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Power Politics of Resistant Media: Critical Voices From Margins to Center

Mon, May 28, 9:30 to 10:45, Hilton Old Town, Floor: M, Chopin

Session Submission Type: Roundtable Proposal


Whether conceptualized as alternative (Downing, 2001), tactical (de Certeau, 1984), counterpublic (Fraser, 1992; Warner, 2002), resistant (Portwood-Stacer, 2014), or countercultural (Lingel, 2017; Turner, 2010), theories of alternative and activist media require, even as a form of opposition, traditional power relations. By working against mainstream or dominant media practices, subversive media effectively require the authority of the institutions and practices being contested. Moreover, to categorize resistant media practices as forms of counterconduct is, arguably, to position resistance as beneath, less than, or peripheral to the practices against which resistance works. Do these oppositional categories foreclose analysis, or does this vocabulary illuminate meaningful power imbalances in productive ways? Are new or updated concepts needed, especially as digital media platforms blur the boundaries between the mainstream and the marginal, or do these enduring terms help trace important continuities across generations of activist media-makers? As we theorize voices from the margins, what power dynamics or relationships need to be identified, theorized, and contested?

Through a range of different case studies and methodologies, this panel considers the implications of thinking about counterconduct as being, in de Certeauian terms, of the weak. Each panelist will take up a particular keyword or concept for theorizing alterity and, drawing on stories from the field, discuss whether this analytic has served as a useful entry point for interpretation or an obstacle to analysis in their own research.

Rosemary Clark-Parsons (University of Pennsylvania) will discuss de Certeau’s concept of “tactics” within the context of her ethnographic work among grassroots feminist collectives in the city of Philadelphia.

Christina Dunbar-Hester (University of Southern California) will consider acts of boundary drawing and demonstrate that how activists define what is “in bounds” for intervention has consequences.

Sarah J. Jackson (Northeastern University) will reflect on the usefulness of counterpublic theory for analyzing the role Twitter plays in contemporary racial justice and gender justice movements.

Jessa Lingel (University of Pennsylvania) will focus on “mainstream creep,” referring to the uneasy relationships between countercultural communities and dominant media platforms, where the former uses the latter reluctantly or in highly-limited ways.

Christo Sims (University of California, San Diego) will concentrate on the need for place-based or situated thinking in the context of marginalized media practices.

Catherine Knight Steele (University of Maryland, College Park) will discuss black feminist keywords for analyzing digitally mediated discourse and activism at the margins.

Taken together, these reflections from the field are meant to inform critical work on marginalized voices, experiences, and media, particularly in the context of how researchers represent groups who are in some way marginalized. Ultimately, for researchers working at the intersection of media, alterity, and social justice, this panel interrogates the political, methodological, and theoretical implications of the terminology we bring with us into the field.


de Certeau, M. (1984). The practice of everyday life, vol. 1. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Downing, John D. H. (2001). Radical media: Rebellious communication and social movements. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Fraser, N. (1992). Rethinking the public sphere: A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy. In C. Calhoun (Ed.), Habermas and the public sphere (pp. 109-142). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Lingel, J. (2017). Digital countercultures and the struggle for community. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Portwood-Stacer, L. (2013). Lifestyle politics and radical activism. London: Bloomsbury Press.

Turner, F. (2010). From counterculture to cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the rise of digital utopianism. University of Chicago Press.

Warner, M. (2002). Publics and counterpublics. Public Culture 14(1), 49-90.

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