Temanummer av tidskriften Nordicom Information om digitala metoder

Min kollega Johan Jarlbrink har tillsammans med Ingela Wadbring på JMG satt ihop ett temanummer i tidskriften Nordicom Information om digitala metoder. “I en tid när det mesta medieinnehåll föds digitalt och när historiska samlingar samtidigt digitaliseras skapas möjligheter att utforska medier med hjälp av digitala metoder”, kan man läsa. Specialnumret handlar “om information, som lösning och som problem, om kontextförlust och kontextkollaps, om massdigitalisering, och om utveckling av digitala metoder.” Jag har tillsammans med Jarlbrink och bibliometrikern Christian Colliander skrivit en artikel med titeln, “Maskinläsning. Om massdigitalisering, digitala metoder och svensk dagspress”. Den kan laddas ned här liksom temanumret i sin helhet.

Metamodeling Polhem

I am currently writing a first article within the research project Digital Models. It is a book chapter for a joint German-English publication, Der Modelle Tugend, published by the German “Digital Reconstruction Working Group”, and (following the description) “intended to cover digital 3D reconstruction as an aspect of interdisciplinary research in the context of over three decades of experience and the challenges of scientific 3D information modelling”. My article is entitled, “Metamodeling — 3D-scanning Christopher Polhem’s Laboratorium mechanicum” – and the first pages currently reads as follows:

During the summer of 1765 a young German scholar, Johann Beckmann (1739-1811), embarked upon a trip to Sweden and Uppsala University. Educated at the University of Göttingen, Beckmann had previously made similar study tours through Europe during the early 1760s. In the Netherlands he had, for example, examined mines and natural history museums, and in St Petersburg he had even been invited to teach natural history at the local Lutheran gymnasium—where he also studied statistical methods of geography. Beckmann was a man of enlightenment, and in the mid 1760s he wanted to learn more about underground mining and minerals, especially at the Falun Mine (in mid Sweden) which at the time was the biggest copper mine in Europe (and hence known as the nation’s treasure chest). In addition, at Uppsala, Beckmann desired to meet and eventually be taught by Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist whose claim to fame was on the immediate rise.

Today, Johann Beckmann is a well-known figure within the history of science and technology. He is regularly perceived as one of the founding fathers of science in general—der technologischen Wissenschaft—as well as the study of the history of technology. Apparently, his trip to Sweden in the mid 1760s, and meeting Linnaeus made a lasting impression: “Ohne Zweifel sind die Anregungen, die er während seines Aufenthaltes in Upsala von Linné erhielt, für seine Lebensarbeit bestimmend geworden”, it was claimed in 1911 by botanist Thedor Magnus Fries in an introduction to Beckmann’s travel diary (which Uppsala University published the same year as a centenary tribute): Johann Beckmanns schwedische Reise in den Jahren 1765-1766: Tagebuch. In his diary Beckmann described his Swedish whereabouts; his rendezvous with Linnaeus, his impressions of the small university town of Uppsala, as well as notes from his travels throughout the country where Beckmann displayed a particular interest with contemporary technological improvements at various mines: “14. Sept. fuhren wir … in das berühmte Fahlun, welche Stadt nicht anders aussieht, als wenn sie die Residenz des Vulcans wäre.” In Falun, Beckmann inspected mining techniques and machines. One water-powered mine hoist, designed by “der ehemalige Kunstmeister Rundin, ein Schüler des grossen Polhems” was particularly impressive. In addition, Beckmann made a visit to the Sala silvermine. “Abends um 5 Uhr kamen wir wieder in Stockholm”, he confessed after one of his mining tourist trips. “Überhaupt muss ich noch von dieser Reise anmerken, dass fast alle wohlhabende Schweden, ehe sie aus ihrem Vaterlande reisen, diese Bergwerke besehn, so wie auch die mehrsten Ausländer.”

It might come as a surprise, but in his Swedish travel diary, Beckmann made no particular remarks to the nation’s finest and most important predecessor within the mining-invention-trade: the scientist and pre-industrial inventor, Christopher Polhem (1661-1751). Polhem had passed away some 15 years earlier when Beckmann visited Sweden, yet his reputation and memory was still kept in high esteem. During the early 1700s Polhem had redesigned and made a number of mechanical improvements at the Falu Mine; in addition—at the nearby village of Stjärnsund—he had set up a preindustrial community with a semi-automated factory powered entirely by water. Nevertheless, Polhem was only mentioned by Beckmann when he vividly describes the so called, Royal Model Chamber [Kongl. Modellkammaren] in Stockholm in his diary. “Die Modelkammer ist auf dem alten Schlosse und verdienet von einem jeden Liebhaber der Physik und Mathematik besehn zu werden”, Beckmann avidly stated. “Sie wurde zuerst von Polhem angelegt, dessen Maschinen doch nicht alle hier sind, weil sie im Brand verlohren gegangen.” The Royal Swedish Model Chamber was precursor to Polhem’s so called, Laboratorium mechanicum, a collection of educational models of wood of contemporary equipment, machines and building structures, water gates, hoistings and locks, invented (mostly) by Polhem between roughly 1690 and 1730. Basically, the Laboratorium mechanicum was a facility for training Swedish engineers, as well as a laboratory for testing and exhibiting Polhem’s models and designs. Initially it was located at Stjärnsund, but later Polhem’s models (and others) were assembled in Stockholm to form a Swedish institution (funded by the king) for information and dissemination of technology set up in central Stockholm.

The Laboratorium mechanicum was established in 1756 at the fashionable Wrangels Palace on Riddarholmen in Stockholm. Later the name was altered into, Kongl. Modellkammaren (hereafter The Royal Swedish Model Chamber.) The institution was open to the public—and hence to Beckmann as well—and counted as one of the finest physical model collections in Europe. When Beckmann made his visit during autumn 1765, the model chamber had been in operation for a decade: “Es ist ein sehr grosser Saal, auf welchem mehr als 100 Modelle stehn”, he asserted. “Die mehrsten sind mechanische, einige gehören zur Experimental Physik, und einige wenige sind Modelle von Kirchen und Pallasten.” Following Beckmann, a few people were employed at the model chamber to serve as some kind of guides—“es sind beständige und geschickte Arbeiter da”—but they were also working and crafting new models as well. During his visit, Beckmann seems to have been introduced to the collection by a certain, “H. Prof. Wilke”, who apparently used some of the models in his lectures. Johan Wilcke (1732-1796)—a German-Swedish experimental physics working at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences—also told Beckmann that the existence (and most likely funding) of the model chamber had recently been harshly debated: “Man hatte vor einigen Wochen auf dem Reichstage die Modellkammer als eine unnütze Geldverschwendung abschaffen wollen, bis einer sich die Mühe genommen, einige der vor­ nehmsten votirenden dahin zu führen und ihnen den Nutzen ad oculum zu demonstriren.” Funding was hence secured, and Wilcke continued by presenting Beckmann with some of the real treasures of the model chamber, Polhem’s mechanical alphabet [mekaniska alfabetet]. These small wooden models were built to illustrate different mechanical principles. Initially, Polhem’s alphabet consisted of some 80 models of machine elements like the lever, the wheel and the screw. Some had gone astray, but Beckmann seems to have understood the basic ideas behind these wooden models immediately: “Das so genante mecha­nische ABC war artig, es waren nämlich kleine Modelle von allen Arten der Bewegungen und einfachen Maschinen, die die Anfangsgründe der ganzen Mechanik enthielten.”


Digital Models
According to Christopher Polhem, mechanics was the foundation of all knowledge: “mechaniken är en grund och fundament til heela philosophien”, as he stated in one of his many unpublished manuscripts. As a pre-industrial inventor working during the early 1700s, he sincerely believed that physical models were always superior to drawings and abstract representations. Since a writer naturally had to know the alphabet in order to create words and sentences, Polhem argued that a contemporary mechanicus had to grasp his mechanical alphabet to be able to construct and understand machines. In a few short words, these were Polhem’s main ideas for constructing and establishing the different wooden models in his alphabet.

Swedish historians of science, however, have had a hard time to figure out exactly what kind of letters (or sentences) that Polhem’s mechanical alphabet actually referred to. Without a doubt, the small wooden models physical concreteness and enigmatic character have contributed to the fame of the collection. During the latter half of the 18th century the models attracted increasing attention—as apparent, even from foreign visitors as Beckmann. At first, Polhem’s mechanical alphabet was exhibited at the Royal Swedish Model Chamber. In 1802, however, a fire devastated part of Wrangels Palace. Most models were saved and transferred to a newly established pedagogical institution of science, Mekaniska skolan [School of Mechanics] located in central Stockholm—which eventually in 1827 became, Teknologiska Institutet (an institution which today is better known as KTH Royal Institute of Technology). During the 19th century both the model chamber and Polhem’s mechanical alphabet were hence used as pedagogical equipment during the establishment of KTH, Sweden’s first polytechnic and prime institution of higher education in technology. Eventually, all models became dated. Around 1930, Polhem’s mechanical alphabet—and other remaining artefacts from the model chamber—were transferred to the Swedish National Museum of Science and Technology.

The Museum of Science and Technology in Stockholm was founded in 1924; it opened to the public i 1936, and ever since the late 1930s, Polhem’s models were exhibited as a kind of meta-museological artifacts. Polhem’s alphabet, in short, fitted neatly in different exhibitions—both in Stockholm and at the Mining Museum in Falun (where some models were located)—since they were small and displayable, and could easily be framed as pedagogical museological objects avant la lettre. The cultural-historical and pedagogical significance of Polhem’s mechanical alphabet has, thus, been important as a prime model collection concerning the history of technology and science, both as a pedagogical tool and as a way of displaying and visualising principles of technology. At a time today, when heritage institutions are exploring how 3D technologies can broaden access to their collections—in a similar way that physical models did before—it hence seemed appropriate to use Polhem’s alphabet as a case in point. As is well known, the technologies “needed to digitize, publish, and print cultural heritage resources in three dimensions (3D) are increasingly within reach of memory institutions.” By and large, 3D digitisation activities within the heritage sector are still in their infancy (and this is particularly the case with Sweden). Yet, if previously the costs of 3D technologies created barriers for adoption, as of recent “the combination of low-cost digital cameras, new laser-based scanning systems, and the computational power needed to process large quantities of capture data” has brought them within reach of the heritage domain.

Within the new interdisciplinary research project, “Digital Models. Techno-historical collections, digital humanities & narratives of industrialisation” parts of Polhem’s mechanical alphabet is currently being both 3D scanned and 3D reconstructed by different software. The project is a collaboration between the Swedish National Museum of Science and Technology, with a national responsibility for technical and industrial heritage, and the digital humanities hub, Humlab at Umeå University. Based on selected parts of the museum’s collections the project aim is to explore the potential of digital technologies to reframe Swedish industrialisation and its stories about society, people and environments. Situated at the the intersection between digitising archives and visualising history, the project however mainly interrogates the specificity of digitisation—with the ultimate goal of developing a methodology of high relevance for the cultural heritage sector. In many ways, the research project “Digital Models” departs from William J. Turkel’s argument that “the process of digitization creates a representation that shares some of the attributes of an original”—but as he states: “not all of them.” Which attributes that are preserved or displayed, “is not an essential trait of digitization per se, only of a particular process.”

Ett akademiskt år – i artikelform

När nu snart 2016 lider mot sitt slut kan det vetenskapliga året sammanfattas. Om jag tidigare ägnat en hel del arbetstid åt att producera böcker (främst inom ramen för bokserien Mediehistoriskt arkiv), har 2016 mest handlat om att skriva artiklar. Vid sidan av diverse kortare och längre recensioner, artiklar och reportage, har jag under året har skrivit 11 vetenskapliga artiklar. Alla har inte publicerats än, men samtliga texter har skickats till tidskrifter som exempelvis Digital Humanities Quaterly, Media History och Culture Unbound. Fyra av artiklarna har jag skrivit på egen hand – och resterande tillsammans med bland annat medietekniker, litteraturvetare, systemutvecklare, medievetare och ekonomhistoriker. Det ökade samförfattandet (för egen del) tycker jag är en speciellt spännande utveckling. Noterbart är också att av “mina” elva texter, så är enbart tre skrivna på svenska. Att bedriva humanistisk forskning i artikelform (författat på engelska) är ju en allmän trend inom akademin – som även jag själv alltså numera är en del av. Jag är inte odelat positiv när det gäller den här utvecklingen. Den tenderar att premiera det kortfattade och avgränsade på bekostnad av det mer omfattande. Samtidigt kan det kontinuerliga artikelskrivandet också ses som en sorts produktiv arbetsmetod. Forskning skrivs här bokstavligen in i ett slags konstant produktionsorienterad verksamhet. Under 2017 lär det också bli arbete med en hel del artiklar – men lyckligtvis också med ett längre (samskrivet) bokmanus.

New Article out with some reflections from inside the Swedish Public Service Broadcasting Commission

The Danish media journal, Mediekultur. Journal of media and communication research recently published my article: Debunking public service? Meta-academic and personal reflections from inside the Swedish Public Service Broadcasting Commission. The abstracts reads as follows: “During the last half of 2015, a number of Swedish publishing and broadcasting companies—Bonnier, Schibsted Sweden, Mittmedia, Bauer Group—agreed to fund and establish a national Public Service Broadcasting Commission. The purpose was to initiate a public debate about the behaviour and operation of Swedish public service broadcasters—in particular, how they affected the commercial media market, and generally, to discuss the role of national public service broadcasting in a networked media environment. I was a Commission member, and this article describes the background, debates and proposals put forward by the Commission. On one hand, it focuses the work of the Commission with an emphasis on the different public debates the Commission stirred. On the other hand, the article will in a meta-scholarly fashion elaborate on the academic tradition of doing scholarly work focused on public service in Sweden. A recurrent notion in the article is hence meta-academic. Importantly, the article stresses the scholarly bias in favour of public service that is usually present within this tradition (primarily emanating from the field of political communication). Thus, the article is devoted to various debates surrounding the work of the Commission and the role of academics within these discussions (including myself). Finally, the article presents a few thoughts about what it might mean for academics to be (or become) lobbyists.”

Dag-Hammarskjöld-Vorlesung på Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Jag är gästprofessor en tid på Nordeuropa-Institut på Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, och inleder min vistelse där imorgon med en Dag-Hammarskjöld-Vorlesung. Det hela kommer att handla om vårt VR-projekt om Spotify och olika slags digitala metoder för att undersöka strömmande medier. Föreläsningen är på flera sätt startskottet för ett mer intensivt arbete med detta VR-projekt, som under våren ska resultera i ett färdigt bokmanuskript till MIT Press.


Föreläsningens exakt 100 slides kan laddas ned här: snickars_hammarskjold_berlin.

Distant Reading the History of Swedish Film Politics—in 4,500 Governmental SOU Reports

Together with my PhD student Fredrik Norén, I am currently writing an article for a forthcoming thematic issue on ‘archives’ in the Journal of Scandinavian Cinema. Our article gives a new archival perspective of the history of Swedish film politics and policy making, by so called distance reading and topic modeling of one particular collection, 4,500 digitised Swedish Governmental Official Reports (from 1922 to 1991). Basically we argue that by using different computational methods, digitised collections (and archives) can today be scholarly scrutinised in their entirety. In the current version, the introduction to the article reads as follows:

Archives are never neutral—through them bits and pieces from the past are studied. At best, scholars glean representative segments and traces from them. At worst, only specific samples are used, stressing the particular: “the anecdotal nature of evidence”, as digital humanist Andrew Piper has polemically characterised the traditional ways of doing humanistic research (Piper 2016). The ‘anecdotal nature’ of humanistic inquiries and scholarly work has, however, been due to the analogue nature of archives and collections. Since all archives are (and have always been) epistemic grounds from which history is written, the structure and organisation of them have determined what type of research that could be executed. Then digitisation happened—and scholarly work could suddenly be drastically reconfigured.

The digitisation of historical films and related film historical material have increased enormously during the past two decades. Different forms and formats of humanistic infrastructures have gradually developed, which film and media historians have (and will increasingly) benefit from. In Sweden, the National Library (togehther with the Swedish Film Institute) is step by step increasing the amount of films available at filmarkivet.se, and at the sister site, filmarkivforskning.se—which one of us authours (Snickars) has been responsible for—a tremendous amount of contextual film and media historial material have been digitised, amassed and made available. Arguably, the ways in which Swedish film history and cinema culture is researched and understood is gradually bound to change as a result. If the so called New Film History turned out to be a reconceptualisation of the history of moving images in the late 1980s and 1990s—and to some extent Media Archeology a decade later—at present, digitally inclined scholars are witnessing a similar reorganisation of (and around) the practices of doing film and media historical research due to digital technology and humanistic infrastructures built around them. The growing amount of digital databases and material in the cultural heritage domain are, as a Bernhard Rieder and Theo Röhle has put it, simply “begging to be analysed” with new digital methods (Rieder & Röhle 2012).

Following David Bordwell, the role models of New Film History scholars were young historians “hunched over microfilm machines cranking through day after day of Moving Picture World or sitting in archives paging through studio memos” (Klenotic 1994). Today, the ideal counterpart—at least as she is envisioned within the digital humanities—is a scholar involved in cross-disciplinary projects using digital methods and tools like data mining, visualisations, topic modeling or GIS analyses. During the last decade, digital technology has played an increasingly important role in numerous film historical projects and platforms, ranging from early cinema programs collected within The Siegen Cinema Databases (Ross & Garncarz 2006) to statistical data about film editing at Cinemetrics (Tsivian 2009) and the radiant Timeline of Historical Film Colors (Flückinger 2011) to the so called New Cinema History, with its computational focus on the circulation and consumption of films (Verhoeven 2012)—not to mention the highly elaborate platform, Lantern, used for searching, exploring and visualising the vast collections of the Media History Digital Library (Hoyt & Hagenmaier 2011). What these projects (and others) have in common is the ways in which computational analysis and quantitative research offered by databases, visualisations and data mining, have allowed film historical researchers to gather new and different information about both film style and the aesthetics of the medium as well as the history of cinema exhibition and reception. Such information would previously have been impossible to gather—or way too labor intensive to undertake. A common denominator is also that digitised archives have (via different computational methods) frequently been scholarly scrutinised in their entirety.

Then again, what precisely does computation allow one “to claim that has not been seen before or that was uncertain in the world of anecdotalism?” (Piper, 2016). This article claims to give a new archival perspective of the history of Swedish film politics and policy making by distance reading and topic modeling 4,500 digitised Governmental Official Reports (from 1922 to 1991). Our article examines different probabilistic topics related to film (and media) that the algorithm within our topic modeling software (Mallet) extracted from the immense text corpora of all these reports. Initially, the article describes the work performed by governmental commissions and the SOU-genre and its relation to film politics, policy making and film scholarly research. Foremost, however, our text methodologically recounts and analyses novel ways to understand and situate the history of Swedish film politics and policy through topic modeling a massive SOU corpora. Basically, the article captures a number of film discourses and trends in the joint corpus, otherwise more or less impossible to detect and apprehend through a traditional archival investigation. Topic modeling is methodological approach to study themes in texts by accentuating words that tend to co-occur, and together create a topic. The most apparent filmic topic within our corpus, for example, included the following ten terms in strict succession: “film”, “cinema”, “screening”, “producer”, “production”, “entertainment tax”, “film production”, “short film”, “video” and “censor agency”—stressing, for example, that a general theme of Swedish film politics between 1920 and 1990 was devoted to economical issues. Within topic modeling a term or a word may also be part of several topics with different degrees of probability. In addition, the article therefore constructs and traces a broader context of Swedish film politics over time, especially in relation to other media formats and institutional actors.


Governmental Commissions & the SOU Genre
Before submitting a proposal for new legislation, the Swedish Government regularly examines alternatives, a task carried out by an appointed Committee or Commission of Inquiry. Basically, the governmental committee process is a way of accessing knowledge around particular issues of concern. These might range from a major policy decisions affecting Swedish society as a whole, to small and technically complex issues. Arguably, governmental commissions have during the last 80 years—as both a cause and effect of the establishment of the Swedish welfare state—developed into an effective instrument of majority parliamentarism. Decision making via governmental commissions, however, has a long history in Sweden. The national legislative process providing the Government—and prior, the King—with a proper decision support, dates back to the 17th century. Over the years governmental commissions became accustomed to the most diverse tasks for policy making; the preparatory system was dynamic, inexpensive and hence survived during centuries.

From 1922 and onwards, the work of governmental commissions (usually) resulted in a written report. It was published in a series known as the Swedish Government Official Reports, Statens offentliga utredningar (in Swedish, abbreviated as SOU). Since then, all such reports have been published with a distinct numeral: the first SOU devoted to film, for example, has the number SOU 1930:26. In essence, SOU-reports and work performed within governmental committees had the task of preparing the State for apt and rational decision making. After 1945 “the range of subjects covered by governmental committees has expanded to include virtually every area of the Swedish welfare state”, according to political scientist Rune Premfors. Stressing the importance of the work executed by governmental committees, he has stated that some 40 percent of all legislation in Sweden around 1970 were based on commission proposals (Premfors 1983). During the 1960s, certain policy issues also started to be investigated internally within governmental Ministries, resulting in reports in the so called Ds-series [Departementsserien]. The SOU-series, however, with its external investigations performed by a commission staffed with some four to five members and usually running for a numbers of years, is arguably the more important historical source on Swedish governmental policy making—not the least since governmental commissions were modeled on ideas around scientific inquiries with SOU reports often engaged in ambitious efforts to (re)write history.

Today, some 200 SOU-inquiries are usually in progress at the same time. After a governmental commission has submitted a report to the responsible Minister within the Government, it is also dispatched for consideration to relevant authorities, advocacy groups and the public. “They are given an opportunity to express their views on the conclusions of an inquiry before the Government formulates a legislative proposal” (Government Offices of Sweden 2016). Consequently, it has historically been argued that this particular legislative feed-back system is a “distinctive working method” within Swedish democracy itself (Meijer 1956: 8). Naturally, governmental commissions have occasionally been accused of being biased. When the Government appoints a commission, it also provides a set of guidelines—instructions that might have a political tendency. Guidelines ascribe what specific issue a commission should examine, what problems that need to be solved, as well as date when the final report should be completed. As a consequence, SOU reports usually propose various committee suggestions, sometimes even including how these ought to be financed.

As Jan Johansson has argued in his dissertation, Det statliga kommittéväsendet [The Governmental Committee System], the two most essential features of the governmental commission system, has been (and still is) the focus on expert knowledge as well as an urge to reach some form of compromise or consensus (Johansson 1992). Governmental commissions’ have, in short, been an arena for the exchange of factual arguments among experts (including academics), situated within a rationally oriented Swedish style of policy-making, ultimately geared towards reaching an agreement. Committee work have, in fact, often been organised in a similar manner, involving different actors and persons—that nevertheless need to agree. One concurring step has usually been to give a dedicated name to the committee, such as the “Data Archiving Commission” or the “Film Commission 1968”. The orientation towards compromise and consensus has, hence, in various ways been “structurally fixed”, were committee members simply “have to arrive at a final report” (Veit 2009:186).

Regarding the medium of film, one of the first governmental commissions devoted their work to draft a new subsidy system for the production of Swedish feature films, Statligt stöd åt svensk filmproduktion (SOU 1942:36). Heading that commission was legal adviser Carl Romberg, from the Swedish Department of Justice, and committee members also included the head of Swedish Radio, Carl Anders Dymling, and well known film directors as Victor Sjöström and Arne Bornebusch. The mixture of persons, some with filmic hands-on experience, can be seen as representative how governmental commissions on film were usually staffed. One of the most important governmental commissions on film, the “Film Commission 1968”, whose work resulted in the SOU, Samhället och filmen [Society and Cinema] from 1970, included both the Head of the Swedish Film Institute, Harry Schein as well as the directors Jan Troell and Kjell Grede. In addition, the director turned film historian, Gösta Werner from Stockholm University contributed with a lengthy history of “Swedish film during 75 years”—in nineteen chapters. The work performed by the “Film Commission 1968”, in many ways testifies to the textual significance of the SOU genre. Reports were often of book length, and some were even published in a number of volumes. Commission work usually went on for years. In the case of the SOU, Samhället och filmen, it took five years and appeared in four volumes, together spanning some 750 pages.

The SOU genre, thus, indeed bears textual witness to and gives evidence of contemporary societal conceptions—around film and film policy making, in this case—not the least since committee members often disagreed. According to law, governmental commission work had to be archived, and preserved papers from the “Film Commission 1968”—in 29 volumes at the Swedish National Archives (Riksarkivet)—attest for example to Schein being displeased with Werner’s film historical survey. In short, he wanted less film aesthetics and more focus on cinema audiences and film production (Schein 1973). Since governmental commissions relied on expert knowledge, they can hence also shed light on the role of academics and the involvement of research. In general, governmental commissions relied on scientific research; sometimes separate research anthologies were published in conjunction with SOU reports. One of us authors (Snickars) has elsewhere argued that media studies in Sweden in fact arose at the intersection between the media industry and its public, the needs of media and cultural policy—filtered through governmental reports (and other official inquiries)—as well as academia’s newfound interest in media (at both social science and humanities faculties). Especially, the 57 media-related SOU reports (between 1960 and 1980) were an important engine for the development and institutionalisation of media research in Sweden (Hyvönen, Snickars & Vesterlund 2017). The same holds true for the medium of film as well, especially during the 1960s and 1970s. Gösta Werner has been mentioned, and in addition, the later professor of film studies at Stockholm University, Leif Furhammar, took part in the so called “Film Censorship Commission” from 1964 to 1969. After 1980, however, it seems to have been more rare to include academics in governmental commission work on film. Media historian Mats Björkin (then at Stockholm University) was all likely the last academic to be involved as a secretary in the governmental commission on the preservation of documentary film heritage, SOU 1999:41. Suffices to say, SOU reports on film have over the years been frequently used by film historical research in Sweden; in Furhammar’s classical study, Filmen i Sverige (1991) some 15 SOU’s around film are for example discussed and referenced.

Föreläsning på kulturarvskonferens i Umeå

Imorgon ska jag hålla öppningsföredraget på kulturarvskonferensen, Framtiden knackar på – från historiska kartor till hardcorescenen. En konferens om arkivens komplexa uppdrag. Arrangörer är Sveriges depåbibliotek och lånecentral samt Forskningsarkivet på Umeå universitetsbibliotek (i vars styrelse jag sitter). Jag ska prata om olika sätt att digitalisera och analysera kulturarvet med utgångspunkt i projektet, Digitala Modeller. Mina 85 slides är nu klara – och kan laddas ned som en PDF. Dessvärre inkluderar de inte flertalet animationer, vilka kanske är de mest intressanta i sammanhanget: snickars_digitala_modeller_umea.

Det moderna genombrottets medier – workshop i Trondheim

I veckan ska jag delta som inbjuden föreläsare på en workshop på NTNU i Trondheim kring “Det moderna genombrottets medier“. Jag ska prata under titeln, “Digitala lägg. Om modernitetens medier filtrerade genom svensk dagspress 1850 till 1900”, och tanken är att summera ihop vad jag och min kollega Johan Jarlbrink ägnat åt oss inom detta projekt. Utgångspunkten för denna workshop är att flera forskare på NTNU förbereder en större ansökan med arbetstiteln, “Mapping the Rise of Contemporary Media Culture”. Min föreläsning kommer därför att koncentrera sig på såväl material som metod, liksom ett par tips när det gäller ansökningsdesign. Och det ska – som alltid – bli fantastiskt att återse Nidarosdomen.

Spotify & Digital Methods – forthcoming thematic section in the journal Culture Unbound

Within our research project on streaming media and Spotify, we are currently putting together a special thematic section for the journal Culture Unbound. Six articles will be included, three long ones, and three short ones, and we are currently wrapping up all writing. Together with Rasmus Fleischer, I am myself finishing the introduction to the thematic section – which in the present version reads like follows:

With a user base now officially reaching 100 million—including 40 million paying subscribers—the music streaming platform Spotify is today widely recognised as the solution to problems caused by the last decades of digital disruption within the music and media industries. Spotify resembles Netflix, YouTube—and lately Apple Music—as an epitome of streaming’s digital zeitgeist envisioned to shape our future. Industry interviews, trade papers, academic books, and the daily press reiterate innumerous versions of this “technological solutionism” (Morozov 2014) in almost as many variations.

This thematic section of Culture Unbound is broadly concerned with the music service Spotify, and novel ways to approach and do academic research around streaming media. Approached through various forms of digital methods, Spotify serves as the object of study (but basically any other streaming media services can be studied in similar ways.) The six articles presented—three long ones, and three short ones—emanates from a cross-disciplinary research project entitled, “Streaming Heritage: Following Files in Digital Music Distribution”. It was initially conceived at the National Library of Sweden (hence the heritage connection), but the project has predominantly been located at the digital humanities hub, Humlab at Umeå University, where the research group has continuously worked with the lab’s programmers. The project involves four researchers and one PhD student, and is funded by the Swedish Research Council between 2014 and 2018.

While most previous scholarship on Spotify has primarily focused the music industry, digital music economy, intermediation or piracy (Wikström 2013; Wikström & DeFilippi 2016; Allen Anderson 2015; Galuszka 2015; Andersson Schwarz 2013), our project takes a software studies and digital humanities approach towards streaming media. The project broadly engages in reverse engineering Spotify’s algorithms, aggregation procedures, meta-data, and valuation strategies, all in order to study the platforms underlying norms and structures. In short, reverse engineering starts with the final product (the music service Spotify in our case) and tries to take it apart—backwards, step by step. Basically, our scholarly purpose is thus to draw a more holistic picture by using Spotify as a lens to explore social, technical, and economic processes associated with digital media distribution. The key research idea within the project is to ‘follow files’—rather than the people making, using, or collecting them—on their distributive journey through the streaming ecosystem, and hence to take empirical advantage of inherent data flows at media platforms (as Spotify).

Over the last ten years, within the extensive field of media and internet studies, different types of digital methods have been taken up as key instruments for developing novel ways to analyse and understand, ‘the digital’, ‘the internet’, as well as digital media production, distribution and consumption. Following the catchphrase, ”the system is the method” (Bruhn Jensen 2011), digital methodologies are increasingly deployed for performing broad social science or humanistic inquiries on, for example, big data and black-boxed media platforms (as Spotify) that today increasingly serve as key delivery mechanisms for cultural materials (Ruppert, Law & Savage 2013). As a research practice, digital methods “strive to follow the evolving methods of the medium” (Rogers 2013:1). Furthermore, the issue of data of, about, and around the Internet, as Klaus Bruhn Jensen has eloquently stated, “highlights the common distinction between research evidence that is either ‘found’ or ‘made’”. If one removes complexities, basically all ‘evidence’ needed for Internet or digital studies is hence already at hand. When listening to music at Spotify, for example, user data is constantly being produced. Such data is “documented in and of the system”, and “with a little help from network administrators and service providers” it can be utilised as the empirical base for doing research (Bruhn Jensen 2011:52).

To researchers seeking to take empirical advantage of data flows at contemporary media platforms, however, it quickly becomes clear “that such platforms do not present us with raw data, but rather with specially formatted information” (Marres & Gerlitz 2015). Data, in short, is often biased (in one way or the other). Twitter, for example, determines what data are available and how it can be accessed, and researchers often have a hard time knowing what relevant data that might be missing. Nevertheless, the major academic problem confronting media scholars seeking to work with digital method problem is the lack of access to data. In our research project, the difficulty in working with Spotify, is in essence that the company does not share any data. As a consequence, user data has to be acquired and compiled through other means—for example by deploying bots as research informants, or by recording and aggregating self-produced music and sounds. Building on the tradition of ‘breaching experiments’ in ethnomethodology, our project has as a consequence, tried (in different ways) via repeated and modified interventions and experiments, to ‘break into’ the hidden infrastructures of digital music distribution. On the one hand we have been interested in broadly studying different data patterns and media processes at Spotify, but we have also been keen on producing and obtaining research data, for example by using bots as virtual listeners, by documenting (and tracing) Spotify’s history through constantly changing interfaces, or by tracking and archiving advertisement flows (through software as Ghostery).

Localising Spotify
Departing from the interventionist and experimental approaches we have used in our research project—which both metaphorically and practically tries to track and follow the transformation of audio files into streamed experiences in the simple way a postman would follow the route of a parcel (from packaging to delivery)—the notion of localisation has become salient. Following files is more or less a technical impossibility in a streaming media context, yet approaching and circumscribing Spotify—both as a company and a service—has also proven to be hard. Within our research project, we have in fact, repeatedly asked the insidiously simple question: where and when is Spotify? It might seem naive, but during the research process it has become increasingly difficult for us to understand and grasp our object of study.

A Google search on “What is a Spotify?” generates the answer: “a Swedish commercial music streaming, podcast and video service that provides digital rights management— protected content from record labels and media companies” (Google 2016). But such an answer hides more than it shows, and can easily be problematised. Is Spotify, for example, a content platform, distribution service or a media company? Furthermore, music naturally lies at the heart of Spotify (even if podcast and video seems increasingly important), but what kind of content is actually accepted—i.e how is ‘music’ defined? And what about the ‘Swedishness’ of Spotify—where is the company actually located? Headquarters is still to be found in central Stockholm on Birger Jarlsgatan 61, but the service is now available in some 60 countries, not to mention the digital variety of desktop and mobile versions (which all differ slightly). In addition, how to situate Spotify commercially and financially—i.e. how much money is Spotify actually making (or losing), and how to measure its economic impact?

As is apparent from the four issues above—and one could easily have inserted more of them—localising Spotify is easier said than done. Starting, however, with the question if Spotify is a tech or a media company, for a number of years it was obvious that Spotify foremost offered a technological solution for record companies struggling with piracy. In a private conversation a couple of years ago, one of us (Snickars) asked Sophia Bendz (at the time Head of Spotify marketing) what kind of company Spotify actually was. Without hesitating for a second, Bendz stated that Spotify was a tech company, only distributing content produced by others. The tech identity, however, was even back then in 2012 dubious, and has become increasingly harder to sustain. Advertisement serves a case in point. In endless discussion with record labels (around rights management) Spotify took the stance that a freemium version (Spotify Free) with recurrent advertisement, would in the long run be the best solution, foremost as an incentive to scale businesses and attract global listeners. Spotify’s classification as a strict ‘tech company’, hence, misses the fact that a core part of its businesses has been to provide content to audiences, and selling those audiences to advertisers. Other music services decided otherwise, and Spotify has consequently had to struggle—and increasingly become more of a media company—all in order to keep to its business plan with Free and Premium. Arguably, the music industry still sees Spotify as the top streaming service around, “but the company has done little to address the lack of new music from a large collection of major artists when their albums are released” (Singleton 2016). That is, in a digital environment where streaming music becomes default, focusing on tech and distribution only, will result in missed business opportunities. True, Spotify has not really entered into content production (like Netflix), even though some self-made videos are provided, such as interviews with artists as well as other content (like pop-ups that explain lyrics). Hence, stating that Spotify is only a tech company (in the form of a streaming service) fails to see other defining characteristics of the enterprise.