4th Multicultural Discourses conference

New media, old power: challenging elite discourse through digitally augmented activism

Hangzhou, China


This paper will discuss how and why activists use digital media such as microblogs and websites to contest and subvert the discourse produced by powerful institutions and disseminated via traditional media. By presenting the results of a discourse-historical analysis of several campaigns aimed at governments and multinational businesses, questions are raised about traditional understandings of how power is enacted and constructed in the contemporary media landscape. In particular, the acceleration of global flows of information via social media, within and between different cultures, is shown to problematize the notion that ‘elite’, static texts are the best objects of analysis for critical discourse studies. Instead, scholars need a new inventory of tools that can handle dynamic, constantly changing texts, often produced, reproduced and recontextualised by multiple authors and interpretable only by considering how meaning is generated through rapid traversal of different semiotic elements, rather than monolithic texts. At the same time, more traditional notions of media power have not become irrelevant, and political and economic elites are undoubtedly still central in framing public discourse. Increasingly, however, traditional media such as newspapers or television interact with digital media in complex, and often also dynamic ways. It is these interactions between ‘old’ and ‘new’ that prove the most fruitful sites of analysis: in particular, through close analysis of which contesting voices and frames are taken up in traditional media, and which are ignored.


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