Activists

A key aspect of the media-politics relationship is the influence of media forms and texts on political activism. The challenge for the researcher is to grasp and understand the relationship between media technology and actors, on the one hand, and protesters, on the other, in the context of social and political change. The way that dissenters have been viewed over the years, and their empowerment through new media forms, highlights more general changes in power relations under globalization, and highlights the role of media technology and representation in that relationship.

protest timeline and key moments in the media-activist relationship • problems facing activists • activist exploitation of potential of media technology • mediation opportunity structures • collective and connective action  

To think about: is the changing face of activism a good or bad thing? When people express their outrage at injustices by retweeting or commenting or changing our Facebook status, are they engaging in active resistance and perhaps even contributing to the building of collective identities and the increasingly global awareness of the need for change?

Key Concepts: key concepts: network, participation, mediation opportunity structure, collective and connective action, public screen, networked public sphere.

Further reading: classic studies of media coverage of demonstrations; things to read on how digital media have impacted on activism; the transnational nature of contemporary protest; the visual aspects of mediated protest; cultural dramaturgy; the media and the Arab uprisings; other works on media and protest 

Caption: An anti-government protester documents a rally in Bangok, December 2013. Copyright: 1000 Words/Shutterstock.

Primary Sources

A discussion between a journalist - Paul Mason, author of the influential It’s Kicking Off All Over the Place and Why It’s Still Kicking Off - and activist respondents in Occupy Everything is worth studying, because it deals with the global dimension, is a conversation between journalist and activist(s), and highlights the role of new technology. Both exist in book form, but can also accessed as blogs: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/paulmason/2011/02/twenty_reasons_why_its_kicking.html http://www.scribd.com/doc/79641340/Occupy-Everything-Reflections-on-why-it’s-kicking-off-everywhere Activist websites comprise another research resource. Analyses could involve inquiring into how they formulate the communicative challenges facing their organization and what strategies they use to overcome them. A good place to start to get ideas is Put People First (http://www.putpeoplefirst.org.uk). Not to be missed is Anonymous (http://anonnews.org) The appendix in Lim (2013) provides addresses to Malaysian video-sharing websites, for those interested in analysing video activism that advocates human rights and social and political justice (Lim, J.B. Y. (2013) ‘Video blogging and youth activism in Malaysia’, The International Communication Gazette 75(3): 300-321). Mishal Husain’s documentary on the role of cameras and satphones in the Syrian uprising is still available on the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-14914765.

Research topics

One way of researching mediated activism is to analyse mainstream news reports of protest, and comparing how different protest issues, taking place in different places, fit into the narrative frameworks of media outlets in different political cultures. Events of the last five years provide ample material. See screeningprotest.com for ideas.

The researcher interested in mediated activism could also take up the gauntlet laid down by Caemmerts, who notes that a rucial aspect of mediation that ‘is under-developed and needs to be articulated further’ is the relationship between the mediation of protest performances and audiences/publics. We urgently need a more detailed understanding of how protest and its mediation is received and decoded in different ways by increasingly fragmented populations; those in whose name protest is often staged’ . Cammaerts, B. (2012) ‘Protest logics and the mediation opportunity structure’, European Journal of Communication 27(2). 117-134.