Historical Movements and their Media Challenges

November 24, 2015

The media use of social movements in different moments of US history was in focus when Anne Kaun from Södertörn University presented her research at the Screening Protest seminar on November 6th. Although they shared similar repertoires of contention and claims targeted against capitalism, mobilizations by the American communist party in the 1930s, the tenants movement in the 1970s and Occupy Wall Street in the 2010s had to deal with different time regimes of communication in their protest. In the 1970s, the tenants movement had to adapt to what Raymond Williams described as ‘the perpetual flow of television’ – a challenge the Communist Party in the 1930s did not have to face. The Occupy Movement, in turn, had to deal with the immediacy of social media, and its even faster pace. In light of this acceleration, Kaun argues, movements and their different forms of communication (amongst each other and towards the public) have increasingly become caught in a conflict between synchronisation and desynchronisation. The consequence is that, while social media have certainly provided a new space to reach public audiences outside the movement, it comes at a price: the slow time needed  for deliberation within a movement like Occupy risks ending up out of synch with its necessary presence on platforms characterised by more immediacy. Apart from creating new spaces, new media technology thus also regulates space by imposing distinctive time regimes. Kaun suggests that, in addition to adapting to such new circumstances, protesters find themselves having to choose between attacking and abstaining from them, and instead try to find alternative ways of communicating. This raises interesting questions for the Screening Protest project. What could happen with the struggle for visibility on the ‘public screen’ – discussed at earlier seminars – as protesters seek out new alternatives more amenable to synchronization with their intentions, and newsrooms find it more difficult to find them? Has digital immediacy induced a time crisis for political communication, leaving the political in a stage of uncertainty?

Martin Karlsson

Cite This:
Screening Protest — "Historical Movements and their Media Challenges," in The Screening Protest Project, November 24, 2015