Alternative and Activist New Media
Leah A. Lievrouw
Polity Press, 2011, 294 pp.
Lievrouw's addition to Polity's Digital Media and Society series offers a well read and written introduction to the socio-political histories, purposes and forms of Alternative and Activist New Media (AANM). It also reiterates the author's theoretical explanation of mediation while categorising emerging 'genres' of new activist/alternative media by their purposes and means. It is this latter genre study that somewhat complicates the means and purposes of the aggregate work.
To position its subject matter of AANM, the book introduces Lievrouw's concept of mediation and explicates what is 'new' about new media. Mediation is offered as an integrative double entendre to denote both the technological channels that affect communication and the relational interventions that create and share meaning (pp.3-4). Drawing from Katz and Lazarsfeld's two-step flow process of communication, Lievrouw describes the mutually shaping relationship of peoples' uses of communication technology (reconfiguration) and their communicative action (remediation) as a shifting 'window, for viewing communication as the fundamental mechanism of social change' (p.234). In this way, expression and interaction coexist within mediation to create social change.
Clarifying what is 'new' about new media is becoming increasingly problematic for scholars who see the ubiquity of digital networks as contemporary terrain media and politics. The book does not shy away from this ubiquity, building on the author's work with Sonia Livingstone to define new media as a subset of the artefacts, practices and (social) arrangements that make up media (1). New media continue to be new if they: resist stabilisation as recombinant technologies, continuously reorganise in networks of networks, promote participation through interactivity and remain ubiquitous in social and political life (pp.6-15).
After flirting with the normative (emancipatory, authentic, and invoking creative social responsibility) qualities of alternative new media, Lievrouw's definition narrows to favour descriptive precision over normative accuracy. It delineates AANM to those media that 'challenge or alter dominant, expected, or accepted ways of doing society, culture and politics' (p.19). A cynical critic of Lievrouw might point out that Amazon.com, Facebook and even Google fulfill these maxims in corporate form...