The Roots of New Media Activism

by Fredrik Sjösten Björn on February 28, 2013 · 1 comment

in Activism,Culture Jamming,New Media

The theoretical roots of New Media Activism (NMA) can be traced back to cultural movements and social movement theory that emerged during the early/mid twentieth century. The two most influential cultural movements for NMA are Dadaism and Situationism.

Dadaism emerged after the First World War as a cultural protest against the dehumanization of mankind due to war, industrialization and mass consumption. It was created mainly by European artists and writers with the purpose to highlight that art can’t be separated from the subjective experiences of everyday life. It was a technically innovative movement using a vide range of different techniques to forward its messages. It used photography, cinema, typography, printing, collage, abstraction and photo montage, merged sculpture, events (drama, music, reading, commenting, and interruption).

Situationism was created by European artists and writers in the mid twentieth century. It combined Dadaism, surrealism and political economic theory (Marxism) with the purpose to criticize modern consumer culture and to help people construct their own alternative, disruptive situations in everyday life that could overturn the dominant media-driven representations of culture and politics. Situationism used a range of different techniques such as writings, films, graffiti, posters, comic book arts, drama (improvised costumes and street theatre) to spread their messages. They also used different strategies in their communication, dérive (drifting and redefining the meaning of public space through observation, encountering and interpretation), and détournement (collage and montage technique to create new works from “found” cultural materials with the emphasis on subverting or inverting the original meanings).

The NMA roots is Dadaism and Situationism are important and relevant because they connect NMA with a tradition of political (cultural) movements with political objectives, that are critical towards dominant economic and political regimes, and uses media technologies to confront and intervene in mainstream culture and politics. (Lievrouw 2011, p. 29-41)

The roots of NMA in social movement theory, especially new social movement theory (NSM theory) emerging in the mid twentieth century are essential for a deeper understanding of NMA. The key feature of NSM that separates it from earlier forms of social movements concerns both actors and action. Actors in NSM are to be seen as independent knowledge/information workers with a focus on the construction and sharing of common subjectivity (construction and control of information). Their actions are organized in loosely affiliated, informal, anti-hierarchical networks, are integrated in everyday life, using media and ICT to a large extent, and rely on expressive, creative, ad hoc disruption and resistance. NSM’s also tends to become “transnational” (extend over time and geographic boundaries), because they realign and reorganize themselves continually around different objectives and issues (Lievrouw 2011, p.41-59).

Culture Jamming, one of five different main genres in NMA according to Lievrouw, using and adopting the forms, styles and conventions of popular culture and commerce (entertainment, advertising, marketing, fashion, corporate branding) with the purpose of subverting and critiquing them is a good example of NMA that clearly builds on the theoretical roots from the past. In Culture Jamming both new social movement theory, Situationism and Dadaism are frequently used (Lievrouw 2011, p.98).

 Reference: Lievrouw, Leah (2011) Alternative and Activist New Media. Oxford: Polity Press

 

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Erika Lynn Wolfe March 19, 2013 at 5:36 am

Actors and actions are multifaceted and tie in to what I started to discuss in my post about participation (this also ties into one of the underlying ideas of comdev).

In my various readings, I came across a chapter, “Culture Jamming as Critical Public Pedagogy”, in Handbook of Public Pedagogy: Education and Learning Beyond Schooling, which described culture jammers as “active producers and participants who actively ‘resist, critique, appropriate, reuse, recreate, and alter cultural products and entertainment’”. It goes on to nominate culture jamming as a “powerful public pedagogy” – I thought that the educational application was interesting looking at it through the lens of actor/action and participation because it seems that anyone can act as participant and in this way anyone can be a teacher or learner. I thought that with (formal) education largely being seen and treated like a very rigid and structured thing, it was innovative to apply culture jamming and this decentralized approach to it (which connects to what you wrote in that educational forms can also offer “independent knowledge/information workers with a focus on the construction and sharing of common subjectivity (construction and control of information). Their actions are organized in loosely affiliated, informal, anti-hierarchical networks, are integrated in everyday life, using media and ICT to a large extent, and rely on expressive, creative, ad hoc disruption and resistance”). (Some of this can extend to works of Paulo Freire.)

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