Understanding alternative media power: mapping content & practice to theory, ideology, and political action

Sandra Jeppesen | 2016 | in Democratic Communiqué, vol. 27 | pp. 54–77

Alternative media is a term that signifies a range of media forms and practices, from radical critical media to independent media, and from grassroots autonomous media to community, citizen and participatory media. This paper critically analyzes the political content and organizational practices of different alternative media types to reveal the ideologies and conceptions of power embedded in specific conceptions of alternative media.

Considering several competing conceptions of alternative media theory, including subculture studies (Hebdige 1979), community media for social change (Rodríguez 2011), critical communication studies (Fuchs 2010), and radical media (Downing 2001), four distinct categories emerge: DIY media influenced by individualist ideologies and subcultural belonging; citizen media theorized by third-world Marxism and engaged in local community organizing; critical media influenced by the Frankfurt School of critical theory and focused on global anti-capitalist content; and autonomous media influenced by social anarchism and rooted in global anti-authoritarian social movements.

This synthesized taxonomy provides an important mapping of key similarities and differences among the diverse political projects, theories, practices and ideologies of alternative media, allowing for a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the limitations and political challenges to media power afforded by specific types of alternative media

Keywords: alternative media; autonomous media; critical media; DIY; subculture; participatory media; citizens media; Marxism; anarchism; individualism