What is meant by community? What is community media? Why is it important in terms of social change?
These questions are the starting point of the journey into exploring community media and in this post I will try to answer the questions from the perspective of Kevin Howley with reference to his book Community Media – People, Places, and Communication Technologies from 2005.
Regarding the first question, What is meant by community? – I have chosen three different but equally interesting definitions of community which Howley has applied. One definition, which originates from political scientist Benedict Anderson, refers to the nation-state and the ever so powerful print-capitalism. Howley cites Anderson who argues that the production and ritual consumption of daily newspapers creates simultaneity and a common symbolic space for inhabitants of the nation. However, it is not just the production of news papers but also e.g. record keeping, novels and bureaucratic prints which creates the imagined community of nationalism and sustains a deep, horizontal comradeship.
The second definition Howley apply is from anthropologist Anthony Cohen who means that borders and boundaries which construct communities are in large symbolically constructed and that they both contain and differentiate. Theses symbolic practices define whether you belong to a community or not and they can be simple things as how to dress and speak and how not to dress and speak. Therefore communities are “expressions of commonality as well as difference”.
Next, Howley brings up Stuart Hall’s Articulation theory which explores the connections of elements. The connection, or linkage, can be as simple as the truck and a trailer pulled by the truck but also more complicated as the alliance between social actors in politics. Hall also states that these connections are volatile and contingent. Howley concludes that “articulation offers a way to conceptualize community as a unity of differences; a unity forged through symbol, ritual, language and discursive practices”.
Hopefully we now have a fair idea of how Howley defines community and I will move on to the next question – What is community media? And Howley actually, has a very clear idea of what community media is and in just a few sentences states that it is grassroots or locally oriented media initiatives based on a dissatisfaction of mainstream media and the form this media takes. Moreover, community media is sprung out of the principles of free expression and participatory democracy and it strives to strengthen community relations and to encourage community solidarity. Howley also means that community media are popular and strategic interventions committed to democratization of media structures. Popular in the meaning that it takes care of the local needs of information and connectivity; strategic in the meaning that the purpose asserts collective identity and local autonomy in a time where media ownership is unusual on a local level. Howley gives examples on what community media encompasses by mentioning direct action campaigns, trade union and media work reforms, culture jamming, communication scholarship and other critical interventions struggling for communicative democracy.
The third question – Why is it important in terms of social change? – is partly answered on in the previous part of this post; Howley argues that community media is part of the process and a necessity for democracy. In four chapters he makes case studies of community media initiatives and analyses these from, among other perspectives, a social change perspective. Howley is interested in the technologies which are usable for community media and the case studies are related to radio, television, print and computer networks. One of the case studies are on a TV channel called DCTV and I will complete this post by citing Howley: “DCTV rearticulates a familiar technology and in so doing promotes progressive social change, enhance cross cultural communication and creates a more democratic media culture”.
Howley, K. 2005: Community Media – People, Places, and Communication Technologies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
This blog post will be discussed along with the posts by Dawood and Elias on the same subject (but other books) in a Google Hangout which you are welcome to watch live or retroactively.