My PhD – everyday digital activism

My colleague Annette Naudin occasionally posts updates about her progress in her PhD. I like it best when she excerpts from whichever section she’s currently work on. She writes so well. Go read:

So, inspired by Annette, from time to time I will use this blog to put sections of mine in the public domain. I fully expect that none of what I’m writing here will end up in the final thing but nonetheless, writing about writing may help me reflect and therefore redraft. Here’s something that I put into a paper that myself and my research colleague at work are presenting at a conference in May. I’m interested in Pink’s work about everyday stuff and also in notions of banality. The first paragraph is the preamble.

In what they describe as a “Genealogical Discourse Analysis’ of scholarship on participatory journalism, Borger et al. note that scholars display a “strong faith in the democratic potential of digital technologies” (Borger et al. 2012: 125) and that such technological optimism “can be traced back to internet enthusiasts of the 1990s who voiced great expectations regarding the reinvigoration of the public sphere” (Borger et al. 2012: 125). To some extent, we can see how hyperlocal is in danger of being caught up in what Curran warns is a tendency for ‘millenarian’ prophecies to accompany developments in new media (Curran 2010b). But there are other ways in which we might reframe discussions about Hyperlocal that take account of the role of technology but move beyond assessing its value as an aspect of the ‘networked’ fourth estate (Benkler 2011).

Sarah Pink’s work (2012) in calling for a study of the everyday through a theory of ‘place’ is useful. She notes that ‘place’ is an abstract concept and we might more usefully consider the idea of a ‘sense of place’ and thereby the ways in which ‘place-making’ happens (Pink 2012: 24). For Pink it’s a study of the everyday that matters. People access online in a multifaceted way, she argues: switching between platforms, reading from a wide range of sources, making contributions in social media updates or in posting photographs. As an ethnographer, Pink wants us to see that these online practices happen simultaneously with an offline engagement with place-making (Pink 2012: 131). This should make us rethink our approach to a study of online activism:

Contemporary social media platforms and the technologies through which we access them make digital activism interweave with our everyday media practices and the environment in which we participate (Pink 2012: 131).

Chris Atton likewise argues that we must study “the banality of the Internet and of the everyday practices that construct it and its relations to the wider world” (Atton 2004: 7). He makes the case that it is the ‘significant everyday’ that is of value to the cultural studies ethnographer interested in understanding how “the possibilities for meaning are organised” (Atton 2004: 8).

Costera Meijer (2012) is also concerned with the everyday and in particular the ways in which ‘participatory storytelling’ can help bring the everyday into media representations of neighbourhoods in order to strengthen community relations and work against the mainstream media’s dominant discourse of ‘‘the problem neighbourhood frame’’ (Costera Meijer 2012: 19). Such a framing, she argues, leads to social isolation and stigmatization (see also Chen et al. 2012). Postill argues that “banal activism has been neglected by internet scholars” (Postill 2008: 419). He draws on his own study conducted in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where the “vibrant Internet scene” (Postill 2008: 422) contributed to an active culture of participation and debate amongst residents on matters that mattered only to that specific locality. He critiques the tendency for researchers to over-simplify the notions of ‘network’ and ‘community’ – “[it] is a vague notion favoured in public rhetoric, not a sharp analytical tool” (Postill 2008: 421). He argues instead that we need to pay attention to the ways in which “people, technologies and other cultural artefacts are co-producing new forms of residential sociality in unpredictable ways” (Postill 2008: 426).


Atton, C. (2004) An alternative Internet. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Benkler, Y. (2011) Free Irresponsible Press: Wikileaks and the Battle over the Soul of the Networked Fourth Estate. Harv. CR-CLL Rev., Vol 46, pp. 311.

Borger, M., Van Hoof, A., Costera Meijer, I. & Sanders, J. (2012) Constructing Participatory Journalism as a Scholarly Object. Digital Journalism, Vol 1, No 1, pp. 117-134.

Chen, N.-T. N., Dong, F., Ball-Rokeach, S. J., Parks, M. & Huang, J. (2012) Building a new media platform for local storytelling and civic engagement in ethnically diverse neighborhoods. New Media & Society, Vol 14, No 6, pp. 931-950.

Costera Meijer, I. (2012) When News Hurts. Journalism Studies, Vol 14, No 1, pp. 13-28.

Curran, J. (2010b) Technology Foretold. In: FENTON, N. (ed.) New media, old news : journalism and democracy in the digital age. London: SAGE. pp. 19-34.

Pink, S. (2012) Situating everyday life: practices and places. London: SAGE.

Postill, J. (2008) Localizing the internet beyond communities and networks. New Media & Society, Vol 10, No 3, pp. 413-431.