Media & Social Movements

Social movements have an interesting and dynamic relationship to media and communication. On the one hand, social movements court mainstream journalistic coverage of their events and issues. On the other hand, media produced by social movements have actively circumventing traditional gatekeepers and news filters. My work addresses both aspects of this media/social movements dynamic.

Mainstream media coverage of social movements: Research on the “protest paradigm” (Chan and Lee 1984) has highlighted the emphasis on protest tactics over issue coverage (Watkins 2001; Solomon 2000), a focus on charismatic leaders, and protest actions as “deviant” behavior (Boyle et al. 2004). While dramatic protest actions may garner media attention, that attention typically does not focus on the issues that precipitated the action (McCarthy et al. 1996; Smith et al. 2001). Activists have learned that diversification of tactics and strategic use of “image events” as action strategies may influence visual and symbolic representation of protest actions in the media (DeLuca and Peeples 2002; Wall 2003), challenging earlier assumptions of a uniformly negative media framing of movement goals and protests (Waisbord and Peruzzotti 2009). I am interested activist media strategy, journalistic  representations, and the production of social norms through the proliferation of discourses in the public sphere.

Examples of Research

Toft, A. “linguistic affordances of campaign context: Using discourse analysis, corpus linguistics and network analysis to measure narrative cohesion and issue preference.” Paper presented at the SUNBELT conference for the International Network for Social Network Analysis, Saint Petersberg FL, February 18-22, 2014.

Edgerly, L., Toft, A., & Veden, M. L. (2011). Social movements, political goals, and the May 1 marches: Communicating protest in polysemic media environments. International Journal of Press/Politics, 16(3), 314-334. (personal copy)

Toft, A. “Homelessness as deviant subjectivity: Discursive resources in the dehumanization of homeless persons in the public sphere.” Paper presented at the American Association for Applied Linguistics annual conference, Chicago, IL, March 26-29, 2011.

Bawarshi, A., Dillon, G., Kelly, M., Rai, C., Silberstein, S., Stygall, G., Toft, A., English, T., Thomas, B. (2008). “Media analysis of homeless encampment ‘sweeps.’” Seattle, Washington, University of Washington.

Media produced by movement participants: Social movements have a long and involved relationship to the production and distribution of media fare. Media projects have emerged in anticipation of, and reaction to, movements as diverse as abolitionism (Streitmatter 2001) and women’s suffrage (Masel-Walters 1980). Movement actors have published their own ideas about social issues as a way to popularize particular understandings of issues and events and in connecting dispersed adherents (O’Donnell 2001; Streitmatter 1995). Often described as radical media (Downing, Ford, Gil, and Stein 2000; Downing 1984), alternative media (Atton 2002), community media (Howley 2005) or citizens media (Rodriguez 2001), my work is concerned with this genre of media organization as active participation in broad social movements.

Examples of Research

Toft, A. & Cunningham, S. “News norms and movement media: Critiquing political elites on Democracy Now, ‘the war and peace report.’” In preparation for submission to Mobilization.

Toft, A. “The discursive construction of power through specialization: The role of communication, technology and agency in homeless coalitional politics.” Paper presented at the International Communication Association annual conference, Chicago, Illinois, May 21-25, 2009.

Toft, A. “Community radio and the Internet: Bridging the digital divide?” Paper presented at the International Communication Association annual conference, San Francisco, California, May 24-28, 2007.

Toft, A. “The prefigurative politics of DIY media.” Paper presented at the Western States Communication Association annual conference, Seattle, Washington, Feb 17-20, 2007.

Toft, A. (2000). Prefigurative politics in the pro-democracy movement. Harbinger: A Journal of Social Ecology, 2(1).

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