Alternative Media and Social Justice Movements: The Development of a Resistance Performance Paradigm of Audience Analysis

By Atkinson, Joshua; Dougherty, Debbie S. | Western Journal of Communication, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Alternative Media and Social Justice Movements: The Development of a Resistance Performance Paradigm of Audience Analysis


Atkinson, Joshua, Dougherty, Debbie S., Western Journal of Communication


Some media scholars, such as Abercrombie and Longhurst (1998), claim that audiences perform against a media-saturated backdrop, making spectacle and narcissism integral to the social construction of reality for audiences; this vision of audience constitutes the spectacle/performance paradigm (SPP). However, the SPP does not account for those audiences who use media actively to resist consumer-oriented spectacle and narcissism within mainstream audience performances. The question thus arises of how communication scholars can conceptualize audiences whose relationship to mainstream media is predominately resistance rather than spectacle. The purpose of this research was to establish a resistance performance paradigm (RPP) that can be used to conceptualize such resistant audiences. To accomplish this task, we engaged in an empirical study of alternative media and alternative media audiences who are activists in social justice movements--movements that work to advocate for people who are economically, socially, or politically marginalized in local communities and global society (see Frey, 1998; Frey, Pearce, Pollock, Artz, & Murphy, 1996; Ryan, Carragee, & Schwerner, 1998). Social justice activists who are audiences of alternative media represent an important illustration of performances of resistance through the use of media (Atkinson, 2005a; Huesca, 2001). For the purposes of this essay, we defined alternative media as any media that are produced by noncommercial sources and that attempt to transform existing social roles and practices by critiquing and challenging power structures (see Atton, 2002; Downing, 2003; Downing, Ford, Gil, & Stein, 2001; Hebdige, 1979; Jakubowicz, 1991).

In this essay, we review the performance-oriented concept of the SPP and construct an RPP. The SPP is considered to be performance-oriented because of its focus on the role of media texts in the performances of audiences within socially constructed realities. The performance of audiences within socially constructed realities that arise from the negotiation of experiences, social interactions with people and institutions, and social interactions with the media is a concept that has been well documented and examined in past research (e.g., Berger & Luckman, 1966; Denzin, 1997; Gamson & Modigliani, 1989; Langellier, 1983; Loxley, 1983; McQuail, 2000). The SPP is a particularly important concept because it recognizes the communicative function of audience members as active participants in mainstream media spectacles and demonstrates a performance-oriented vision of the audience constructed within the context of the ever-evolving vision of the audience--from the behavioral paradigm (e.g., Gerbner & Gross, 1972) to the incorporation/resistance paradigm (e.g., Herman & Chomsky, 1988; McChesney, 1998, 1999) and, finally, to the SPP. Our review leads to the exploration of audiences who engage in alternative media and resistance of the consumer-oriented spectacle that are the foundation for the SPP. The review ultimately led to the construction of the RPP.

By developing an RPP, this research expands our scholarly understanding of alternative media within social movements. Research on alternative media has focused on issues of production and circulation (Atton, 2002; Caldwell, 2003; Downing et al., 2001), the framing of issues within social movements and in mainstream society (Atkinson, 2005b; Atton; Harold, 2004; Owens & Palmer, 2003), and the blurring of roles in alternative media (Atton; Caldwell). The present study extends this body of research by exploring the ways audiences use alternative media to perform social justice movements. To frame this study, we first provide a review and analysis of the SPP. We then explain the qualitative interviews and content analysis used to develop the RPP. The research findings then are reported in two sections that illustrate the performance of audiences in conjunction with performance texts witnessed by the audience. …

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