Activism and New Media

Posted in Uncategorized by Lina A.Hadi on March 18, 2011

“Revolution has to be reinvented.. people’s creativity and participation can only be awakened by a collective project explicitly concerned with all aspects of lived experience. The only way to “arouse the masses” is to expose the appalling contrast between the possible construction of life and its present poverty..” (Guy Debord. 1961, ‘Instructions for Taking Up Arms)

The infiltration of social media technologies of basic human behavior has been condemned and criticized thoroughly over the ever-expanding world of the Internet. The most recent of which instigated by Malcom Gladwell’s article “Small Change”, addressing the over-hyped role of social media networks in activist initiatives. Several other columnists in Design Observer, the Guardian and other sites have raised similar qualms and distaste. Sifting through the comments on most of these posts, one would find a recurring objection; if were not for that selfsame technology criticized, many members of the existing audience would not have had access to opinions ventured, nor would the ensuing debate be open to all, academics and non-academics alike.

The shift from recipient audiences and consumers to users and participants induced a heightened collaboration  of creative content production, made more accessible financially and technically by the current social network platforms. Participatory culture has been employed by activist and alternative media throughout its history, exploiting new technologies at the advent of each development. Radio, video and television have been adapted as a medium of advocating social change through counter-cultural initiatives. Social networks, blogs and citizen journalism are some of the most recent additions to the media incorporated into alternative initiatives.

Leah Livrouw defines alternative/activist new media as media that “employ or modify the communication artifacts, practices and social arrangements of new information and communication technologies to challenge or alter dominant, expected or accepted ways of doing society, culture, and politics”, The author goes on to proclaim that “alternative/activist new media projects do not only reflect or critique mainstream media and culture, the constitute and intervene in them” (Lievrouw, 19)

The immediacy, interactivity, and ubiquity of online social technologies is a two-edged sword; providing access to cross-cultural nodes of knowledge also includes nodes of corporate mass media and government surveillance. Private information concerning the users of Facebook, Google and other social network sites is utilized for sponsored ads and demographic analysis. The most popular of these platforms are also carefully monitored by governmental institutions to maintain a tight supervision over activists.

I intend to investigate the roots, influences and development of alternative media and its various genres (culture-jamming, participatory/citizen journalism, mediated mobilization..) within the context of new media technologies, considering as case studies recent activist initiatives and revolutions ( the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, Indymedia London, Wikileaks and Adbusters, for example), and the alternative forms of expression and communication produced.


Bolter, J. & Grusin, R. (2000) Remediation; understanding new media. USA: The MIT Press

Coyer, K. Dowmunt, T and Fountain, A. (2007) The Alternative Media Handbook. New York: Routledge

Graham,N. (2000) Emancipation, the media, and modernity: arguments about the media and social theory. New York: Oxford University Press

Helfand, J. (2001) Screen: essays on graphic design, new media, and visual culture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press

Heller, S. Beirut, M. Drenttel, W. (eds) Looking Closer Five; critical writings on graphic design. New York: Allworth Press.

Heller, S. & Vienne, V. (eds.) (2003) Citizen Designer: perspectives on design responsibility. New York: Allworth Press

Swanson, G. ed. (2000) Graphic Design and Reading: explorations of an uneasy relationship. New York: Allworth Press

Lievrow, L. (2011) Alternative And Activist new media; Digital media and society series. Cornwall; Polity Press

Terranova, T. (2004) Network Culture: Politics for the information age. London: Pluto Press

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2 Responses

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  1. tonycactus said, on March 24, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    Hello Lina

    It all sounds interesting but it is only when u get to the last paragraph that i know what you are talking about! The earlier paragraphs are more statements than argument. You need to start with that last para – then establish what issues you are going to explain/highlight in order to persuade us of your point – leading to a conclusion…
    List the issues you are trying to link and see what order you should talk about them in order to make sense and guide us through.
    would be happy to read a later version.

    • Lina A.Hadi said, on March 26, 2011 at 3:57 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Tony. I’m getting started on the essay itself rather than another synopsis, I’ll send you a draft once I have a solid one going. Thanks for all your help.

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