Cinema and Media Studies Community Media
Kevin Howley
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0358


Long before digital devices put the means of media production and distribution into “users’” hands, and participatory culture became an academic and industry buzzword, community media have provided everyday people access to the channels of public communication. From a historical perspective, then, community media constitute a prefigurative form of contemporary social media practice: a dynamic, contested, and frequently messy means of cultural expression, civic engagement, and democratic communication. Unsurprisingly, scholars and practitioners employ an assortment of terms, such as “alternative,” “citizens,’” “grassroots,” “participatory,” and “radical,” to explain how and why local populations make use of electronic media for community communication. Despite or perhaps because of these disparate labels, and the inferences and emphases associated with each, researchers take an interdisciplinary approach to community media studies, including but not limited to perspectives from political economy, cultural anthropology, media sociology, and technology studies. Once a marginal field of inquiry, the literature of community media is expansive. For purposes of this bibliography, we begin with work that takes up conceptual issues in community media studies. Next, this article considers various forms of community media: broadcast radio and television, cable access TV and participatory video, computer-mediated communication, and more recent innovations associated with digital technologies. Subsequent sections consider ethnic, diasporic, and Indigenous community media respectively. The final section demonstrates that community media is a rich, if somewhat neglected site of local, national, and global cultural politics. Throughout, this bibliography aims to guide readers to some of the more compelling, revealing, and illustrative literature on community media.

General Overviews

Conceptualizing community media has been a challenge for practitioners, policymakers, and scholars. Identifying access and participation as foundational principles of the emerging sector, Berrigan 1977 provides a cornerstone for the field of community media studies. Decades later, in a review of literature, Jankowski 2003 calls for greater theoretical precision and model building. Howley 2005 examines the symbolic construction of community across four case studies. Rennie 2006 integrates practitioner perspectives with theoretical analysis of community media in a global context. Gordon 2009 surveys persistent debates informing community media theory and practice. The rhizome metaphor in Carpentier 2016 synthesizes prevailing theoretical frameworks. Fuller 2007 and Howley 2010 present comprehensive global overviews. Conversely, Lewis and Jones 2006 employs action research in community media initiatives across western Europe. More recently, Martens, et al. 2020 integrates academic and practitioner perspectives to identify sustainable models of community media across Latin America in the digital era.

  • Berrigan, Frances J. Access: Some Western Models of Community Media. Paris: UNESCO, 1977.

    This seminal report is a cornerstone of community media studies. Starting from the premise that community media are instruments for media democratization, Berrigan and her collaborators identify three central themes—participation, access, and lifelong learning—across case studies from Western industrial societies. Noting the field’s relative infancy, contributors resist the temptation to generalize across cases, preferring instead to focus on particular dimensions of each initiate under consideration.

  • Carpentier, Nico. “Community Media as Rhizome: Expanding the Research Agenda.” Journal of Alternative and Community Media 1.1 (2016): 4–6.

    DOI: 10.1386/joacm_00003_1

    This brief essay revisits a typology of community media theory based on media-centered and society-centered approaches respectively. Drawing on Deleuzian thought, Carpentier synthesizes these approaches and reintroduces the concept of community media as rhizome: a powerful metaphor that captures the particular, multifaceted, and interconnected character of community media. The rhizome metaphor suggests how community media organizations emerge from networked relationships across civil society and social movements.

  • Fuller, Linda K., ed. The Power of Global Community Media. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

    Fuller assembles a team of international collaborators to consider the global dimensions of community media in the first decade of the twenty-first century. The book’s three parts focus on aboriginal and Indigenous initiatives, contemporary case studies in community broadcasting, and critical appraisals of community media theory and practice, respectively. The volume locates community media in critical relation to private, profit-oriented approaches to public communication.

  • Gordon, Janey, ed. Notions of Community: A Collection of Community Media Debates and Dilemmas. New York: Peter Lang, 2009.

    Foregrounding dilemmas and debates within community media studies, this volume marks the maturation of the field at a critical juncture—the emergence of digital technologies and global media culture(s). The three-part structure considers, first, conceptual issues and concerns surrounding community media; second, community media and the constitution of collective identity; and third, the limits and possibilities of community media in the digital era.

  • Howley, Kevin. Community Media: People, Places, and Communication Technologies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511489020

    Drawing on insights from sociology, political science, media and cultural studies, this comparative case study examines four distinct geographic communities making use of four different (but converging) technologies—radio, television, print, and computer networks—for community communication. This analysis reveals the significant but frequently overlooked role community media plays in cultural production, communicative democracy, and the symbolic construction of community.

  • Howley, Kevin, ed. Understanding Community Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2010.

    This collection offers a comprehensive global snapshot of community media in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Organized thematically, this collection highlights the social, economic, political, and cultural significance of community-based media. Featuring over thirty original essays authored by scholars and practitioners alike, this volume provides an engaging and accessible introduction to the field.

  • Jankowski, Nicholas W. “Community Media Research: A Quest for Theoretically-Grounded Models.” Javnost—The Public 10.1 (2003): 5–14.

    DOI: 10.1080/13183222.2003.11008818

    In this introduction to the journal’s theme issue on community media, a literature review reveals the lack of theoretical insight and model building in community media studies. Examining three forms—community radio, community television, and community networks—Jankowski identifies general characteristics of community media: institutional objectives, ownership and control, production, distribution, audience, and funding. These commonalities provide the foundation for subsequent models to inform empirical study and theorical development.

  • Lewis, Peter, and Susan Jones. From the Margins to the Cutting Edge: Community Media and Empowerment. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2006.

    Foregrounding community media’s potential for empowering people with limited access to the means of public communication, this volume reports findings on two European Union–sponsored projects. Unique in its attention to the praxis of technology training—notably the utility of action-research in local settings—contributors highlight the decisive role community media plays in promoting individual and collective expression, thereby amplifying the voices of civil society.

  • Martens, Cheryl, Cristina Venegas, and Etsa Franklin Salvio Sharupi Tapuy, eds. Digital Activism, Community Media and Sustainable Communication in Latin America. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.

    This collection explores community-based digital activism across Latin America. Case studies underscore longstanding efforts across the region to decolonize communication technologies, structures, and practices. With a focus on sustainable community communication, academics and practitioners examine a variety of resistant practices to neoliberal media systems including collaborative journalism, open source networking, data activism, as well as feminist and Indigenous media work.

  • Rennie, Ellie. Community Media: A Global Introduction. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.

    Informed by her work as a community media volunteer, Rennie makes important contributions to theorizing community media and assessing its foundational principles, myriad uses, and future prospects in the digital era. Rennie’s analysis explores the relationship between community media and freedom of speech, community development, social change, and civil society. Written with clarity and concision, this book is an exceptional introduction to community media studies.

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