This article considers media activism around low-power FM radio as hybrid formation, combining expertise with amateurism and management with self-organizing practice. Specifically, it ethnographically examines the technical and social practices of a group of activists who promote “appropriate technology,” emphasizing both the diffusion of hardware and technical skill and democratic, “participatory” social relations. The activists’ efforts fell along multiple lines, including policy and hands-on technical work to build hardware, but they considered their work to occur against the backdrop of a social movement for media democracy and a wider social justice agenda. A significant undertaking in their practice was pedagogy, predicated on a notion of expertise as widely accessible, through which they sought to widen technical and political participation. Yet, while imparting technical skill was a priority, arguably more important to this activist project was deepening political and affective commitment and constructing technology as a site to enact participatory politics and challenge elite expertise.
Producing “Participation”? The Pleasures and Perils of Technical Engagement in Radio Activism
Christina Dunbar-Hester teaches in journalism and media studies and is an affiliated faculty member in women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University. Her research on activist technical communities has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Humanities Project, and her articles have appeared in Social Studies of Science, New Media and Society, and Science, Technology and Human Values. Her book on low-power FM radio activism in the United States is forthcoming in 2014.
Christina Dunbar-Hester; Producing “Participation”? The Pleasures and Perils of Technical Engagement in Radio Activism. Public Culture 1 January 2014; 26 (1 (72)): 25–50. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/08992363-2346241
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