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Social Movement Theories Alternative Media - Downing

Social Movement Theories Alternative Media - Downing

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Communication.Culture
&
Critique155N1753-9129
ORIGINALARTICLE
SocialMovementTheoriesandAlternativeMedia:AnEvaluationandCritique
JohnDowning
GlobalMediaResearchCenter,SouthernIllinoisUniversity,Carbondale,Carbondale,IL62901
doi:lO.llll/j.1753-9137.2007.00005.x
40
Communication,Culture&Critique1(2008)40-50
©
2008InternationalCommunicationAssociation
Theurgentneedforadialogueaboutconcepts
Socialmovementsmattertheconstructiveones,thedangerousones,andthecon-fusedones.Theirstudyhastakenonconsiderablelifeoverthepast
20-25
years,beginningwiththe"resourcemobilization/rationalactor"andthe"NewSocialMovements"schools,andcontinuingonwiththecurrent"ContentiousPolitics"network,alongwithstudiesofsolidaritymovements(Giugni
&
Passy,
2001),
socialnetworksandmovements(Diani
&
McAdam,
2003),
andtransnationalsocialmove-ments(Keck
&
Sikkink,1998).Thejournals
SocialMovementStudies
and
Mobiliza-tion
aresignificantthoughnotexclusiveforafordebateontheseissues.Theglobalsocialjusticemovementandreligiousrevivalmovementshavebeentwomajorcontemporaryspurstotheseanalyses.Inthemeantime,studiesofsmall-scalealternativemediahavealsomushroomed,albeitmorerecentlystill,withbook-lengthstudiesoressay-collectionspublishedsince
2000
byAtton
(2001,2005);
Rodriguez
(2001);
GumucioDagron
(2001);
Granjon
(2001);
Meikle
(2002);
Lovink
(2002);
CunninghamandSinclair
(2002);
OpelandPompper
(2003);
CouldryandCurran
(2003);
O'Connor
(2004);
Peruzzo
(2004);
vandeDonk,Loader,Nixon,andRucht
(2004);
LangloisandDubois
(2005);
de
long,
Shaw,andStammers
(2005);
andmyself(Downing,
2001).
Asof
2006,
twoencyclopediasofalternativemediaareunderpreparationbyRoutledgeandSage,respectively,andatwo-volumecollectionofessayseditedbyKidd,Rodriguez,andSteinisbeingproducedbyHamptonPress,UnitedStates,Thisbodyofworkrepresentsquiteanexplosionofattentiontosocialmovementmediaandprovidesavaluableminingofthem,butitsveryrecencydemonstrateshowweaklysocialmovementphenomenahaveregisteredinthemaindiscursivearenasofmediaanalysis.Previously,contributionssuchasHalloranetal.'s(1970)
DemonstrationsandCommunication;
Gitlin's(1980)
TheWholeWorldIsWatching;
Correspondingauthor:JohnDowning;e-mail:jdowning@siu.eduAnearlierversionofthisarticlewaspresentedtotheMediaChangeandSocialTheoryConference,StHugh'sCollege,Oxford,inSeptember2006.
 
Communication,Culture&Critique1(2008)40-50
©
2008InternationalCommunicationAssociation
41
J.
DowningSocialMovementTheoriesandAlternativeMedia
SiegelaubandMattelart's(1983)secondvolumeof
CommunicationandClassStrug-gle;
the1984editionofmy
RadicalMedia
book(Downing,1984);andSreberny-MohammadiandMohammadi's(1994)
SmallMedia,BigRevolution
werelonelyitemsonthemediastudieslandscape.Eventheseweredividedbetweenstudiesofmainstreammediacoverageofsocialmovements(Gitlin,2003;Halloranetal.,1970)andstudiesofsocialmovementmediathemselves.Yet,justasintheanalysisoftransitionsfromdictatorshipduringthe1980sand1990s,thetypicaldivorcepersistsunabatedbetweenmediastudiesresearchandtheoryandresearchbysociologists,politicalscientists,andhistorians
(cf.
my
Inter-nationalizingMediaTheory,
1996).Wecanseethisdivorceintwomajorrecentcollectionsonsocialmovements,oneanthropological(Nash,2004)andtheothersociological(Snow,Soule,
&
Kriesi,2004),aswellasinTilly'srecenthistoricaloverviewofsocialmovementsduringthepast2centuries(Tilly,2004).Thetwojournalsmentioned,
Mobilization
and
SocialMovementStudies,
rarelyfocusonmediadimensionsofsocialmovements.
1
Mediaand-morerecently-Internetissuesarereferenced,butrarely.Veryoften,mediaaredefinedsimplyastechnolog-icalmessagechannelsratherthanasthecomplex
sociotechnical
institutionstheyactuallyare.ThislenshasespeciallycharacterizedearlystudiesofInternetuseinpoliticalmobilization,forexample,inthenotionofcellphone"swarming"(Rheingold,2003).Letusbrieflynotesomeexamplesofthistangentialattentiontomediadynamicsfromthreeleadingsocialmovementanalysts.Koopmans(2004)writes:...themassmedia..,maycommunicateinnovationsbetweengroupswhosharenosociallinksatall-apartfrom...thesamenewsmedia.Therefore,themassmediaplayacrucial(butunderstudied)roleinthediffusionofprotestinmoderndemocracies.(pp.25-26)Koopmansdefinesmediahere,implicitly,simplyassocialmovementdiffusionchannelsandmerelynodsinthedirectionofseriousresearchintotheiroperation.Kriesi(2004,p.86)concludeshisessayontheconceptualframeworkofpoliticalcontextandopportunity,onethatplaysaleadingroleinsomecurrentsocialmove-menttheorization,byarguingthatthisframeworkneedstobeextended:..,insuchawaythatitaccommodatestheroleofmediaandthepublicspace[since
1...
thestructureofthemediaandthewaytheyoperate...affecttheopportunitiesandconstraintsunderwhichmovementsoperate.
(Emphasisadded)Thisisveryobviouslytrue.Butwhy,inthegamutofsocialmovementprocessesKriesianalyzes,aretherolesofmediaacknowledgedbutleftdanglingasthoughtheyalonewerecrystalclear,unproblematic?Andwhyonly,byimplication,mainstreammedia?Snow(2004),writingontheframesthatsocialmovementsconstructandtheprocesseswithinwhichtheyareconstructed,writesthat:
 
SocialMovementTheoriesandAlternativeMedia
J.
Downing
...framesarecontinuouslyarticulatedandelaboratedduringthecourseofconversationanddebateamongtheinteractantswithinadiscursivefield....Suchfieldsemergeorevolveinthecourseofdiscussionofanddebateaboutcontestedissuesandevents,andencompassnotonlyculturalmaterials(e.g.beliefs,values,ideologies,mythsandnarratives,primaryframeworks),ofpotentialrelevance,butalsovarioussetsofactors[who]includeoneormorecountermovements,thetargetsofactionorchange,themedia,andthelargerpublic....(pp.403,402)
42
Communication.Culture&Critique1(2008)40-50
©
2008InternationalCommunicationAssociation
Amazingly,mediagetreferencedhereonlyaspartofalaundrylist,but
not
asmajorculturalagents,notasongoinglifetimearticulatorsanddevelopersof
precisely
themyths,ideologies,narratives,andframeworkswhichSnowisfocusinguponinhisargument.Admittedly,inanotheressaybyGamsoninthesamecollection,the"framing"conceptdoesgetharnessedtoanalyzesocialmovements'needtodevelopmainstreammediastrategies(Gamson,2004),butitseemsdistinctlyoddthattheframingactivitiesofsocialmovements'
own
media,whetherinternallyorexternallydirectedorboth,aresocomprehensivelyoffthemap.Mycritiquehereisnotmeantasacademicsniping,harmlessknockaboutfunthoughthatcanbe.Thegulfbetweenthesebodiesofresearchistothesignaldisad-vantageofadvancedtheorybuildingandthus,ultimatelydamagingtopublicunder-standingofthefulldimensionsofdemocraticprocess.
As
Iaffirmedattheoutset,socialmovementsmatter:theconstructiveones,thedangerousones,andtheconfusedones.Ishallthereforefocushereonabriefcriticalevaluationof(a)somekeytheoriesofsocialmovements,astheyhavedevelopedinsociologyandpoliticalsciencebecauseofthedeclineoftheNewSocialMovements
2
school'sapogeeand(b)certainconceptualassumptionsfoundincurrentresearchonalternativeusesofboththeconventionalmediaandtheInternet.Thismutualinterrogationofbothbodiesofworkisaimedtoadvanceconceptualdepthinboth.Ineed,however,toprefacewhatfollowswithaverybasicobservation,namelythatmorethanmanysocialphenomena,socialmovements,andtheirmediaareoftenfluctuatingandtransitoryandthusespeciallyresistanttoironcladtheorizing.TheyfrequentlydemandthesubtletyanddelicacyofanAntonioGramscioraWilliamsforgenuinelypenetratinganalysis.LatinAmericanresearchershaveespeciallyinsistedontheseissuesandonthecentralityof
process
intheanalysisofsocialmovementmedia(GumucioDagron,2004;Huesca,1995;Rodriguez,2001).So,ifanyonereadingthisislookingforanefficientmasterkey,theyneedtoquestionthegroundsfortheirexpectations.Indeed,whatshouldweincludeinorexcludefromthesocialmovementcate-gory?Anationalrevolution?Fascism?Immigrants'rightscampaigns?Campaignstodenyrefugees'rights?Alocalenvironmentaldefensecampaign?The
cristeros
whosoughttodefendtheCatholicChurchagainstMexico'santiclericalgovernmentinthe1930s?Theglobalantiapartheidmovement?Punkrock?Hiphop?dada?Theglobalsocialjusticemovement?Humanrightsglobalnetworks?Islamistnetworks?

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