COMPASS – A Research Hub on Knowledge Circulation

Older compass against a grey background.
Boat compass from Smithsonians collections/National Museum of American History. Harold Dorwin

COMPASS is a research hub devoted to the study of knowledge in motion. It is named after an artifact that transports and packages knowledge, and as a patented invention also embodies the control of knowledge, the order and segmentation of space in legal as well as material form. A compass is both a metaphor for movement and the concrete object directing that movement.

COMPASS is a research hub devoted to the study of knowledge in motion. It is named after an artifact that transports and packages knowledge, and as a patented invention also embodies the control of knowledge, the order and segmentation of space in legal as well as material form. A compass is both a metaphor for movement and the concrete object directing that movement. 

With COMPASS we want to establish a home for interdisciplinary studies of the multiple ways by which the creation and circulation of knowledge is enabled and disabled. COMPASS is based on the premise that the conditions of this circulation can be approached as a dynamic between forms and norms of knowledge.

Forms and norms of knowledge

While text remains central for the dissemination of knowledge, the material and mediated conditions for knowledge circulation are currently being transformed, impacted by changes both within and outside academia. Knowledge travels in many ways: in bodies and objects, through performances and exhibitions, in spoken and recorded form.

The multiplicity of forms is matched by a multiplicity of norms: from artisanal knowledge guilds to non-disclosure agreements, from shrink-wrap clicking to open access, forms and norms of knowledge co-exist in various materialities and various regulatory practices.

COMPASS sits in the intersection where texts, performances, images, and objects clash and co-exist with norms, regulation, classification, informal and formal modes of control and dissemination regarding the mediatic molding and circulation of knowledge.

Our ambition with COMPASS is to

  • Establish a forum for discussion and collaboration between different actors interested in the conditions for knowledge circulation
  • To initiate, conduct, and support innovative and interdisciplinary research in the field
  • Experiment with new approaches, forms, and networks to develop the understanding of how knowledge is set in motion (or not)
  • Actively work for increased integration of research and education in the field.

COMPASS activities are under development but will consist of

  • Research
  • Regular seminars initiated by COMPASS or held in collaboration with other environments
  • An annual COMPASS symposium
  • Course development at undergraduate and postgraduate level with an emphasis on critical/theoretical perspectives regarding research on research/science communication.

SeminarsShow/Hide content

The COMPASS seminars are organised in collaboration with the various research environments at the Department of Culture and Society.

During the autumn of 2021, four seminars are organized - two of which take place in collaboration with Tema Culture and Society (Tema Q) and two in collaboration with the research environment Language and Culture. Below, one of the semester's seminars is presented, the rest of them will be presented shortly. The seminars are open to everyone. Welcome!


The Birth of “Data Problems”: A Cultural Techniques Perspective on Some of the Major Concerns of the 1970s 

Date and time: October 20, 15.15-17.00  (+ post seminar)

Place: Room Comenius, Keyhuset building, Campus Valla and Zoom. For link, please email Per-Anders Forstorp.

 With Johan Fredrikzon, PhD, History of Ideas, Department of Culture and Aesthetics, Stockholm University.

During the 1970s the problems of the environment and of the population were reframed in a manner that still much influences our conception of them. How to make sense of the interaction between forces of environmental pollution? How to uphold the privacy of individuals as the knowledge banks of governmental agencies were coordinated? In my doctoral disseratation Kretslopp av data [Cycles of Data] (Mediehistoriskt arkiv, 2021), I argue that we need to understand these problems – which superficially may seem far apart – as consequences of changes within data management. Beneath the political mobilization of environmental movements as well as the stormy debates of privacy during these years we find what I choose to call the infrastructures and cultural techniques of early digitalization. These, I argue, contributed to presenting the environment and the population as “data problems”. That, in turn, gave rise to a number of changes in administrative offices and state archives and the work carried out there. In my lecture I wish to highlight a few aspects of this development.

The seminar is held in English.

In collaboration with Language and Culture.


Traces on the Tundra Skin: Politics and Ontologies of Conservation in the Soviet Arctic

Date and time: December 9, 13.15-15

Place: More information to come.

With Dmitry Arzyotov.

The tundra covers 10% of Earth’s surface. Despite being home to Indigenous populations and a site for industrial development, to a significant degree tundra remains associated to the public with wilderness and emptiness and fragility. What are the genealogies of such perceptions? And how do they correspond to the histories of human-environment interactions in the high Arctic, including in the age of large-scale extractive industry? To answer this, the paper focuses on the relations between industrial and conservation projects in the Soviet Arctic tundra. Following the mechanical traces – in a strict material sense and as a metaphor – left behind from the military and the industrial developers of the region, the article examines three main interlinked “layers” of tundra histories in the 20th century: links between the tundra and the Other, the emergence of tundra as a fragile surface under the wheels of industrial all-terrain vehicles, and the complex history of one of the first tundra nature reserves (zapovednik) which coincided with the rise of the international discourse of biosphere. Thus the paper aims to overcome the marginal place the tundra occupies in much environmental history and move it closer to such prominent environmental objects as forests, mountains and seas.

The seminar is held in English.
In collaboration with Tema Culture and Society.


Who/whom are responsible for oral and written research communication?

Date and time: December 15, 15.15-17

Place: Room Comenius, Keyhuset building, Campus Valla and Zoom. For link, please email Per-Anders Forstorp.

With Cecilia Olsson Jers, associate professor of rethorics, Linnéuniversitetet Linnaeus University, as well as participants from the Communications Department at Linköping University.

Communicating research and research results to the already initiated is not usually a problem. Both the speaker/writer and listener/reader moves within a fairly familiar realm of language practices. For a PhD-student, however, it is neither enough nor sufficient to be able to communicate only with the already initiated. Being able to communicate with various groups of people also outside of the academy is actually codified in the goals for the graduate (PhD) level system of qualifications (Högskoleförordningen 1993:100). The goals focuses on the communicative practices of the PhD-student. What matters is being able and willing to use language with courage in order to promote clarity in research communication, without being overly reductive or simplistic – independent of who or whom are listening or reading. In this seminar, I want to discuss how the students can be encouraged to embrace these forms of communication, through giving examples from a PhD-level course in oral research communication.

In collaboration with Language and Culture.

Graduate CourseShow/Hide content

Tat knowledge circulates, or perhaps rather, is supposed to circulate, seems obvious. But packaged in what forms, and under what conditions and norms? 

Together with Tema Culture and Society and the OA journal Culture Unbound COMPASS will give the graduate course Knowledge in Motion: Between Forms and Norms during the 2022 Spring term. Read more in the course description.

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Previous seminarsShow/Hide content

Medieval Knowledge Exchange: Strategies for Acquiring, Recording, and Disseminating Information about Fish between 1100 and 1400

September 23, 2021.

With Polina Ignatova, post doc COMPASS, IKOS

Modern ways of industrial fishing and fish farming subject fish to treatment which would be considered cruel and/or illegal if applied to terrestrial animals.

My project is investigating the origins of our modern attitudes towards fish by looking into medieval ways of studying aquatic organisms. During this talk I am going to summarise the purposes and methodology of the project, and to introduce the audience to its first findings - namely, the representation of fish in bestiaries.

In collaboration with Tema Culture and Society.

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