Students and Faculty Represent Annenberg at the 2015 Union for Democractic Communications Conference

Annenberg students Rosemary ClarkElisabetta Ferrari, Tim Libert, and Lee McGuigan joined Professor Victor Pickard and George Gerbner Postdoctoral Fellow Garrett Broad at the 2015 Union for Democratic Communications Conference. The conference, which took place in Toronto from April 30 through May 3, was themed "Circuits of Struggle" and highlighted work at the intersection of media and democratic life. 

McGuigan, a second year doctoral student at Annenberg who presented on two panels at the conference, was awarded the Brian Murphy Top Paper award for his project, "Procter & Gamble, Mass Media, and the Making of American Life," recently published in Media, Culture & Society. The Union for Democratic Communications awards the prize annually to one graduate student scholar. 

Professor Pickard presented his work alongside Christina Dunbar-Hester, Anita Say Chan, Deepa Kumar, and Todd Wolfson on a closing plenary entitled, "Ruptures and Critical Junctures: Moments of Media Activism in Historical and Global Contexts."

Annenberg presenters' abstracts are listed below.


Garrett Broad - Stories of Food and Justice: Competing Visions of Youth Empowerment

Citing intersecting concerns related to health, the environment and the economy, critics of the contemporary industrialized food system insist that we are in crisis. Thanks to pressure from advocates, recent years have seen issues related to food, agriculture and nutrition receive a nearly unprecedented level of public and media attention. In documentary films and on network television, in bestselling books and in the halls of the White House, a discursive explosion related to food issues has propelled the "alternative food movement(s)" into international prominence. However, when it comes to providing substantive remedies to many of the food system's most intransigent challenges, the solutions proffered by alternative food movement activists have consistently come up short. Indeed, in the neoliberal environment of the United States, high-profile solutions to food system crises tend to come across as utterly simple and generally solvable through basic individual consumer choices. This philosophical orientation -- perhaps best encapsulated by the dual mantras, "Vote with your fork three times a day," and, "Grow your own" -- often overlooks the dynamics of structural inequality and exploitation that perpetuate injustice in the food system. This presentation highlights the work of advocates who aim to actively advance a vision of "food justice", providing a counter not only to the dominant players in industrial food, but also to elements of the mainstream alternative food movement itself. Grounded within historically marginalized, low-income communities of color, advocates for food justice argue that activities like urban agriculture, cultural nutrition education and foodrelated social enterprises can be an integral part of an agenda for systemic social change. Even still, they insist, such initiatives will only prove transformative if they remain connected to legacies of social justice activism, and in solidarity with ongoing struggles for economic and racial justice in both local and global contexts. Drawing from ethnographic participant observation, interviews and critical media analysis, this work provides a case study of Rooted in Community (RIC), the only national network of community-based organizations working explicitly at the intersection of food justice and youth development in the United States. It describes how the RIC network uses a complement of community organizing tactics, digital media technologies and youth-led conferences to build a collective critical consciousness among engaged 29 young people. At the same time, the research also demonstrates how the work of these food justice activists is simultaneously bolstered and constrained by the activities of media celebrities and media-savvy non-profits who have themselves entered the food politics landscape with great fanfare. Offering insights for scholars, activists, workers and media producers, the work suggests that food justice groups like RIC must continue to develop more sophisticated digital storytelling practices, using media as a way to amplify community voices and advance their ambitious agendas for cultural and policy change. If grassroots advocates are unable to tell their own stories of struggle and success in the quest for food justice, the research argues, someone else will surely try to tell their stories for them.

Rosemary Clark - The Dramatic Form of Hashtag Feminism: A Case Study of #WhyIStayed

The dawn of digital media and social networking sites has reenergized the feminist movement in the United States. Feminist media research, however, has been slow to grasp the full implications of digital media for the movement and social movement research has yet to model the conditions under which activists might successfully mobilize online. This paper responds to Shaw’s (2012) call for feminist researchers working at the intersection of media and social movements to develop a theoretical framework that more accurately depicts the activist work of online feminists, whose alternative media practices challenge existing discourse regarding gender norms and roles. Through a case study of a recent viral feminist Twitter protest that arose in response to the domestic abuse controversy involving NFL running back Ray Rice, #WhyIStayed, I frame U.S. feminists’ digital media practices as an extension of the movement’s historically rooted discursive tactics. Within this framework, online feminism’s narrative form becomes evident and the conditional requirements for a successful, digitally-mediated feminist protest can be understood as the elements of an effective dramatic performance, like those found in compelling theater or story-telling. I 6 identify the examples of the dramatic elements that create the conditions under which routine online interaction becomes online collective action through a textual analysis of 2,657 randomly selected Tweets published under the hashtag #WhyIStayed during the protest’s first month. #WhyIStayed is a compelling example of feminist discursive activism in the form of collective storytelling, wherein the hashtag prompts a particular narrative focus for a user’s personalized expression. But feminists take to Twitter every day, publishing personal narratives under different hashtags with far more limited reach. To what, then, can we attribute the viral success of #WhyIStayed? Using Turner’s (1982) understanding of social drama, I argue that #WhyIStayed resonated with countless people because it followed the narrative logic of a dramatic performance, with a beginning, middle, and end (Poletta, 2006). The #WhyIStayed narrative began with a breaching event when footage of Rice beating his fiancé was leaked, and then rose to the level of social crisis with the appearance of the hashtag, which set the stage for conflict between outraged domestic abuse survivors and the NFL, the narrative’s protagonists and antagonists, respectively. As a social networking site, Twitter is a platform that enables active audience participation, which in turn propelled the action of the #WhyIStayed narrative forward, until it garnered a critical mass of attention that forced the NFL to address the situation by suspending Ray Rice indefinitely. Through the #WhyIStayed case study, this paper advances a theoretical framework that highlights the narrative logic of collective action, so that feminism’s discursive activism and the conditions which enable successful digital protests might be better understood. 

Elisabetta Ferrari - Social Media for the 99%? Rethinking Alternative Media and Social Movements’ Identity in the Corporate Web 2.0

In this paper I investigate the relationship between contemporary social movements and social networking sites, by looking at the social media content production of Occupy Chicago during the protests of May 2012. By critically engaging the literature on social movements and alternative media, I provide an account of the changes brought about by the web 2.0 and I underline how they influence social movement practices. Through a content analysis, I identify the most important functions that social media perform for Occupy Chicago. In contrast to the expectations arising from the literature on social movements and alternative media, my findings show a very limited importance of content that expresses the identity of the movement and criticizes mainstream media, while the preponderance of protest reporting content suggests that activists use social media mainly to inform the public of “what they do”, rather than "who they are". My analysis also finds significant differences between the content produced on Twitter and Facebook, thus showing differences between the patterns of use on the two platforms. The results of my analysis thus point to the need of rethinking theories of alternative media, of investigating the relationship between the affordances of SNS and the political and organizational features of social movements and of better conceptualizing the role of identity-based expression in contemporary activism. Firstly, I argue that theories of alternative media should be rethought to account for the changed nature of Internet communications, the different needs of social movements and their strategic choices. Secondly, I explore the interaction between the features of social media platforms and the political and organizational choices of Occupy. I argue that the lack of “identity content” is the result of the incompatibility between the open and decentralized political processes of Occupy and the individual-centric nature of social media; using corporate platforms did not provide the movement with the means to either promote its multiple and work-in-progress identities or to support processes of inclusive decision-making that could help them come to terms with such different identities. I thus contend that, contrary to the expectations of many, the web 2.0 and corporate SNS do not solve the problems of participation and inclusion, but rather exacerbate them. Lastly, I suggest that we need further research on the action-based, event-driven character of collective identities that my findings point to.

Timothy Libert - The Logic of Connective Surveillance

Recent scholarship on collective action has highlighted the retreat of traditional organizations and the rise of distributed, ad-hoc, issue-based networks. This change has given rise to the theory of "connective action", an Internet-age version of "collective action" in which digital communications networks have supplanted traditional bureaucracies. However, while social movements appear to have become less centralized, they increasingly rely on highly centralized communications infrastructure. This infrastructure is often controlled by a handful of powerful corporations whose business models rely on surveillance to leverage data about user interests in order to create "tailored" advertising. The constellation of companies tracking users online adheres to the theory of the "surveillant assemblage" in which centralized surveillance is supplanted by an array of entities pursuing individualized agendas. This online assemblage of surveillance facilitates mass observation and identification of those participating in, or even curious about, social movements. This surveillance is most plainly visible in social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter where group members are often identified by name. However, there is also a hidden form of surveillance which extends to the websites hosted by social movement organizations as well: that of web tracking. This study investigates the degree to which digital rights organizations do or do not facilitate mass surveillance on their websites via hidden corporate intermediaries. The websites associated with organizations are analyzed to determine whether they are hosted independently or by a centralized commercial organization, if transport encryption is used in the delivery of web content, and to what degree third-party entities may intercept the traffic of those visiting such websites. It has been determined that while the vast majority of sites are independently hosted, only 20% implement transport encryption, and 77% leak user data to third-parties. Given that digital rights movements are far more concerned with privacy and security than other social movements, this finding is cause for concern and highlights the need of greater awareness of this problem within the activist community at large. Finally, suggestions for improved website privacy and security are made in the hope they may be adopted by the full range of activists who use the web for advocacy, education, and organization.

Lee McGuigan - Procter & Gamble, Mass Media, and the Making of American Life

As an unmatched sponsor of commercial broadcasting and a purveyor of ubiquitous homemaking goods, Procter & Gamble has had a profound impact on culture and society in the United States. From a critical political economy approach, this article analyzes P&G's historical contributions to the commercial system of broadcasting in the US. Combining entertainment, industry, and domesticity, the case of P&G provides a unique opportunity to probe the political economy of capitalism in the US, with particular emphasis on commodity consumption and the reproduction of labor power in the home. It is argued that the significance of P&G has less to do with direct message effects, and more to do with the institutional formation of broadcasting as both an advertisersupported industry and a daily ritual commanding human resources of time and attention

Lee McGuigan, Graham Murdock - The Medium is the Marketplace: Producing Consumption in Digital Times

Taking Marx’s analysis as the point of departure, and drawing on a range of concrete examples, this paper argues that rather than concentrating on the “new” forms of social and economic intercourse animated by digital media, and especially internet-enabled mobile devices, critical analysis needs to trace the ways that digital consumption is intensifying the progressive integration of marketing, marketplaces, and payment processing, which has been central to the generation and realization of surplus value from the emergence of the modern consumer system at the turn of the twentieth century. Interrogating new marketing technologies, and attending to their place in a longer history of modern retailing, we consider how the digital media environment contributes to the production of consumption. With the convergence of marketing and marketplace, facilitated by digital forms of credit and payment processing, the motives and manners of modern consumption are pitched toward accelerating circulation. Digital technologies are being mobilized not only as delivery platforms for advertisements, but as instruments for mediating instant, credit-based purchases and harvesting feedback data about consumers and their behaviours. Stimulation of desire through marketing, and the expansion of means of exchange, amplify “consumption capacity” and contribute to an “enriched systems of needs” (Marx, 1973, p. 405-409). The digital mediation of modern consumption illustrates Marx’s assertion that capital development calls into service ever more contrivances for the “annihilation of space by time.” Drawing on the work of Dallas Smythe, we also address how expanding and digitalizing the means of exchange produces consumers as social and economic products: individuals are situated as consumers by being connected to digital marketplaces anywhere, any time; and as people use this infrastructure, marketers produce “consumers” as data-based commodities.

Victor Pickard - History as a Weapon: Destabilizing the Present for an Alternative Future

Historical research can intervene in present policy debates by revealing three general patterns: parallels, contingencies, and forgotten antecedents. Drawing on archival materials, this presentation will trace these patterns in a case study of 1940s American media policy debates and various kinds of reform activism. Resolutions from these policy battles determined the social contract between news media institutions, various publics, and government, especially the Federal Communications Commission. The legacy of these debates has left Americans with a heavily commercialized media system characterized by unaccountable oligopolies, weak regulatory oversight, and systemic market failure. This analysis brings into focus a “history of the present” to highlight the politics and discourses around media infrastructures, and holds much contemporary relevance for debates ranging from net neutrality to the future of journalism. Providing this historical context helps make sense of the impoverished public interest principle in American media policy and the preponderance of monopoly power in US-based communication systems. It also helps explain the logic of corporate libertarianism, which continues to constrain the parameters of legitimate media policy discourse. Situating current policy debates within a longer historical arc also reminds us of a long rich tradition of media reform activism that fought to democratize the American media system by establishing nonprofit, community-controlled news outlets. Knowing this history is a first necessary step toward creating structural alternatives in the digital age.

Victor Pickard - The Postwar Triumph of Corporate Libertarianism and the Future of Media Reform

That the American media system became dominated by lightly-regulated oligopolies— with virtually no competition from alternative models like public media—makes it relatively unique among democratic nations. However, this American exceptionalsim was neither inevitable nor natural; it was historically contingent. A vibrant social democratic challenge was evidenced by reform movements and various forms of media activism in the 1940s, but was largely defeated by red-baiting and the rise of a corporate libertarian logic that demobilized radical reform movements and de-legitimated a progressive, activist state. This presentation will assess this history with an eye toward the present. Instead of lamenting what could have been, the purpose of this research is to draw connections between previous struggles and alternative futures, to learn lessons from past failures, and to see contemporary media reform movements as part of a long historical tradition. Historicizing the ascendance of the corporate libertarian paradigm is the first step toward dismantling it. And it sets the stage for a number of policy interventions meant to remake media systems according to democratic values for the digital age.