Monthly Archives: February 2015

Review of “Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice” by Nick Couldry

I was asked to review Nick Couldry’s Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice for European Journal of Communication (published in volume 30, issue 3). Below you will find the pre-print version (also available at and ResearchGate).

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The broader field of media and communication studies incorporates a vast array of theoretical perspectives that have been and still are applied to further our understanding of what the media are, how they function and what results (or even ‘effects’ – if there ever was a value-laden word within the field, this is it) our everyday interactions with and through media could be expected to have. Undergraduates are – or at least I was – brought up learning the early history of the field as an almost steady march from “All-powerful media”, understood theoretically through metaphors of ‘hypodermic needles’ or magic bullets’, to latter periods where such power was vested in the recipients of media content – power to the people, if you will. Theories like Uses and Gratifications, for example, suggested that the preferences and goal orientations of individual media consumers would lead them to specific media content, rather than consuming any content that came into their path (e.g. Blumler and Katz, 1974).

In his book Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice, Nick Couldry embarks and expands on a somewhat similar approach. Specifically, Couldry makes the case for what he labels as a ‘practice approach’ to media and communication studies. He notes that while the aforementioned Uses and Gratifications perspective largely focused on individual, personal uses of specific media content in specific media channels, these diverse media channels or outlets have today become interlocked to the point where the only suitable starting point for an endeavor such as this would be ‘the media environment’, not specific media considered in isolation from each other. Similarly, while individual use is still of the utmost relevance for Couldry, he suggests an approach more akin to a macro level rather than the micro variety often focused on in combination with the Uses and Gratifications approach. Essentially, then, the practice approach, or media practice theory, suggests a focus on questions like “what are people doing that is related to the media?” (Couldry, 2012:35). Couldry does an excellent job at contextualizing what could perhaps be understood as a re-conceptualization of audience studies by suggesting that practice theory be understood as socially oriented media theory – one of four overarching perspectives of media and communication research (the other four being the political economy of media, medium theory and textual analysis). These four are outlined in a helpful graph included at the beginning of the book, which provides a suitable point of entry into Couldry’s thinking and suggestions about the larger areas of the field.

The suggested practice approach is arguably the key contribution of Couldry’s ambitious and meticulously researched text. Throughout the book, the author draws extensively on scholarship from a series of different academic traditions – most notably sociology and media and communication studies – to build his case. The concept of media practice wishes to uncover the ways in which people integrate media into their everyday lives in almost tacit, implicit ways – in order to meet our many diverse human needs. For Couldry, the media are (almost) everywhere, a line of thought that – with some obvious variation – has been touched upon recently also by others (e.g. Deuze, 2012). However, Couldry also makes his case by providing a series of theories more applicable with regards to empirical research, thereby making the book an even more interesting read. Given the authors interest in the humdrum of everyday life in relation to media use, I was nevertheless somewhat surprised to find very little reference to the work of scholars related to the Birmingham school – such as Stuart Hall, Richard Hoggart or Raymond Williams. Given their interest in the role of media institutions within complex issues like these, their perspectives could have strengthened Couldry’s case even further. Moreover, given my own personal research interests, I particularly enjoyed what I perceived as a tastefully critical stance from Couldry with regards to the consequences often thought to follow from whatever media format or channel is the ‘newest’ one at the present time. As one of many examples dealt with in the text, the author shows how despite much of the hype surrounding new opportunities for media consumption, the influence of television will most likely remain large for the foreseeable future, while the machine itself – the television – might converge beyond recognition.

While I agree that the practice approach championed in Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice seems like a suitable way forward for research into the uses of media, I would argue that the need for more technically informed research is also a clear and present one. This is in some way touched upon by Couldry in the aforementioned model he uses to contextualize his theorizing, but we might want to take the actions made available by new media – their affordances, if you will (e.g. Gibson, 1977; Leonardi, 2011) – into clearer account. While novel technologies often carry with them the potential to change user practices or even overarching structures of use or “produsage” (Bruns, 2008) in relation to the media, empirical research from a number of different contexts has proven that most uses are of the more traditional variety. With this in mind, while Couldry’s admittedly elegant focus on the overarching level seems suitable, I worry that such an approach might miss out on some elusive detail that emerges in relation to whatever media format, service or platform is ‘all the rage’ this month. Such a more artifact-oriented view, detailing what is technically possible or not, is perhaps better understood as the topic of another book.


Blumler J.G. & Katz, E. (1974). The uses of mass communications: Current perspectives on gratifications research. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Bruns, Axel (2008). Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond. From Production to Produsage. Peter Lang.

Couldry, N. (2012). Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity.

Deuze, M. (2012). Media Life. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity.

Gibson, J. J. (1977). The theory of affordances. In R. Shaw & J. Bransford (Eds.), Perceiving, acting, and knowing: Toward an ecological psychology (pp. 67–82). Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Leonardi, P. M. (2011). When flexible routines meet flexible technologies: Affordance, constraint, and the imbrication of human and material agencies. MIS Quarterly, 35(1), 147–167

Most-Read Article at European Journal of Communication


I’m happy to report that the article “‘Of course we are on Facebook’: Use and non-use of social media among Swedish and Norwegian politicians” was apparently the most-read article from the European Journal of Communication during January 2015. The article, which I co-authored with Bente Kalsnes, deals with adoption and use rates of social media by Swedish and Norwegian politicians. The abstract is available below:

While plenty of research has provided important insights into the uses of the Internet by politicians during elections, a relatively scarce amount of work has looked into these uses outside of such parliamentary events. This article seeks to remedy this lack of research by presenting a study on the ‘routine’ uses of two of the currently most popular social media services – Facebook and Twitter. Focusing on politicians elected to the national parliaments of Norway and Sweden, the article employs novel methodologies for data collection and statistical analyses in order to provide an overarching, structural view of the day-to-day social media practices of Scandinavian politicians. Findings indicate that use levels are rather low for both services – the median amount of tweets sent and messages posted on Facebook is close to one per day. Further analyses reveal that the most active politicians could be labelled as ‘underdogs’, as they are more likely to be younger, in opposition and out of the political limelight.

By means of funding provided by my department, we’ve been able to make the paper available for everyone – also for those interested who might happen to reside outside of paywalls, the proprietors of which make Rupert Murdoch look like a socialist.

Going Viral? Comparing Parties on Social Media During the 2014 Swedish Election


The first of what I hope will be a series of publications dealing with various social media activities during the 2014 Swedish elections has been accepted for publication in Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media TechnologiesThe paper, titled “Going Viral? Comparing Parties on Social Media During the 2014 Swedish Election”, makes a case for comparing the oft-studied Twitter platform with the more seldom studied Facebook variety in this regard. You can find the accepted pre-print version on or ResearchGate. Moreover, thanks to my department, the paper will be made available open access through the SAGE Choice program. The abstract is inserted below:

While research has provided useful insights into political party use of Twitter, comparably few efforts have focused on the arguably more popular Facebook service. This paper takes both platforms into account, detailing similar functionalities and providing analyses of the social media activities undertaken by Swedish political parties during the 2014 elections. Moreover, the types of feedback received by the parties on these platforms are gauged. Findings suggest that while sizeable parties are not necessarily the most ardent at using social media, they do receive the most attention. In essence, then, party size matters – however, the role of the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats is clearly felt throughout, suggesting the apparent prowess of controversial parties in the online context.

Employing such a comparative approach brings with it a series of challenges – how to present activities undertaken by the parties in a way that makes it easy (or at least relatively easy) to assess both services? Employing my previously discussed suggestions on how to compare Twitter and Facebook, I used the model previously suggested in a more empirical sense. Using the Tableau application, I graphed the types of feedback received by the parties in two graph, one for each service. As an example, the graph depicting Facebook activity is included below, together with an excerpt from the paper itself. The remainder of the analysis is of course available in the paper itself.


Figure Three. Average feedback received per post on Facebook. Horizontal axis indicates M of Comments/post; Vertical line indicates M of Shares/Post; Node size and label indicate M of Likes/Post.

The results presented in Figure Three suggest a linear tendency among the represented parties – meaning here that as the average statistic for the redistributive type of feedback for Facebook (shares) increase, so does also that same statistic for interactive feedback (comments). Given the sizes of the nodes and their corresponding labels, this tendency of increasing averages as we move diagonally from the downward left corner to the upward right can be discerned also here. Indeed, correlation analyses using Spearman’s Rho proved correlations between all three involved variables to be significant (p =<.000 for all correlations) and comparably strong with Rho varying between .779 and .871 for all correlations. With this in mind, it would appear that while the Social Democrats – marked as ‘S’ in the Figure – only amassed the fourth highest amount of ‘Facebook fans’ on the service at hand (see Table One), these fans appear to have put in quite an effort to make the specified account visible. This seems especially true in terms of Shares (M = 547, Std. dev. = 442) and Likes (M = 6162, Std. dev. = 5128), where high standard deviations nevertheless suggest a considerable spread around the reported means. Similar claims appear as valid for the average number of comments received (M = 368, Std. dev = 323). Focusing on the content provided through the account, the most Liked (N of Likes = 28810) post offered by the Social Democrats is coincidentally also the most commented (N of Comments = 2361). This post, penned late election night, features party leader Stefan Löfven giving thanks to party supporters and staffers after the party had been declared victorious . The most shared content from the Social Democratic account is posted on August 27th – the very same day that advance voting possibilities opened for the upcoming election. Consequently, this post urges supporters to vote in advance and to share the post itself in order to spread the message about this possibility . This tendency of popularity of posts that encourage supporters to vote and to share this encouragement using the redistributive functionality of Facebook is visible also for other parties, such as the Conservatives (M) and the Environmental Party (Mp), although not for the other stand-out party as visible in Figure Three – the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats. Here, the most shared as well as the most commented post is offered on September 4th and features sneak premiere of an election commercial to be broadcast on Swedish commercial television the following day . Their most successful post in terms of Likes (N of Likes = 9648) was made available on August 20th and deals with the controversy started when the party wanted to place their admittedly polarizing political advertisements on Stockholm public transport buses .