Black sails on the mediascape : towards an anarchist theory of news media and media-movement interactions



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This dissertation provides an anarchist account of news media power and interactions between news media and social movement actors, by drawing on anarchist thought and practice, as well as theoretical traditions such as libertarian Marxism, critical media studies, science and technology studies, and social movement studies in sociology. Notable features of anarchist media theory include: a critique of communications technology and corruptions of information power; a critique of mass news media’s corporate hierarchical structure; and a premium placed on communications practices and media that enable non-hierarchical forms of communication, as well as on widespread participation in the process of meaning making. This qualitative theory building and research, which addresses a glaring gap in anarchist literature about media, is rooted firmly in anarchism’s rejection of authority and oppression, its commitment to liberty and autonomy, and its understanding of prefigurative politics as a form of direct action. Anarchism also brings its ethical-political commitments to bear on communications research, by challenging the administrative/critical researcher binary, questioning state-centric research perspectives, and calling on scholars to engage in activist research that could benefit activists and social movement actors. In addition, anarchism provides a theoretical basis for assessing established critical media theories according to their strategic or tactical implications for activists and other social movement actors, not simply according to how well these theoretical perspectives capture or explain different aspects of social-political reality. Moreover, unlike classical or orthodox Marxist theoretical perspectives, anarchism rejects vanguardism—the strategic principle that a small but dedicated group of class-conscious revolutionaries bear primary responsibility for fomenting social change—as well as the belief that capturing state power is indispensable to social transformation. An anarchist account of news media and media-movement interactions thus problematizes critical media theories such as framing, hegemony, and political economy, which proffer state-centric analyses and strategic implications. Besides promoting theoretical arguments, this study features an original research component consisting of in-depth, ethnographic interviews with activists based in Austin, Texas. The findings from this exploratory interview research suggest that some of the major theoretical arguments contained in this dissertation accurately reflect how some anarchists think about news media.