Citizen Media and Practice: Abstracts

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Chapter 1 | Practice what you preach? Currents, connections, and challenges in theorizing citizen media and practice
Hilde C. Stephansen & Emiliano Treré


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This chapter explores the past, assesses the present, and delineates the future of a media practice approach to citizen media. The first section provides an extensive overview of the different currents in research on media practices, identifying the antecedents of the media practice approach in several theoretical traditions and highlighting possible points of convergence between them. Hence, we ground the roots of the practice approach in Latin American communication and media studies, we scrutinize Couldry’s conceptualization in connection to theories of practices within the social sciences, and we examine audience research, media anthropology, social movement studies, citizen and alternative media, and Communication for Development and Social Change. The second section takes stock of the current ‘state of the art’ of practice-focused research on citizen and activist media and develops a critical assessment of how the concept of media practices has been used in recent literature, identifying key strengths and shortcomings. In this section, we also discuss the integration of media practices with other concepts, such as mediation, mediatization, media ecologies, media archeology, media imaginaries, and the public sphere. The third section delineates future directions for research on citizen media and practice, reflecting on some of the challenges facing this growing interdisciplinary field. Here, we illustrate how the media practice approach provides a powerful framework for researching the pressing challenges posed by mediatization and datafication. Further, we highlight the need for deeper theoretical engagement, underline the necessity of dialogue between different traditions, and point out some unresolved issues and limitations. The chapter concludes with an outline of the contributions to this edited collection.

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Part I: Latin American communication theory – Introduction by Clemencia Rodríguez


Chapter 2 | The Latin American lo popular as a theory of communication. Ways of seeing communication practices
Omar Rincón & Amparo Marroquín


What anglophone academic circles refer to as ‘media practice’ is known among Latin American scholars as popular communication/popular culture. This chapter introduces six Latin American communication theorists who we consider pioneers in the study of media practices as popular culture; strongly grounded in the Global South, these six pioneers build theory from and with the South. The chapter includes Brazilian Paulo Freire, Spaniard-Colombian Jesús Martín-Barbero, Mexican Carlos Monsiváis, Argentine-Mexican Néstor García Canclini, Mexican Rossana Reguillo, and Ecuadorian Bolívar Echeverría. Here we explore how each of these authors understands popular culture practices as embodied experience, or how people embed media in their everyday lives, and how such practices express issues of submission and resistance against hegemonic forces.


Chapter 3 | Praxis in Latin American communication thought: A critical appraisal
Alejandro Barranquero


Since the final decades of the 20th century, the ideas of praxis and liberation have been central for the construction of Latin American communication thought. Drawing from a rich corpus of praxis-oriented theory and experiences, this chapter reviews how the concept of praxis historically served to combat scientific and sociopolitical dependence, and as an antidote to media instrumentality. From the work of leading pioneers to the contemporary approaches of social movements and indigenous groups, the chapter demonstrates that the media studies ‘turn’ to practice had important antecedents in Latin America, especially in fields such as alternative media, educommunication, reception studies, and communication for development and social change.


Chapter 4 | Educommunication for social change: Contributions to the construction of a theory of activist media practices
Ángel Barbas


This chapter explores the pedagogical dimensions of activist media practices and articulates a series of conceptual tools for analysing and constructing knowledge around these practices. It also contributes to the theory of media practices in contexts of communication activism. Departing from the pedagogical perspective of Communication for Social Change, I analyse the limitations of theories of activist media practice and argue that the epistemology of Educommunication can contribute to improving our understanding of these practices. For this, I propose using ‘Educommunicative diagnosis’ as a toolbox for analysing activist media practices.


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Part II: Activist agency and technological affordances – Introduction by Donatella Della Porta


Chapter 5 | A genealogy of communicative affordances and activist self-mediation practices
Bart Cammaerts


In this chapter, the focus is on the various ways in which activists across time and space have appropriated traditional media – print cultures, audio, and broadcasting – as well as telecommunication and the internet to develop resistance practices. I present a historical dimension and discuss the various ways in which counter-cultures and activists have shaped information and communication technologies into tools of resistance to suit their particular needs. As such, a conceptual connection is made between the self-mediation practices of activists, communicative affordances, and the mediation opportunity structure. Across various media and communication technologies, a set of affordances which enable activist mediation practices are identified. These affordances are situated at the level of i) temporality – linked to the affordances of asynchronous and real-time communicative practices; ii) spatiality – related to the affordance of media and communication technologies to collapse distance, as well as to enable both private and public communicative practices; and iii) resistance – implicating the affordance to circumvent state-imposed limitations and to hack and shape technologies. It is concluded that while the Empire always strikes back, new affordances will be discovered, and new creative workarounds imagined, rejuvenating old practices as well as constituting new ones.


Chapter 6 | Time of protest: An archaeological perspective on media practices
Anne Kaun


This chapter investigates media practices of protest movements from a media archaeological perspective.1 Rather than analyse media as discourse or narratives, media archaeology considers the material properties that constitute media technologies as well as their temporal and spatial consequences. According to Jussi Parikka, media archaeology is interested in ‘materialities of cultural practice, of human activity as embedded in both cognitive and affective appreciations and investments, but also embodied, phenomenological accounts of what we do when we invent, use and adapt media technologies’ (Parikka 2012, p. 163). Hence, in this chapter I investigate the temporal and spatial properties of media technologies employed by activists. The combination of media archaeology and media practice theory is fruitful as it brings together a materialist perspective on media with experiential aspects of media as practice. Empirically, I am drawing on a diachronic, comparative study of media practices of protest movements of the dispossessed. The three movements examined – the unemployed workers’ movement in the 1930s; the tenants’ movement in the 1970s; and Occupy Wall Street in 2011 – emerged in the context of large-scale economic crises and represent attempts at filling the discursive void that the crisis situations induced. Based on extensive archival research in combination with interviews with activists, I argue that activists are navigating shifts in media regimes, from mechanical speed to perpetual flow towards digital immediacy, and from a space to a hyper-space bias. Based on these shifts, activists today are experiencing an increasing desynchronization between media and political practices.


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Part III: Practice approaches to video activism – Introduction by Dorothy Kidd


Chapter 7 | Video activism as technology, text, testimony – or practices?
Tina Askanius


This chapter has two main objectives. The first is to critically review and thematize existing research in the area of video activism by bringing together the diverse but often dispersed literature on this topic. By synthesising scholarship on historic and contemporary forms of video activism, I identify three distinct foci in the literature, each adding valuable but essentially isolated insights to the phenomenon by considering video as either or primarily, technology, text, or testimony. Based on this review, I then demonstrate how a more holistic practice-based approach allows us to appreciate this form of citizen media as not one, but all of these. Such an exercise enables me to identify and attend to gaps in the literature on video activism specifically, while at the same time exploring the opportunities and limitations of putting practice theory at the heart of a unifying framework for research in this area. I argue that an analytical approach anchored in practice theory puts us in a position to ask holistic questions. Rather than repeating conceptual dichotomies such as online/offline, digital/analogue, old/new, mainstream/activist, a practice-based approach addresses the rich ways in which these categories impinge and encroach on each other (Treré & Mattoni, 2016). For these purposes, I draw on the concepts of ‘activist media practices’ (Mattoni, 2012) and ‘citizen media practices’ (Stephansen, 2016) as theoretical orientations for further developing a holistic understanding of video activism as the things activists do, think and say in relation to video for social and political change.


Chapter 8 | Activist media practices, alternative media and online digital traces. The case of YouTube in the Italian Se non ora, quando? Movement
Alice Mattoni & Elena Pavan


The chapter investigates the feminist Se non ora, quando? (SNOQ) demonstration to understand what happens to alternative media when they intertwine with corporate platforms like YouTube. To this aim, the lens of media practice theory is applied to understand the activist media practices that result from the interplay between social media platform affordances and activists’ alternative media. More specifically, the chapter elaborates on activist media practices by starting from the traces that movement actors and supporters leave behind when they exploit specific affordances of mainstream media platforms to produce and circulate alternative content. The analysis suggests that the mainstreaming of alternative media content through YouTube gave rise to hybrid forms of activist media practices that only partially rested on the efforts of collective actors linked to the SNOQ movement, with individual activists and concerned citizens also participating in the production of alternative media content. Furthermore, interactions with platform affordances revealed the different media practices through which activists and other subjects mobilizing outside the SNOQ core contributed to shaping a collective discourse on the movement. Finally, our chapter illustrates yet another way to tackle activist media practices in hybrid media systems, through the use of metadata related to social media.


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Part IV: Acting on media – Introduction by Andreas Hepp


Chapter 9 | Acting on media for sustainability
Sigrid Kannengießer


How do people act in relation to media to contribute to a sustainable society? The chapter answers this research question by explicating the theoretical concept of consumption-critical media practices through a discussion of findings from empirical case studies of media practices located at the levels of media content, appropriation, and production. These examples are online platforms advertising for sustainability, the repairing of media technologies, and the production of fair media devices. The aim of the chapter is twofold. First, the media practice paradigm is introduced into the research field of media, communication, and sustainability as the case studies show what people do in relation to media to contribute to a sustainable society. Second, the chapter argues for a broad understanding of the term media practice: as the empirical case studies that unfold the concept of consumption-critical media studies show, people not only use media to contribute to sustainability, but also act on media when they are repairing media technologies or producing fair media devices. The concept of acting on media which is explicated here relates to media practices in which people, organizations, or collectives place the focus of their action on media technologies themselves: they reflect on devices and their materialities, engage with apparatuses, modify and transform them.


Chapter 10 | Conceptualizing the role of knowledge in acting on media
Hilde C. Stephansen


The term ‘acting on media’ has been proposed (Kubitschko, 2018) as a way to capture activism that focuses explicitly on media technologies, infrastructures, and policies – thus opening up media practice research to a wider range of practices beyond those that involve doing things with media. This chapter further draws out the implications of this conceptual move by problematizing the role of knowledge in media practices. While knowledge has been understood as integral to media practices, it has a contested status among practice theorists, who reject the ‘mentalism’ and rationalist assumptions of much modern social thought. Through a critical review of different conceptualizations of knowledge in practice theory, I argue that activities such as theorizing, reflecting, and analysing should themselves be treated as social practices, and that these kinds of ‘knowledge practices’ should be analysed as a core dimension of media practices. I draw on literature on knowledge production in social movements to develop a framework for analysing such knowledge practices, and illustrate the utility of this framework through a brief case study of the World Forum of Free Media, a global gathering of NGOs and activist groups that mobilize around media and communication.


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Part V: Citizen data practices – Introduction by Helen Kennedy


Chapter 11 | Acting on data(fication)
Stefania Milan

The ongoing process of datafication represents a fundamental paradigm shift in the way we conceive of citizenship and civic life. People increasingly engage in forms of civic engagement that interrogate such a paradigm shift. These innovative instances of collective action acting on data(fication) can be seen as manifestations of data activism, including, for example, affirmative engagement with data as well as resistance to massive surveillance. Such practices are rooted on data and software, and involve both individuals and groups, moving beyond the expert niche of hackers to embrace broader publics. Dialoguing with the sociology of social movements, media studies, and critical data studies, this chapter explores grassroots data politics seen as data practices emerging around data infrastructure. It illustrates tactics, technical identities, and the relation between software and the prefigurative politics of data activists. It analyses how we ought to adapt our understanding of media practice to capture contemporary changes in the nature of technology and information, broadening our understanding of ‘acting on’ datafication by grounding it on software and a novel understanding of information. It concludes by reflecting on the notion of ‘data assemblages’ as a fruitful addition to our interpretation of (media) practice in the age of datafication.


Chapter 12 | Understanding citizen data practices from a feminist perspective: Embodiment and the ethics of care
Aristea Fotopoulou

This chapter traces the relevance of practice theory for understanding datafication from a feminist perspective. The first section shows how the practice paradigm, as developed in the social sciences and in media studies, can be applied in the study of data practices. Here it is argued that the notion of data practice incorporates a range of practices that may not be deemed or intended to be explicitly political, and thus allows us to analyse data politics and power relations in seemingly mundane, everyday settings. The chapter then introduces how the notion of “care”, as developed in feminist science and technology studies (de la Bellacasa 2011), can be a productive analytical and critical approach when scrutinizing the manifestation of power relations in data practices. Approaching data power in everyday data practices as “matters of care” allows us to account for their affective, embodied and material elements, including the habitually devalued human labour of data users, activists, producers, consumers and citizens.

Outlining briefly justice (Dencik et al. 2016, Taylor 2017) and ethics approaches to data power, it is suggested that the notion of care inserts particularity and empathy in social justice frameworks. In this way the chapter maps a theoretical roadmap of feminist data studies and practice theory, which is focused on materiality and embodiment and is committed to unsettling the power relation of race, class, gender and ability in datafied worlds.


Chapter 13 Situating practices in datafication – from above and below
Lina Dencik

Data processes are part of a significant shift in governance in which big data analysis is used to predict, pre-empt, explain, and respond to a range of social issues. Yet we still struggle to account for the ways in which different actors make use of data, and how data is changing the ways actors understand and act in relation to social and political issues. Discussions on datafication have often been limited to a focus on the algorithms and data systems themselves in order to understand their implications. This has meant that discussions on big data have often neglected the social dimension of datafication, instead confining it to a question of technology, and – with that – not fully engaged with the politics of data. Drawing on research on police uses of social media data in the UK, this chapter outlines how researching data-driven decision-making in relation to other social practices can provide crucial insights into the dynamics of datafication and highlight significant areas of tension and struggle. By focusing on practices – at both the level of those creating and/or acting on data profiles, and the level of those subjected to such data profiles – we can begin to uncover key questions about the values and interests that pertain to data in different contexts, how citizens are reconfigured within these constellations, and how they, in turn, might engage with such configurations. The chapter argues that a practice approach allows us to overcome a prominent data centrism in studies of big data.


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