Department of Media and Communication
University of Oslo
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on the new data collection for the EU Kids Online survey, our first since 2010. It is challenging and exciting with lots of twists and turns. Just the sampling discussions alone could kill you, but we get to be nerdy and social with an amazing group of researchers.
Being the current chair of the European research group on children, youth and media (ECREA CYM), I have been working on securing our status and have just sent off an application on behalf of our over 200 members to become a permanent section within the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA). So now I am in my office crossing fingers.
In addition, I am fortunate to lead a large interdisciplinary project on “The Nordic Model” and how it is to live “in the happiest and richest countries in the world” — especially if you are not feeling particularly happy nor rich. I am fascinated by the different perspectives on good child rearing qualities across European cultures and beyond, and how this influences how we address children’s rights. For some, ‘children’s rights’ means children and their autonomy and individual rights. For others, it means the parents’ right to raise their children without state intervention. This creates interesting tensions when debating children’s rights across cultures, sectors and also academic disciplines.
What has been your most memorable project so far, and why?
There are many, many memorable projects, but the one experience that comes back to me and that I keep as a reminder, was in a data collection with some nine-year-olds, talking to them about what they did online, which computer games they played and what could be embarrassing to experience: This one boy looked at me with big wondering eyes and asked out loud “but are you REALLY an adult?” I consider it my greatest compliment ever.
Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?
I was very honored to be appointed the Chair of the Norwegian Ethical Committee for research in the humanities, social sciences, law and technology (NESH, see www.etikkom.no/en/). Especially as I come from this academically new and quirky field of media and communication, rather than the more established disciplines philosophy, political science, sociology, history…
It is a four-year appointment, and I get to lead and work with an interdisciplinary team of researchers and lay people trying to solve intricate ethical issues researchers face. Our number of cases seems to be growing exponentially — with Internet, social media, algorithms, AI and big data there are constantly new possibilities for researchers to perform extensive and intimate data collections, analyses and experiments on individuals without them knowing it. Also anonymization of informants becomes complicated, as identification potentially can be just a click or a Google search away. The ethical dilemmas are plentiful, so it’s a lot of work, but it’s never boring and always rewarding.
Research ethics is such an important part of our work, yet often presented more as an afterthought in our work. I know that editors often ask authors to reduce or take out the part on research ethics in submitted work, but these reflections are vital to ensuring the integrity in our field, and our ability to learn from each other. I really believe CAM researchers are researchers who have built lots of experience in practical research ethics over time, often working with vulnerable informants and new technology, so we can bring much to the table on this — if we take a seat.
What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics cannot provide a good answer to yet?
“…but, what do you as researchers agree on?”
What would be your work motto?
I have two, and I try to remember both as they tend to bring balance to any situation.
The first is from Ibsen’s “Brand”: “Be what you are with all your heart. And not by pieces and in part.” (it rings even better in Norwegian).
The other is from Leonard Cohen (especially useful when you get reviews): “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?
It has to be my book “Children in the Online World: Risk, Regulation, Rights” (Routledge, 2016) trying to see how risks — perceived and real — lead to regulation and what impact this has on our, and children’s, fundamental rights. It was a long labor of love and frustration. Trying to address the regulatory legitimacy of censoring media access or content by biological age is a puzzling exercise, because so much of existing legislation and regulations is based on risk perceptions and ideas of children, rather than actual risk-of-harm assessments and evidence-based research. In fact, you can trace both legislative and policy work back to politicians’ anecdotal and personal experiences and “hunches”, something that in other instances would be considered illegitimate regulatory practices and would be picked up by controlling and legislative processes and bodies. Yet, for regulation of media content and access for children, just claiming intervention is for “protection” seems to be enough. So, questioning if everything done “in the interest of children” actually is in their interest, does not necessarily make you popular with politicians, NGOs or the ICT industry, but for me this is important, fundamental work.
If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?
I would set up an interdisciplinary research center for Children’s rights in the digital world, and do longitudinal studies trying to contribute to a nuanced and updated research body addressing the classic conclusion by Schramm, Lyle and Parker in 1961:
“No informed person can say simply that television is bad or that it is good for children. For some children, under some conditions, some television is harmful. For other children under the same conditions, or for the same children under other conditions, it may be beneficial. For most children, under most conditions, most television is probably neither particularly harmful nor particularly beneficial.” (Schramm, W., Lyle, J., & Parker, E. B. (1961). Television in the lives of our children. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press., p. 2).
So, who are these children today — and why?
If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?
Dare to be different. One of the worst pieces of advice I got when starting my PhD was to “lay very low” and “never write anything that can be criticized by other scholars” until I had secured a permanent position, and always use uncontroversial theoretical frameworks. I understand the sentiment, but what is the point of being a researcher if you cannot really embrace the independence, creativity and curiosity it allows (or should allow) for?
Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?
I would like to nominate Jörg Matthes. One of those researchers I only know via others. I would really like to know more about his research in the CAM field.
To download a copy of this edition of CAMmer in the spotlight click here.