New Noise

A Cultural Sociology of Digital Disruption

by Simon Lindgren (Author)
©2013 Monographs XIV, 162 Pages
Series: Digital Formations, Volume 88


This book is about online subcultures thriving in the border zones between pop cultural and political engagement. Combining classic theories of space, power and resistance with current case studies of digital piracy, online activism and remix culture, the book develops a cultural theory of social movements in the digital age.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword
  • References
  • Chapter 1. The Double Trap
  • Beyond Technophilia and Technophobia
  • Colonies of Enthusiasts
  • Empowering Some While Disempowering Others
  • Technopolitics: Towards a Continuous Re-theorization
  • Chapter 2. In Search of Space
  • Interference in the Orderly Sequence
  • Opposing Machines
  • Disruption as Heterodoxy
  • Disruption as Rewiring
  • Chapter 3. Shapes, Relations, Structures
  • Beyond Triangulation
  • A Qualitative Approach to Quantity
  • Towards an Analysis of Practice
  • Chapter 4. Hacktivist Mobilization
  • The Hashtag as Settlement
  • Discursive Aspects of Mobilization
  • Social Aspects of Mobilization
  • Semiotic Dynamics
  • Chapter 5. Network Politics
  • The Power of Directionality
  • Oh Media! Where Are You?
  • What Is a Revolution?
  • Controlling the Flow
  • Chapter 6. *.Sub Culture
  • Setting the Subscene
  • Coordination, Collaboration, Regulation
  • The Damn Rules
  • Rival Generosity
  • Chapter 7. Holy Shit! It Works!!
  • Affinity, Trolling, and Hating
  • You’re Obviously Pretty . . .
  • Knowledge through Connection
  • Microcontent and Community Building
  • Chapter 8. Plural Reactions
  • YouTube Shootings: A Media Panic?
  • Disrupting the Panic
  • Chapter 9. The Subactivist Challenge
  • Digital Piracy Cultures
  • Dimensions of Pirate Praxis
  • Catching the Third Wave?
  • Chapter 10. A Cultural Sociology of Digital Disruption
  • New Noise?
  • A Manifesto for the Analysis of Digital Disruption
  • Disruption
  • Power
  • Practice
  • Moving Equilibrium
  • Rewind: Objective vs. Subjective Culture
  • Fast Forward: Transgressing into Hybrid Space
  • Works Cited
  • Index



Some of the empirical work presented in this book has also been reported elsewhere. Chapter 4 is based on an article published in New Media and Society (Lindgren & Lundström, 2011), and chapter 7 has been published in a slightly different form in the European Journal of Communication (Lindgren, 2012). Chapter 8 builds on a text that was included in Media, Culture and Society (Lindgren, 2011), and chapter 9 draws heavily on a piece from Convergence (Lindgren & Linde, 2012). I would like to thank my co-authors Jessica Linde and Ragnar Lundström for their valuable contributions. The writing of this book has been partly funded by the Swedish Research Council (through the project Filesharing and Sense of Justice), the Knowledge Foundation (through the program YouTube as a Performative Arena), and the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research (through the project Social Media and Political Participation). ← xi | xii → ← xii | xiii →


by David Gauntlett


A few pages into New Noise, Simon Lindgren provides a telling quote from John Fiske’s book Understanding Popular Culture. Fiske observes, with dismay, that scholars of popular culture have typically fallen into one of two camps: those who don’t situate their analysis within ‘a model of power’, and so are free to be nice about their subject matter, and those who do, and therefore feel obliged to condemn it. Both approaches therefore become predictable rather than challenging. Fiske suggests that there could be a ‘third direction’, which balances consideration of the power of media systems with the power of ordinary people. What a novel idea!

Fiske’s book was published in 1989, almost 25 years ago. For me, this was the year I left home and went to university. The media landscape in the UK was print, radio, and 4 channels of TV; the World Wide Web had not been invented yet. ‘Interactivity’ referred to the capacity to call up a weather forecast on teletext, which, as the name suggested, was a set of texts available on your telly. In short, it was ages ago.

Since then, the idea of a ‘third way’ in other spheres—notably politics—has come to seem ordinary, and then outdated. It is ordinary because it’s no longer a new idea, but also because the general principle came to be broadly ← xiii | xiv → accepted, even if the ‘third way’ phrase was not. In many countries, mainstream politics is rarely about genuinely left-wing versus right-wing ideas these days, and the middle-ground third way describes the standard arena for a majority of political parties (although the ‘third way’ was really meant to be a radical alternative to the norm, not just a middle-of-the-road view).

In media and communications studies, however, Fiske’s argument could be presented tomorrow and would still seem fresh and relevant. The technologies and opportunities have changed to a huge extent, but the approaches of media scholars have not. Indeed, if it seemed for a while—during, say, the first decade of the 21st century—that the old boundaries had shifted, we now see the lines being redrawn more sharply. Scholars such as Christian Fuchs (2008, 2011) have led a thoughtful but decidedly Marxist restatement of what’s wrong with today’s media system. James Curran, Natalie Fenton and Des Freedman received warm reviews for Misunderstanding the Internet (2012), a book which lives up to its title by mixing a less sophisticated kind of Marxism with a surprising nostalgia for a time when only elites could express themselves in widely-available media. Meanwhile, incisive but less partisan analysts, such as Clay Shirky (2008, 2010), who take an interest in what social media might mean within the lives of their users, are dismissed as ‘evangelists’ for new technologies merely because they have failed to join in with a more knee-jerk rejection of their possible value.

So, a ‘third way’ in media and communications studies would be very welcome. And that is what Lindgren offers in this timely and persuasive book.

I have known Simon Lindgren for a few years. I say ‘known,’ but until recently we had not met in person. As noted above, things changed a lot over the past quarter century, so like many modern relationships, this one began online. But really, when I finally met him on a visit to London, it didn’t make that much difference. He was as I had known him via electronic communication: modest, intelligent, generous.

I was pleased to be invited to write a foreword for his new book, which I understood to be called New Noise. I expected it would be good but didn’t know what it would be about. So I was even happier when I received the manuscript with the subtitle, A Cultural Sociology of Digital Disruption. The notion of ‘disruptions’ has been central to my thinking about new technologies, in particular anything running on the internet, for a while now. I like it for the straightforward visual image which it suggests of something erupting from ← xiv | xv → below and breaking apart what was already there. And I mean: in a good way. To illustrate the idea of disruptions in a presentation, I tend to use Google image search to grab pictures of dramatic earthquakes which have smashed up some important bit of infrastructure. Of course, those are not happy events. But the disruptions in media and communications which the internet has made possible are almost always exciting and interesting innovations, even if their outcomes are not universally desirable.

The digital disruptions or transformations which potentially affect scholars of media and communications can be divided into three spheres:

Disruptions or transformations in our objects of study—communications systems, materials and services themselves

Disruptions or transformations in how we study them—new methods and approaches

Disruptions or transformations in how we communicate and have conversations about these phenomena and this research

So it’s about what we study, how we study it, and how we engage others about it. Only the first of these describes the task of keeping up with one’s subject matter, which is an established, predictable thing that you have to do as a scholar of any subject. The other two potentially undermine and screw up the established way of doing things, and are therefore especially exciting. In any case, Lindgren covers all three: the first, in his substantial analysis of a changing media landscape and what people do in it; the second, with his innovative data-mining methodology, Connected Concept Analysis, which offers ‘a qualitative approach to quantity’ (see Chapter 3); and third—although perhaps to a lesser extent in this traditional object, a book—in his online videos, blog and tweets.

In New Noise, Lindgren steers a path between what technical systems can do within a culture, and how people within that culture respond and innovate for themselves. Of course, that means it’s not just a study of how humans respond to their technological environment, because those technical systems were themselves responses and innovations, made by humans, to previously existing aspects of technology and culture. It is therefore, in the old-fashioned terminology of media studies, about integrating the study of ‘media institutions’ and ‘media technologies’ with the study of ‘media audiences’ or ‘media users’. This is the kind of ‘third way’ that media scholars have been calling for ← xv | xvi → for a long time. But more significantly, it cleverly mirrors the concept of structuration as developed by Anthony Giddens (1984), who was also the preeminent advocate of the ‘third way’ in social theory and politics (Giddens, 1998).

The theory of structuration was Giddens’ attempt to overcome the unhelpful divide between those who studied societies or cultures on a macro level (for example, in our case, what media institutions and systems do) and those who focused on the micro level (here, what media users do). He achieved this by noting the cycle of influence between the two levels: the macro level defines the circumstances within which people operate, but then people’s actions can, cumulatively and over time, bring about changes in the collective understanding of a culture, which gradually changes the macro level itself; which changes what people within that culture consider to be possible or legitimate; and so on. Simon Lindgren offers something similar here, showing how the normally separate spheres of media systems and media users are connected in a mutually dependent cycle.


XIV, 162
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (December)
subcultures power digital piracy political engagement online activism
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2013. XIV, 162 pp.

Biographical notes

Simon Lindgren (Author)

Simon Lindgren is Professor of Sociology at Umeå University, Sweden. He researches digital culture with a focus on how new media audiences navigate the border landscape between the new potentials for participation and activism on the one hand, and the risks for exclusion and exploitation on the other. Simon is actively taking part in developing theoretical as well as methodological tools for analyzing discursive and social network aspects of the emerging new media landscape. He has published internationally on themes like hacktivism, digital piracy, citizen journalism, subcultural creativity, popular culture, and visual politics.


Title: New Noise
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179 pages