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Family talk about media portrayals of immigrants in Sweden

November 5, 2008

Forthcoming EASA Media Anthropology Network e-seminar paper by Dr. Ulrika Sjöberg and Dr. Ingegerd Rydin (both at Halmstad University) titled “Family talk about media portrayals of immigrants.”. Date TBA.

Discussant: Dr. Kira Kosnick (Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main).


While much media research has focused on how the media represent immigrants and ethnic minorities, this paper examines how media coverage of immigrants is perceived among migrant families in Sweden. The analysis is based on results from the three-year project ‘Media practices in the new country’ (funded by the Swedish Research Council) and involves immigrant families (mainly with children in the ages 12-16) living in Sweden with origin from countries such as Greece, Kurdistan, Iran, Lebanon, Somalia, Syria, Turkey and Vietnam. The methodological approach is ethnographic with extended in-depths interviews and observations in the homes of the families (both adults and children) as well as to some extent visual methods, such as disposable cameras. The approach implies close readings of how media use (e.g. television, Internet, print media) is perceived and negotiated within the private sphere of the informants’ homes. It also gives a unique insight into family discourse about these matters, since parents and children are interviewed, sometimes together.

A key concept for the project is citizenship, which traditionally, e.g. within jurisprudence and political science, has been tied to the issue of national identity. However, within sociology and social psychology citizenship is seen in a broader sense, which includes other kinds of identities, such as cultural, social and religious identity as well as informal and formal participation. By ideally providing an equal flow of information and promoting communication among people, media might be seen as a facilitator of a living democracy. However, in today’s media saturated society with increased access to different media (e.g. minority, transnational, national and local media) claims are raised that democracy is under threat and that multicultural civil society tends to be fragmented, encouraging exclusion rather than inclusion between cultural groups. Do specific cultural readings encourage the formation of, for example, so called ‘media ghettos’ and/or ‘multiple public sphericules’? If so, what are the implications for identity processes and how citizenship and participation in society is perceived? Thus, the paper takes as its task to illuminate the omplex relationship between different readings of certain media texts in order to attain knowledge about the role of media in the perception of the Swedish (Western) society in terms of cultural codes, language, values, norms, and traditions. The study shows that there is close interconnections between specific media readings and the perception of, for example, dominating discourses in society related to immigration. Several key issues are discussed among the informants in order to confirm cultural affiliation such as the search for the ‘truth’ and media objectivity, seeking alternative portrayals of reality from transnational media (e.g. Al-Jazeera). Other topics raised are cultural imperialism, non-ethical Western journalism in terms of ifestyle, values and violence, but also the need of belonging to a national mediated public sphere. The paper shows that, despite predominant critical voices, it is not simply about minority and diasporic media displacing local and national media but rather that the informants prefer a mixed-up media usage.


Ulrika Sjöberg is Senior Lecturer in Media and Communication Studies, Halmstad University, Sweden. Her main research interests involve young people’s media use, media and ethnicity and media literacy among pupils and teachers. She is currently working with the projects ‘Media practices in the new country ’ , ’Mediated childhoods in multicultural families in Greece’, ‘Media literacy from an educational perspective,’ and ‘internet appropriation among college students: a global and contextual approach’. Sjöberg has worked with several methodological approaches in her research such as surveys, interviews, drawings, diaries, observations and photo-taking. Her most recent publications include for example ‘It took time to understand Greek newspapers – The media experience of Swedish women in Greece’ In Communications: The European Journal of Communication Research , 2006. Sjöberg is also the co-editor of the book ‘Mediated Medien und Migration. Europa als multikultureller Raum , 2007, (S Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften).

Ingegerd Rydin is Professor in Media and Communication Studies at Halmstad University, Sweden. Her research interests cover issues related to young audiences (media reception), young people’s media production, portrayal of children and young people in the media and media’s role in the lives of migrant children. She is currently engaged as project leader in the project ‘Media practices in the new country’ and a project on ‘Young people as media consumers in ten years’. She worked as principal researcher in the European project CHICAM (Children in Communication about Migration) and has co-published with Liesbeth de Block ‘Digital Rapping in Media Productions’ in Digital Generations, 2006, Lawrence Erlbaum and with Sonja De Leeuw ‘Diasporic Mediated Spaces’ in Transnational Lives and the Media , Palgrave 2007 and ‘Migrant children’s digital stories:identity formation and self-representation through media production’ in European Journal of Cultural Studies , 2007, 10(4).

Kira Kosnick – Professor of Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology at Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main. With a background in cultural anthropology and sociology, her work focuses on minority media practices, Turkish migration to Europe and urban spaces. Her latest book is Migrant Media: Turkish Broadcasting and Multicultural Politics in Berlin (2007). In this study she tries to elaborate a new approach to “migrant media” in relation to the larger cultural and political spaces through which immigrant life is imagined and created. She is currently beginning an ERC-funded project on ethnic club scenes in European metropolitan centres.

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  1. Kira kosnick | Zwear

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