danish Universities and the Danish School of Media and Journalism. 

Central research questions

FITT investigates the state of the cultural public sphere and its critical discussions, at a time when media institutional and technological developments have enabled advanced public participation, while intellectual authority and enlightenment are also being challenged. These circumstances call for a theoretical rethinking of the cultural critic within a cross-mediated framework and for empirical analyses of how the authority and legitimacy of the cultural critic is becoming increasingly heterogeneous in the media.

FITT scrutinizes the democratic potentials and challenges of this heterogeneity by proposing and testing a new typology of four key types of ‘heterogeneous cultural critics’:

1) The intellectual cultural critic

2) The professional cultural journalist

3) The media-made arbiter of taste

4) The everyday amateur expert

– and their interplay since the mid-2000s across a selection of cultural fields and media platforms.

Projects

Mapping heterogeneous cultural critics

by Nete Nørgaard Kristensen & Unni From 

This subproject provides a quantitative survey of who is currently performing the role as cultural critic in Danish news media, their editorial position, and the basis of their authority and expertise.

Within the journalistic field (Benson & Neveu 2004, Bourdieu 1996) culture continues to represent a prestigious domain (Hovden et al. 2009, 2014, 2015), and cultural critics are attentive of their institutional brand-value and public esteem (Harries & Wahl-Jørgensen 2007, Kristensen & From 2011, 2015). At the same time, they fight for editorial resources and status, since economic, social and media meta-capital increasingly surpasses cultural capital (Couldry 2013, Hovden & Knapskog 2008, 2015), and nonprofessionals (Elkins 2003, Verboord 2014) and generalists (Dahlgren 2012) challenge their authority and impact.

Aiming to display their heterogeneity, the quantitative survey (Bryman 2012) charts Danish cultural critics in print/online newspapers, radio, and television; their number, conditions and history of employment, education, tasks, etc., accompanied by semi-structured, expert-interviews (Bogner et al. 2009, Bruun 2014) with cultural editors and critics, providing qualitative insights into self-perceptions of roles, authority, and influence.

Thus, mapping the field of cultural journalists and critics in the contemporary media landscape, this sub-project provides background information to the other six sub-projects, each looking into specific types of critics within the proposed, four-sided typology of 'the heterogeneous cultural critic' , and/or the critical content and debate they produce within specific cultural fields or on specific media platforms.

Cultural critics conquering Twitter – intellectual battlefield, institutional branding, and arena for (self)promotion

by Unni From and Nete Nørgaard Kristensen

This subproject analyses cultural critics’ and journalists’ use of Twitter as an intellectual battlefield to exchange and negotiate cultural authority, knowledge, and taste. It hypothesizes that these agents use Twitter not only for live-updates, ongoing discussions and self- presentation (Bruns & Burgess 2012), but also to promote their professional and personal ’brand’ and the (media/cultural) institution they represent by interconnecting and displaying networks.

While most existing studies on Twitter-journalism focus on news and political journalism more generally (e.g., Artwick, 2013; Parmekee, 2013; Vis, 2013), fewer analyse how Twitter is used within specific beats. Thus, taking our point of departure in cultural journalism and criticism as a specific journalistic turf, it is argued that the specificities of this particular beat influence the performances and authority of cultural personas on Twitter. More specifically the project argues that the Twitter-interactions of various intellectuals, experts, and ordinary users create new types of networks of cultural authority.

Theoretically, the project is based on the concept and typology of the ‘heterogeneous cultural critic’ (Kristensen & From, 2015), combined with theories on personal branding or self-branding on social media (e.g., Marwick & Boyd 2011, Page 2012).

Methodologically, the subproject is based on qualitative content analysis of selected Danish Twitter accounts, representing the various ideal types of cultural critics' stipulated by Kristensen & From's typology (the cultural intellectual, the professional, cultural journalist, the media made arbiter of taste and the everyday amateur expert), which will be combined with semi-structured, qualitative interviews with the agents behind the selected Twitter accounts.

The aim is to provide empirical grounds for theorizing how social media, e.g., Twitter, 1) play an important part in constructing, redefining, and (re)circulating cultural authority and legitimacy in contemporary media and journalism, and 2) contribute to the blurring of boundaries of the public and the private professional (cultural) journalist.

The Celebrity as a Cross-Media Cultural Authority

by Helle Kannik Haastrup

This subproject addresses the implications for a cultural public sphere, where ‘celebrity’ equals ‘authority’ and often bypasses traditional genres of cultural criticism. In more detail, the project develops a theoretical framework for analyzing how ‘the achieved celebrity’ (Rojek 2001) exemplifies ‘the media-made arbiter of taste’ in Kristensen & From's (2015) recent typology of the Heterogeneous Cultural Critic. They do so by performing as authoritative cultural critics in different media genres when using, praising, and ‘liking’ cultural products.

The focus of the sub-project is on factual media genre including:

a) Danish factual entertainment TV-shows like "Kender du typen" (DR), "Filmselskabet" (DR) and "Toppen af Poppen" (TV2). These programmes present celebrities in different ways and they are asked to evaluate (implicitly or explicitly) specific cultural products, performances or lifestyles:

b) The portrait-interview, in particular in high fashion magazines (and newspapers) in which the celebrity is often endorsing his or her latest film, show or book, but also represents a particular lifestyle to the reader;

c) Celebrities on their social media profiles, in particular Instagram and Facebook, where they demonstrate how they see themselves and want to be seen and thereby present specific cultural tastes and preferences.

Thus, the celebrity can be seen as a 1) ‘media-made arbiter of taste’, 2) lifestyle expert, and 3) ideal consumer. These categories makes it possible to characterize new ways of understanding the pervasive presence of celebrities as authorities to be reckoned in contemporary media culture due to their expertise as professionals within the arts (film, fashion, literature, music) and their fame within society more broadly, which both contribute to their legitimacy as cultural critics.

The theoretical framework combines concepts of recognition (Bourdieu 1984, Honneth 2006), identification (Marshall 2006, Stacey 1994) and charismatic authority (Weber 1978) with theories of genre (Ponce de Leon 2001, Turner 2004) and the reversal of cultural hierarchies in social media (Baym 2010, Jenkins et al. 2013).

The professional ideology of arts and culture reviewers – and amateurs’ relationship to it

by Aske Kammer

In a highly influential 2005 article, Deuze identifies the five professional norms or ideological dimensions that constitute the foundation of journalism: objectivity, immediacy, (the conducting of a) public service, autonomy, and ethics. With inspiration from this article and on the basis of a literature review, this subproject aims at identifying the professional ideology of arts and culture reviewers, asking what characterizes the work that arts and culture reviewers do.

This work will constitute the theoretical framework for further empirical analysis of the extent to which amateur reviewers online adhere to the professional ideology of arts and culture reviewers. Do they follow the same norms and approaches as professionals who are situated within the organizational framework of the established mass media? Or do they, in their capacity of “free agents”, play by a different set of rules?

This analytical – and central – part of the subproject draws upon the concept of the “everyday amateur expert” (Kristensen and From, 2015), which is the ideal-type of cultural critic that it will explore empirically, and builds upon the researcher’s earlier mapping of websites that conduct post-industrial cultural criticism (Kammer, 2015). It explores issues concerning the motivations, practices, communicative networks, and (absent) economic incentives for the amateur reviewers.

In a larger sociological context, the subproject connects to one of the researcher’s central research interests, namely how new digital media transform institutionalized social roles and challenge the established order of the media industry.

Music Journalism in the Era of the Second Digital Revolution

by Troels Østergaard

This PhD project examines the current state of music journalism in Germany and Denmark. Through content analysis and qualitative interviews it aims to answer two research questions:

1) What characterizes music journalism in established German and Danish media?

2) How does music journalism in German and Danish media respond to the technologically occasioned changes in popular music and music journalism?

The PhD project is part of a research project called “From Ivory Tower to Twitter” which investigates how an increasingly heterogeneous cultural public debate puts the traditional authority and legitimacy of cultural critics in the media to the test.

Experiments, experiences and new hosts 
- an investigation of contemporary cultural criticism in the media with a special focus on Radio24syv

by Steffen Moestrup

The authoritative critic who evaluates and interprets the artwork for the receiver still exist (Kristensen & From 2015). However, contemporary cultural criticism and cultural critics in the media are more than that and have for instance moved towards a performance based ‘aesthetic journalism’ (Cramerotti 2009) where the media experience for the receiver matters perhaps even more than the artwork or cultural phenomenon itself and where the personality of the critic, his media persona and media-made capital becomes an important part of the show.

The subproject addresses the various prospects it opens for the cultural criticism and cultural debate in contemporary Danish media. The investigation will mainly be based on material from the national Danish radio station Radio24syv and methodologically the project combines textual analysis with qualitative interviews. By applying performance- and identity theory (Goffmann 1959, 1967; Butler 1990) the project aims to examine the more experimental variations of cultural criticism that often contain a distinct experience-based focus.

The project will help to refine and renew the notion of contemporary, Danish cultural criticism by clarifying how new critic types have appeared and expand the notion of what a cultural critic does. By using the concepts of performance and aesthetic journalism the project will be a contribution to the research on the blurring boundaries of journalism.

The project is hosted at University of Copenhagen, Department of Media, Cognition and Communication and headed by associate professor Nete Nørgaard Kristensen

Researchers

External researchers

Unni From, AU
Troels Østergaard, DMJX
Erik Svendsen, RUC
Aske Kammer, SDU
Steffen Moestrup

Researchers from MCC

NameTitlePhoneE-mail
Helle Kannik HaastrupAssociate professor +45 353-28361E-mail
Nete Nørgaard KristensenAssociate professor +45 353-29361E-mail