Because of the field’s foundational concerns with both social power and media, communication scholars have long been at the center of scholarly thought at the intersection of social change and technology. Early critical scholarship in communication named media technologies as central in the creation and maintenance of dominant political ideologies and as a balm against dissent among the masses. This work detailed the marginalization of groups who faced restricted access to mass media creation and exclusion from representational discourse and images, alongside the connections of mass media institutions to political and cultural elites. Yet scholars also highlighted the ways collectives use media technologies for resistance inside their communities and as interventions in the public sphere. Following the advent of the World Wide Web in the late 1980s, and the granting of public access to the Internet in 1991, communication scholars faced a medium that seemed to buck the one-way and gatekeeping norms of others. There was much optimism about the democratic potentials of this new technology. With the integration of Internet technology into everyday life, and its central role in shaping politics and culture in the 21st century, scholars face new questions about its role in dissent and collective efforts for social change. The Internet requires us to reconsider definitions of the public sphere and civil society, document the potentials and limitations of access to and creation of resistant and revolutionary media, and observe and predict the rapidly changing infrastructures and corresponding uses of technology—including the temporality of online messaging alongside the increasingly transnational reach of social movement organizing. Optimism remains, but it has been tempered by the realities of the Internet’s limitations as an activist tool and warnings of the Internet-enabled evolution of state suppression and surveillance of social movements. Across the body of critical work on these topics particular characteristics of the Internet, including its rapidly evolving infrastructures and individualized nature, have led scholars to explore new conceptualizations of collective action and power in a digital media landscape.
Sarah J. Jackson
João R. Caetano and Alexandra F. Martins
Politics is a field of interaction between a multiplicity of actors—both individual and collective—with different interests operating in the so-called public space and trying to influence the outcomes of the state’s (or groups of states’) action, typically public policies. In politics, people do not defend their interests alone but within groups and in relation to other groups, which presupposes a communication strategy and tactics. The diversity of political and social groups has not ceased to grow in recent decades throughout the world, particularly in democratic systems, with implications for the way politics and democracy are depicted by the media, as well as the way the make-up of public policies is analyzed. This important issue gets at the essence of politics and of society, in relation to communication processes, and is subject to new interdisciplinary approaches and developments in social science, particularly in political communication (the study of the connections between politics and citizens and the interactions connecting groups). Political and social groups are groups composed of two or more people who interact and maintain relations of interdependence in order to obtain power, stay in power, or influence policy makers, in their own interest. Every day, people see the action of political and social groups when they watch television, listen to the radio, access the Internet, or simply talk with other people, in different situations. In fact, an isolated person would not need politics. Only the necessity of regulating relations between people in society explains the creation of politics and the action of political and social groups through the use of communication tools. Political and social groups can be categorized in different ways, according to their structure, functions, and types of activity. According to a structural perspective, political and social groups can be classified as political institutions, political and social (nonstate or public) organizations, and social movements. One can distinguish between permanent and nonpermanent groups, depending on their expected or usual time of duration, and based on function there are: public and private groups, interest aggregation groups, and interest articulation groups. Lastly, according to their activities, there are institutional and noninstitutional groups, taking into account their role in political decision-making processes. During the early 21st century, the use of technology has revolutionized the way people conceive of politics. Networks brought with them new social demands and forms of public scrutiny. As a result political and social groups have been experimenting with new ways of doing politics as they break with the past. These new facts require social scientists—facing a new and demanding scientific challenge—to rethink the politics of today in relation to society. Communication is important because it relates to many of these political dynamics.
John D. H. Downing
Social movements are the matrix of many forms and formats (technologies, genres) of media that contest dominant power. Such media are in many ways the lifeblood of such movements. Media activism denotes collective communication practices that challenge the status quo, including established media. Frequently, such media are underfunded or unfunded and have a much shorter life cycle than capitalist, state, or religiously funded media. They are a “tribe” within a much larger continent of nanomedia (also called alternative media and citizens’ media). Their functions may spill over at times within the operation of established media, especially in times of social turbulence and crisis. The “dominant power” in question may be quite variously perceived. Extreme-right populist movements, as in several European countries, may define the political establishment as having betrayed the supposed racial purity of the nation, or in the case of India’s Islamophobic Hindutva movement, as having traduced the nation’s religious purity. Labor movements may attack capital, feminist movements, or patriarchal and sexist structures. Sometimes these movements may be local, or regional; other times, they are transnational. The impact of these media is still a matter of considerable debate. Often, the debate begins from a false premise—namely, the frequently small size and/or duration of many social movement media projects. Yet women’s right to vote and the abolition of slavery in the Americas were not won overnight, and neither was the dismantling of South Africa’s racist apartheid system. The Hindutva movement goes back over a century. We should not hold social movement media to a higher standard of impact, any more than we should ascribe instantaneous power to established media. Social movements wax and wane, and so do their media projects. But the persistence of some such media activism between the peaks of movement activism is generally essential to the regeneration of social movements.
George Cheney and Debashish Munshi
Alternative organizational culture is an evocative yet ambiguous term. In disciplines like communication, sociology, anthropology, management, economics, and political science, the term leads us not only to consider existing models and cases of organizing differently from the norm but also to imagine paths and possibilities yet to be realized. The ambiguity and referents of the term are important to probe. The term and its associations should be understood historically as well as culturally. Alternative organizational culture also implies certain dialectics, leading to questions about both principles and applications.