In This Article Media Activism

  • Introduction
  • Legacy Media Activism
  • Hacktivism
  • Media Policy Activism

Communication Media Activism
by
David Elliot Berman, Victor Pickard
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0201

Introduction

From Tiananmen Square to Tahrir Square, physical togetherness—the amassing of bodies in public space—is an integral part of social movements. However, direct, physical interaction has historically been complemented by mediated communication. Activists have used pamphlets, leaflets, zines, telephones, faxes, television, and, most recently, the Internet to communicate both among themselves and to the broader public, thus enabling geographically dispersed people to organize collectively. In the early 21st century, digital-savvy social movements including the Arab Spring uprisings, Occupy Wall Street, the indignados movement in Spain, and #BlackLivesMatter have sparked a raft of innovative interdisciplinary research on the dynamic relationship between media and social movements. This article not only provides an overview of the extant literature on this subject but also looks more expansively to forms of media activism that are not necessarily tied to social movement organizing, including media policy activism, hacktivism, and culture jamming. In so doing, we conceive of the media both as a tool for political mobilization and as an object of political struggle as activists endeavor to reform, delegitimize, or build more-democratic alternatives to the commercial mass media system.

Theoretical Approaches to Media Activism

The entries in this section address several key theoretical approaches that figure prominently within media activism studies. Political economy tends to offer macrostructural analyses of power relationships. This framework is central to media activism in that it delineates the dominant relationships and discourses that media activists aim to subvert. Public sphere theory is the liberal paradigm through which some types of activism operate, especially at a discursive level. Last, critical theory of technology posits that technologies are socially constructed and thus can both enable and constrain various kinds of media activism. These conceptual frameworks help bring into focus what is at stake for activists and democratic society writ large and help guide action toward creating positive social change.

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