Response to Alternative and Activist New Media

As part of the Activists Writing Media class I’m taking at Kutztown, I am again blogging this evening about alternative media forms and functions. This time, I’m writing a response to Leah A. Lievrow’s Alternative and Activist New Media

Lievrouw’s book provides a great theoretical overview of alternative medias, split up into five genres: culture jamming, alternative computing, participatory journalism, mediated mobilization, and commons knowledge. While The Alternative Media Handbook (written about previously) gives specific examples of these various forms of media, along with the benefits and drawbacks of each, Alternative and Activist New Media focuses more on well-organized background information. She includes case studies here and there, but mostly discusses pre-existing research and writings.

Though the five genres Lievrouw discusses are distinct, they are also very much interconnected. For example, Indymedia was used as an example of an organization that engages in participatory journalism. However, Indymedia uses the internet “not only to distribute information, but also to recruit and instruct protest participants, to organize and publicize protest-related events, to feed Indymedia content to mainstream media, and to implement hacktivist actions against targeted organizations’ websites” (Lievrow 164). These actions all fall under mediated mobilization, the use of the internet to spread ideas or to bring together communities of geographically disperse, like-minded people.

Another example of the interconnectedness of these genres can be seen with alternative computing and commons knowledge. Alternative computing deals more with the infrastructure that hosts media than with the media itself, but one of its main critiques of the current system of knowledge and computing is against the gatekeeping of ICT infrastructure. It argues that “information wants to be free,” and develops open-source software or publish codes to help bypass gatekeepers. Commons knowledge deals with the information itself, rather than the technology, but participants similarly want information to be free to everyone, not just experts, and work toward this goal. As described in the book, Wikipedia serves as a prime example of an organization that works toward this goal. MIT provides another example with their OpenCourseWare, which publishes hundreds of MIT courses and course materials free online to make them widely accessible to anyone.

Overall, Lievrouw does a wonderful job outlining what is being done with alternative media, without delving into specific tactics and strategies or arguing the effectiveness. The book is very well organized and has an interesting yet academic approach to forms we don’t usually look at very closely in higher ed.

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