Citizen Media and Public Spaces: Abstracts

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citizen media and public spaces imageAbstracts:


Editors’ Introduction:

Reconceptualizing Citizen Media. A Preliminary Charting of a Complex Domain
Mona Baker & Bolette B. Blaagaard

[Free PDF download available, courtesy of Routledge]

This chapter draws on established scholarship in a variety of disciplines, the rich contributions to the current volume, and a wide range of concrete examples of different practices to chart the territory of citizen media as an emerging fi eld of study and offer a critical examination of the main concepts that underpin it: public(s), citizen/citizenship and media.  It further explores a range of features that characterize and delimit the concept of citizen media from related terms such as citizen and participatory journalism; alternative, radical and community media; and social and digital media. We conclude with a provisional definition of citizen media that encompasses content and practices, values and narratives, the collective and the individual, the local and the global, and the concrete and the virtual, and that acknowledges the complex dynamic of appropriation and reverse appropriation within which all citizen media initiatives operate.

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Part I: Empowering Citizens

Understanding Citizen Media as Practice: Agents, Processes, Publics
Hilde Stephansen

Much recent commentary on citizen media has focused on online platforms as means through which citizens may disseminate self-produced media content that challenges dominant discourses or makes visible hidden realities. This chapter goes beyond a concern with media content to explore the much broader range of socially situated practices that develop around citizen media. Drawing on Couldry’s proposal for a practice paradigm in media research, it suggests shifting the focus from ‘citizen media’ to ‘citizen media practices’ and demonstrates, through a case study of communication activism in the World Social Forum, how this framework can bring into view a broad range of citizen media practices (beyond those directly concerned with the production and circulation of media content), the different forms of agency that such practices make possible, and the social fabric they can help generate. I conclude by arguing that a practice framework necessitates a rethink of the way that the concept of (counter-) publics is used in the context of citizen media. Citizen media practices of the kind described here can be understood not only as practices of ‘making public’ previously unreported issues and perspectives, but as practices of public­-making: practices that support the formation of publics.


Frontiers of the Political: ‘Closed Sea’ and the Cinema of Discontent
Sandra Ponzanesi

This chapter explores some of the ways in which cinema as a medium can offer possibilities for civic action and political transformations. It proposes in particular an analysis that foregrounds the relationship between postcolonial cinema and citizen media as a way of articulating active participation that manages not only to transform public space but also to propose alternative visual registers. Postcolonial cinema, I argue, contests mainstream and dominant visual registers that propose stereotypical or biased representations of the Other, undoing tropes of mastery and control by offering, or opening up, the space for different voices and viewpoints. The argument is developed through an analysis of Mare Chiuso (Closed Sea, Italy, 2012), a documentary film by Andrea Segre and Stefano Liberti, focusing in particular on the video footage produced by the refugees themselves during the Italian push-back operations in the Mediterranean, which features in the film. Interpreted as an example of citizen media, the miraculously saved video footage becomes a symbol for self-representation as well as political self-determination.


Citizen Mediations of Connectivity: Narrowing the ‘Culture of Distance’ in Television News
Bolette B. Blaagaard & Stuart Allan

In striving to contribute to recent conceptualizations of citizen engagement with digital technologies in war and conflict reporting, this chapter initiates a return to the work of the cultural theorist Raymond Williams, especially his concept of a ‘culture of distance’ in his critique of television news. Against this backdrop, the chapter proceeds to provide a close reading of a first-hand video documenting an Israeli air strike on a crowded marketplace in Gaza in July 2014, during which Palestinian photojournalist Rami Rayan was killed. The footage of the incident – shot by his assistant, who had picked up his camera from the ground – was shared by ordinary citizens across social networking sites (including by author Naomi Wolf on her Facebook page), thereby attracting the attention of mainstream media. This instance of how improvised reportage underwent a citizen-driven ‘spiral of amplification’ (Hall et al. 1978) effectively underscores how journalistic imperatives can be decisively recast by citizen-led interventions. Specifically, such renegotiations of the culture of distance, we argue, re-articulate the local within the global, thereby signalling the potential of citizen mediations to narrow, if not collapse, certain ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomies indicative of so much war and conflict reporting.

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Part II: Questions of Performance and Affect

Theatricality and Gesture as Citizen Media: Composure on a Precipice
Jenny Hughes & Simon Parry

We are living in a century in which theatrical forms of activism proliferate. From the occupations of the global justice movement to the uprisings across the Arab world and beyond, artists and performance groups have played significant roles in protest events, drawing on bodies, text, image and movement as imaginative projections against the perceived order of things. This chapter explores the theatrical protest ‘gesture’, taking as its starting point Giorgio Agamben’s (2000) characterization of gesture as ‘pure means’ – refusing the separation of action into means and ends. Gestures of protest in recent times – occupying, swarming, dancing, impersonating, blogging, hacking, tweeting – carry traces of former activist modes, and extend the domains of activism from the public life of the street and the theatre stage, to the private domain of the mobile phone and laptop. We explore a range of these gestural techniques, and drawing on the ideas of Brian Rotman and Paolo Virno propose three gestural grammars of protest: gestures of exception, gestures of domesticity and the ecological gesture. We argue that these grammars figure modes of political subjectivity and relation in a world that renders life precarious and in which there is no place to stand outside.

Nanodemonstrations as Media Events: Networked Forms of the Russian Protest Movement
Evgenia Nim
Translated by Ksenia Gusarova

Nanodemonstrations first became part of the Russian protest campaign for fair elections in 2012. Originating in the northern town of Apatity, a wave of doll protests – demonstrations and other citizen actions staged by using Lego dolls and soft toys – swept over many Russian cities. Replacing humans, toys acted as Latour’s actants, with nanodemonstrations offering a perfect example of things striking back (Latour 2000). This symbolic protest, which involved occupying minimal urban public space, quickly spilled over into virtual space and became a media event. The media, including social media, worked as a multiplier of not only visual and verbal representations of the nanodemonstration as a new form of protest but of the performance itself. The staging of nanodemonstrations, now organized as media events, soon spread to many Russian cities. Focusing on the mutual transformations of the real and the virtual, or their fusion, which when replicated manifold recalls Jean Baudrillard ҆s notion of ‘simulacrum’, this chapter examines potential theoretical models and frameworks that can be deployed to analyse similar mediatized and theatrical forms of civil resistance.

The Politics of Affect in Activist Amateur Subtitling: A Biopolitical Perspective
Luis Pérez-González

Self-mediated audiovisual content produced by ordinary citizens on digital media platforms reveals interesting aspects of the negotiation of affinity and antagonism among members of virtual transnational constituencies. Based on Pratt’s (1987) conceptualization of contact zones, this chapter examines the role played by communities of activist subtitlers – characterized here as emerging agents of political intervention in public life – in facilitating the transnational flow of self-mediated textualities. I argue that by contesting the harmonizing pressure of corporate media structures and maximizing the visibility of non-hegemonic voices within mainstream-oriented audiovisual cultures, activist subtitling collectivities typify the ongoing shift from representative to deliberative models of public participation in post-industrial societies. The chapter also engages with the centrality of affect – conceptualized from the disciplinary standpoint of biopolitics (Foucault 2007, 2008) – as a mobilizing force that fosters inter-subjectivity within and across radical subtitling collectivities. Drawing on an example of how emotions reverberate within a virtual community of amateurs subtitling the controversial BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares into Spanish, I examine how affect is generated by the practices surrounding the production and reception of subtitled material, and how the circulation flows of content through digital communication systems contribute to assembling an audience of affective receptivity.

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Part III:The Personal and the Political


Media Participation and Desiring Subjects
Sara Beretta

Media participation has been a growing phenomenon in China since the late 1990s and has given rise to a wide range of outputs – from the ‘New Chinese Documentary Movement’ to egao and shanzhai videos on the Internet, and from semi-journalistic reportages to satirical spoofs and cellflix sharing on social networks. Much of this output is produced by amateurs and ordinary citizens, thus enhancing plural forms of participation and activism in which netizens have played a prominent role. This chapter explores the connections between citizens’ online behaviour and their offline practices and aspirations. I argue that beyond resistance, activism and participation, unofficial media production and consumption are motivated by individualist aspirations, a quest for enjoyment and for fulfilling personal desires. Technological empowerment therefore does not necessarily enhance artistic and social power but is part of a broader pattern of social change whose influence extends to mainstream media. I analyse semi-professional and amateur video productions in relation to authors’ everyday life, mainly in Shanghai and Beijing, to demonstrate how engagement with social issues such as house demolition and urban alienation can also provide opportunities for articulating personal desires and aspirations.

Participatory Urbanism: Making the Stranger Familiar and the Familiar Strange
Stine Ejsing-Duun

Although urban areas are planned structures, they afford physical spaces for various types of expression and participation that are not anticipated in the original plans. One way in which citizens can influence the contours of the urban landscape is through leisure practices, but they can only do so if they are aware of the impact of their behaviour on their physical surroundings. This chapter explores some of the ways in which citizens engage in leisure activities in order to co-create urban space. It demonstrates how locative media allow participants to negotiate the structures designed by those in power and alert citizens to their influence. The chapter also explores aspects of the merging of urban and digital spaces to document experiences that relate to ownership of urban space and offer participants a fresh perspective on their surroundings. Locative media projects, I argue, are political artefacts that impact the relationship between participants and their surroundings, and designing them thus demands attention to how such artefacts position participants and non-participants in the project. The chapter outlines a participatory and political approach to designing locative media that aims to make the familiar strange as well as making strangers familiar.

Ironic ‘Resistance’ in Chinese Citizen Media Online
Astrid Nordin

Chinese netizens have developed various strategies to circumvent government censorship of the Internet, giving rise to a subculture known as egao. One aspect of this ironic egao culture is the play with homonymous or near-homonymous words that can help an individual get through censorship software whilst simultaneously critiquing and ridiculing the censorship. This chapter draws on a range of online materials to discuss this form of ironic engagement in Chinese citizen media online, and the assumptions with which scholars approach its study. Where much previous scholarship has attempted to pin down this form of expression to mean only one thing, particularly focusing on whether or not it constitutes a form of political resistance, this chapter argues instead that what is most interesting about many examples of egao is their undecidability as simultaneously either/or and neither/nor. It suggests that making the a priori assumption that these phenomena have to mean only one thing, either resistance or not resistance, will hinder rather than help researchers in understanding their complex role in the political play of Chinese citizen media.
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Part IV: Processes of Appropriation: Whose Agenda?

The Securitization of Citizen Reporting in Post-Arab Spring Conflicts
Lilie Chouliaraki

Digital platforms have been celebrated for enabling citizens to bring their own witnessing accounts into global visibility. But how is citizen voice from war zones embedded in Western news platforms and how does it act as a form of journalistic witnessing? How does citizen witnessing portray civilian suffering and what forms of responsibility and action does it make available towards this suffering? This chapter addresses these questions through the new conceptual lens of citizen voice as a ‘securitization of news’: a discursive practice of digital journalism that prioritizes the reporting on human suffering as a cause for concern and possibly action for the West over the reporting of other (strategic, military or political) perspectives on conflict,. My comparative analysis of two of BBC’s convergent news streams from Libya and Syria demonstrates that differences in BBC’s digital incorporation of citizen voice across streams produce variations in the securitization of news across contexts; and that such variations have important implications for the discourses of responsibility and action that each piece of news articulates. The findings throw into relief the hierarchies of place and human life that continue to govern the institutional flow of global news.

The People Formerly Known as the Oligarchy: The Cooptation of Citizen Journalism
Julia Rone

The concentration of media, business and political power in the hands of few oligarchs was targeted in a series of popular protests in Bulgaria throughout 2013-2014. In a situation of increasing media monopolization and unclear media ownership, the importance of independent sources of information was acknowledged by all protesters. And yet, as this chapter demonstrates, the citizen media that flourished during that period of popular unrest conformed to the already existing patterns of unclear ownership, low quality journalism and promotion of oligarchic interests. The citizen journalism efforts that emerged with the mission to target the oligarchy and the party model clearly served the interests of the main oligarchic circles in the country while hiding behind the rhetoric of democratization and participation. Evidence to support this argument is drawn from the accusations exchanged between Bivol (Bulgarian version of Wikileaks) and ANONYMOUS BULGARIA, and between the two circles of media around the sites and Instead of addressing the shortcomings of traditional media, these citizen media initiatives are shown to have simply reproduced the same problems online and failed to meet the standards of media accountability.

Memory, Guardianship and the Witnessing Amateur in the Emergence of Citizen Journalism
Karen Cross

This chapter focuses on the circulation and display of camera phone images taken during the London Bombings in July 2005. It considers how such creations became meaningful within the emerging field of citizen journalism during that period and argues that the aesthetics of the amateur played a key role in terms of shifting the institutional lens of reporting. The journalistic use of family photographs, for example, evoked a national outpouring of grief and sentimentalism (Rose 2010). Although representing a departure from traditional uses of the camera, the use of camera phone images provoked a similar emotional response. Images taken on mobile phones stood to represent that which had previously been absent from the professional frame, and as such they articulated a new direction for the practice of news journalism. By creating what is referred to here as ‘transitional objects’, camera phone images can be understood as offering not only a new guarantee of authenticity but also a point in relation to which anxieties and hopes about the new landscape of citizen media practice came to be articulated by amateurs and professionals alike.
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