Mediatisation of science and the rise of promotional culture

Esa Valiverronen


This chapter reviews the médiatisation concept, which has recently made a strong impact in media and communication studies, particularly in the field of political communication but also in science communication. It discusses the outcomes and problems of médiatisation research in relation to shifting science communication practices. The chapter introduces the concept of promotional culture in order to put the médiatisation of science into the broader social and cultural context of commercialisation and marketisation of research and universities.

‘Médiatisation’ became perhaps the most popular concept in media research in the 2010s (Corner 2018; Nowak-Teter 2019), discussed in numerous conferences, seminar groups, books, articles and case studies devoted to the subject. Although it was sporadically used in different contexts in the 1980s and 1990s (e.g., Asp 1986, 1990; Martin-Barbero 1993; Thompson 1995; Mazzoleni and Schulz 1999), it was later named a ‘key concept’ (Lundby 2009), indicating a ‘paradigm shift’ (Hepp et al. 2015: 315) in media and communication studies. The concept has appeared in different forms — mediasation, medialisation and médiatisation — but ‘the most likely “winner” in a race between many terms, all cumbersome and ambitious’ (Couldry and Hepp 2013: 191) is médiatisation.

In the beginning, the term was particularly popular in the Nordic countries, Germany and Central Europe. In the English-speaking world, this somewhat ‘clumsy neologism’ (Livingstone 2009: 6) has also aroused considerable interest. However, there have been discussions on whether ‘mediation’ should be used instead of médiatisation (e.g., Silverstone 2005). Recently, however, médiatisation has become increasingly accepted. The popularity of the new buzzword has also aroused considerable criticism in the field of media research, particularly about the concept’s ambiguity and media-centredness (e.g., Adolf 2015; Ampuja et al. 2014; Corner

2018; Deacon and Stanyer 2014; Lunt and Livingstone 2016). However, the concept’s proponents have been very productive, creating numerous books and case studies, and they have even proposed a new stage, called ‘deep médiatisation’ (Hepp and Hasebrink 2018).

At a descriptive level, it is easy to subscribe to the idea of médiatisation. Different means of communication have become omnipresent in contemporary society. The emergence of the Internet and various social media platforms has made producing and circulating media content relatively easy. The technological possibilities offered by different media are more diverse than before. The media are more mobile than ever. They are an organic part of everyday life for more and more people and may affect highly specialised activities such as science and technology communication. Although médiatisation has attracted much interest, there is no unified understanding of the concept, even among its main advocates.

Perhaps we can say that médiatisation has become an ambitious umbrella concept (Ampuja et al. 2014: 112) that takes society and culture as a whole as the target. In general, the concept of médiatisation tries to capture long-term processes of the interrelation between media change on the one hand and social and cultural change on the other (Hepp et al. 2010: 223). Not all médiatisation advocates assume that the media constitute the social and cultural world’s dominant centre (see e.g., Krotz 2009). Nevertheless, they do tend to agree that the media have become increasingly important, or even decisive, for all social and cultural spheres and institutions (e.g., Krotz 2009: 24; Hjarvard 2008).

This chapter argues that instead of limiting the analysis to the supposed ‘media power’ vis a vis other institutions such as politics or science, we should focus on the broader changes in society such as commercialisation, individualisation and the rise of promotional cultures. The supposed ‘media logic’ affecting institutions is in fact intertwined with many other institutional logics in society, such as advertising, PR and marketing. Further, we should acknowledge the plurality of media and the multifaceted nature of our current communication and media environment where numerous actors and power brokers compete in the management of public visibility.

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