Alternative "Journalisms," Social Movement Computer Networks and Africa

By Murphy, Brian Martin | Critical Arts, July 1999 | Go to article overview

Alternative "Journalisms," Social Movement Computer Networks and Africa


Murphy, Brian Martin, Critical Arts


This paper presents data illustrating how the use of international computer-network media for the circulation of journalism increases the reach and availability of non-hegemonic reportage about Africa.

THE PAPER IS stimulated by a stream of `Critical Cultural Studies' research into the structures and discourses of culture, of which journalism is but one. This stream of research shifts the focus from "what gets represented" in culture/journalistic discourse to a more complex consideration of power relations in discourse: who, formed by what context and empowered by which political/economic networks, gets to tell stories (encoding) and how and in what context of domination are these stories understood (decoded). (1)

One trajectory, on the encoding side of this complex proposal, leads to the question, "who has the power to make certain representations of events become hegemonic discourse? Stuart Hall would ask "who gets to make the meaning stick". (2) Some answers have been provided by conducting integrated political economic and sociological studies into the structuring of journalism and how these contexts link up with discourse and ideology to produce `hegemonic representations'. (3)

At the same time, the Critical Cultural Studies paradigm insists that in addition to dissecting `hegemony' researchers recognise and study forms of negotiation, contestation, and resistance--popular culture. (4) This leads to an investigation of how apparently one dimensional power relations may be engaged in ways that perforate seemingly hermetic and dominant forms of hegemony and, at the same time, how `the popular' is inscribed by those struggles. (5) It reveals for examination "alternative journalisms" that are not so much heroic "others" as much as they are tactical engagements by active audiences. (6)

Research into many cultures, and in the global spaces of international exchange, shows that there are networks of hegemony dominating the structures of cultural reproduction (7) and circulating pejorative stereotypes. (8) But at the same time, there are veins of negotiation, contestation and resistance shot through each form of communication between the dominant and the dominated. (9)

This paper asks if the pattern holds for the new communication form of cyberspace computer networks, particularly in the case of journalistic discourses for or about Africa.

Previous research has shown that the introduction of computer communications reproduces the dominance of existing hegemonic political and economic structures. (10) Part of this rule includes a Derridean `master narrative' that makes the history of the Internet the history of all computer networking media forms, erasing other possible developmental trajectories and culminating in an inevitable commercial form. (11) But by employing the Critical Cultural paradigm it is possible to categorize five different streams of computer network history in terms of social uses. Each stream has its own protocols, politics, constituencies and cultures. (12) See Figure I (the five forms of computer network cyberspace)

[FIGURE I OMITTED]

The end game for this five fold multivariate computer network cyberspace transpired during the first half of the 1990s. Three political activities in the United States converged to make a commercialised Internet the dominant model. The management of Internet hub technology was increasingly privatised away from public agencies. The Internet's own "acceptable Use Policy" was amended by committee and law to admit and prioritise commercial utilisation. The United States telecommunications act of 1996 and subsequent ad hoc administrative rulings enforced commercial market mechanisms as the norm for public data networks. (13) In effect, the Internet was gifted to private commercial interests without requirement of fees, royalties or licences: privatising a public service developed over 30 years with more than a billion USA tax payer dollars.

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