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Online Mediation of Minority Dissent: A Historical-Dialectical-Structurational Analysis


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Often marginalized from government services and markets and with limited access to mainstream media, the expansion of the reach of the Internet to previously underrepresented sectors inspires an examination of the place of online media for minorities, and in turn the role of these new actors, in shaping the future of media. In the Philippines, minority groups have recently developed online narratives, discursive spaces and productions in websites, blogs and social networking sites that allow them to bypass traditional distribution systems to articulate their respective struggles. This article engages 'Buechler's historical-dialectical-structurational approach' in analyzing the interdependence between these activist online media practices and the local, national, and global enabling and constraining structures that surround online cultural activism. Through an analysis of case studies representing ethnic, ethno-religious and sexual minorities in the Philippines, the article shows that minority groups' online political mobilization strategies are influenced by the historical, cultural and social circumstances and global power dynamics that surround their respective struggles and online activism. This situated analysis veers away from presenting minorities as mere recipients of technology but as online political activists creatively working their way through multiple structures and opportunities that come with online mediation.
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Online Mediation of Minority Dissent
A Historical-Dialectical-Structurational Analysis
Cheryll Ruth Soriano
Often marginalized from government services and markets and with limited access to mainstream
media, the expansion of the reach of the Internet to previously underrepresented sectors inspires
an examination of the place of online media for minorities, and in turn the role of these new actors,
in shaping the future of media. In the Philippines, minority groups have recently developed online
narratives, discursive spaces and productions in websites, blogs and social networking sites that allow
them to bypass traditional distribution systems to articulate their respective struggles. This article
engages ‘Buechler’s historical-dialectical-structurational approach’ in analyzing the interdependence
between these activist online media practices and the local, national, and global enabling and constraining
structures that surround online cultural activism. Through an analysis of case studies representing
ethnic, ethno-religious and sexual minorities in the Philippines, the article shows that minority groups’
online political mobilization strategies are influenced by the historical, cultural and social circumstances
and global power dynamics that surround their respective struggles and online activism. This situated
analysis veers away from presenting minorities as mere recipients of technology but as online political
activists creatively working their way through multiple structures and opportunities that come with
online mediation.
Minority, Internet, online activism, dialectical tensions, cultural politics
The dialectic between the disciplinary power of technology and the unanticipated ways that technologies
can be re-appropriated within local cultural logics has been one of the important intellectual challenges
concerning technology for the past several decades. How media changes the way we can do things,
and how human intention and culture can change the future of media, has been a question raised by
scholars almost 50 years ago, and remains central in the agenda of present and future media. Recently,
the expansion of the reach of the Internet to previously underrepresented sectors in society, and the
accompanying emancipatory promises, inspires an examination of the place of online media in these
movements, and in turn the role of these new actors, in shaping the future of media.
Journal of Creative Communications
8(2&3) 89–106
© 2013 Mudra Institute
of Communications
SAGE Publications
Los Angeles, London,
New Delhi, Singapore,
Washington DC
DOI: 10.1177/0973258613512554
90 Cheryll Ruth Soriano
Journal of Creative Communications, 8, 2&3 (2013): 89–106
The depiction of contentious politics and online political engagement in both traditional media and
scholarly works have been largely focused on particular images of traditional political activists,
journalists, academics and politicians from the urban centres (Meyer et al. 2002). However, amidst all
this online political activity emerges a new set of political actors, the minority groups, who have already
taken up online spaces for the articulation of their respective claims. Over recent years, minority
groups have developed online narratives, discursive spaces, and productions in websites, blogs and
social networking sites. Their online presentations contribute to the expression of their history and social
reality and also serve as a space for generating debate, negotiation and disagreement from within the
group and from other actors in society. For minority groups who have long suffered as objects of others’
image-making and issue-framing practices, these self-productions allow them to bypass traditional
distribution systems and insert their struggles into national narratives (Arora 2010; Bakardjieva 2003;
Dutta & Pal 2007; Ginsburg 2008; Gross 2003; Landzelius 2006; Latufeku, 2006; Siapera 2005; Soriano
& Sreekumar 2012).
This political activism happening at the margins has been largely unnoticed and understudied, and yet
the use of online media for political mobilization by minority groups raises several important practical
and theoretical issues and debates. The Internet’s availability for geographically disadvantaged and
relatively under and misrepresented minorities carries potentials for effecting change in conditions of
minoritization, and yet with these opportunities come threats and dilemmas. The pertinent question is
how online political mobilization can be understood in the context of local, national and global enabling
and constraining structures that surround minority activism and online media engagement. How can
minority collective action and the surrounding structures of power be understood in relation to online
media? Engaging case studies of ethnic, ethno-religious and sexual minorities in the Philippines, the
article analyzes how power and counter-power are distributed in this relationship.
Previous structural approaches in the analysis of acts of contention have been criticized for their over-
emphasis on structures as a ‘reified and deterministic straitjacket’ that privilege structure over agency
(Buechler 2000, p. 159). Further, the consciousness of much online media engagement is often presently
oriented, with little sense of the linkages among past action, present realities and future possibilities
for its users. An ahistorical, decontextualized approach to the interactions of structural conditions and
actors in the analysis of online media engagement is insufficient and superficial, because these make it
difficult to see the structural roots and historical consequences of technology appropriations, especially
for emancipatory processes.
To address this shortcoming, Buechler (2000) proposes a historical-dialectical-structurational
approach to the study of resistance and collective action. A historical approach recognizes that human
activities are rooted between pasts and anticipated futures. The dialectical component recognizes the
interdependence and interconnectedness of the multiple levels of structures, while a structurational
component avoids the tendency for reification and highlights the importance of ‘reflexive social agents
whose conscious actions and unintended consequences continually sustain and transform the patterns
we summarize as structure’ (Buechler 2000, p. 159). Structures are dialectically interrelated, enabling
and constraining at the same time, mutually constituting, and have a historical character. It is important
in this analysis to understand society as composed of multiple, overlapping and intersecting levels of
social structures embedded in social reality designated as global, national, regional and local structures
(Buechler 2000, p. 62, 159–60).
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Journal of Creative Communications, 8, 2&3 (2013): 89–106
In the realm of technology, Raymond Williams (1974) earlier challenged the notion that new tech-
nologies (then, in the context of television) have an intrinsic power to transform society. Parallel with
Buechler’s contention, Williams suggests that the emergence of new technologies and in particular
new communicative systems is a result of complex interactions among technological, social, cultural,
political and economic forces. Different cultures and political regimes can also take advantage of new
technologies in different ways as extension of pre-existing power imbalances. This implies that the intro-
duction of a new medium cannot by itself significantly alter the society in which it appears. Williams’
conclusions seem parallel to Pierre Levy’s account of an ‘information culture’, which, while defined by
a high degree of participation and reciprocity, is still believed to exist alongside the established structures
of power, multinational corporations, financial capital, and the nation-state (Jenkins & Thorburne 2003,
p. 14; Levy 2000). Although actors can find a space for self-expression and resistance online, the shape
of such resistance can be influenced by the politics of the technology, history, the socio-political condi-
tion of the user and global power dynamics. A situated analysis of the interdependence of media practices
with the local, national, and transnational circumstances that surround them can help surface the com-
plex ways in which minority groups are engaged in the process of using the Internet in relation to their
historical, cultural and social circumstances, and how these circumstances help them work through the
limits and possibilities that the Internet as a communications medium serves for them.
Philippine Minorities and the Socio-Political Context
of Online Political Mobilization
A minority group1 is ‘a group of people who, because of physical or cultural characteristics, are singled
out from others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore
regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination’ (Wirth 1945, p. 347). A minority group is not
a statistical concept that accounts for number count or representation. Instead, its existence in society
‘implies a corresponding dominant group enjoying higher social status and greater privileges’ (Wirth
1945, p. 348). Minoritization can emanate from race, ethnicity, religion, gender or physical characteristics
and the members of minority groups are usually held in lower esteem and may even be objects of
contempt, hatred, ridicule and violence. However, when the sentiments of a disadvantaged group are
articulated, when they clamour for emancipation and equality, a minority group can become a political
force to be reckoned with.
Across Asia and in the Philippines specifically, minority groups have been overlooked by government
policies and have also been affected by ongoing processes of economic and social change and develop-
ment initiatives (Clarke 2001, p. 419; He & Kymlicka 2005). Because of their remote locations or their
discriminated identities, minorities are marginalized from markets and government services and have
limited access to mainstream media to articulate their causes. Commonly, they are underrepresented
politically at local, regional and national levels and often stereotyped as backward and inferior (Soriano,
2012; forthcoming).
With respect to the treatment of minorities, the Philippines may be judged as a relative bright spot in
Southeast Asia. For ethnic (indigenous) and religious minorities (Moros),2 the nation has passed
legislation addressing the concerns of minorities, and the indigenous and Muslim minority have won
92 Cheryll Ruth Soriano
Journal of Creative Communications, 8, 2&3 (2013): 89–106
significant economic, political and cultural concessions from government (Eder & McKenna 2004).
However, it is important to locate such state response and political openings side by side with the long
history of unmet grievances and atrocities experienced by minorities that underlie their continued
expressions of dissent.
The provision of autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordillera region3 in the 1987
Constitution sought to respect the ‘common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic
and social structures, and other relevant characteristics’ (Rood 1989) of these minorities, and a signifi-
cant departure from centrism and national integration that marked earlier Constitutions. After years
of lobbying, the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act 4 was also passed in 1997 to protect the rights of
indigenous peoples to their ancestral domain, and to preserve their culture and institutions (Soriano,
forthcoming). However, indigenous communities continue to suffer from the illegal encroachment of
business such as mining or logging activities in their ancestral lands. Members of the indigenous
activist community also condemn the ‘sudden disappearances’ of some of its members which they
suspect to be government military-led operations (CPA members, Personal interview, May 2010), while
retaining in their memories the deaths of some of its past indigenous leaders in their historical fight
against large-scale dam and mining projects.
The Muslim struggle in the Philippines, on the other hand, is considered as one of the longest strugs
of ethno-religious minorities globally (Jubair 1999, 2007). Alongside the failure of the autonomous
government in Muslim Mindanao for giving meaningful autonomy to the Muslims, an armed group of
Muslim rebels formed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and has pursued earlier clamours for
secession (Soriano, forthcoming).5 Similar to the deaths of past indigenous leaders, the violent mass
killings of Moro intellectuals in history, dubbed as ‘Jabidah Massacre’, have catalysed modern Moro
insurgencies (Jubair 2007; Soriano 2006). The armed conflict and sporadic clashes between the Moro
rebels and the military caused thousands of deaths and millions of displacements. However, this conflict
is also placed side by side with some form of reprieve, as the government continues to engage the
Moro rebels in peace negotiations, which are overseen by the International Monitoring Team and other
international actors (Soriano & Sreekumar 2012; Soriano, forthcoming).
For sexual minorities, on the other hand, the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the first national les-
bian, gay, bisexual and transgender/transsexual (LGBT) political party in the country, and purportedly in
Asia, to run for the 2010 nationwide elections, marked a significant opening for the LGBT community
in the political arena, a considerable achievement in this predominantly Catholic country (Soriano, 2014).
In Asia, the Philippines also hosted the first Gay Pride Parade in 1994, which inspired similar Pride
Parades in other parts of the region such as Colombo, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Delhi and Singapore (www. However, LGBT hate crimes and violent deaths have been documented to show that the
LGBT community continue to receive not only verbal but physical abuse in this seemingly ‘gay-friendly
country’. In a report published by the Philippine LGBT Crime Watch (2011), 103 suspected anti-LGBT
hate crime deaths since 1996 have been tallied, including 28 cases during the first half of 2011.
These show that despite some gains and forms of response from the state, the overt and covert forms
of control and repression as well as the sensitive relations between the state and minorities serve as
significant grounds for problematizing the condition of minorities in Philippine society. The post-Martial
Law era6 of the 1980s has created a space for political activism in the Philippines and tolerance towards
expression of dissent (Abinales & Amoroso 2005; Schock 1999, p. 362). At the same time, the reclaiming
of democracy in 1986 has been expected to trickle down benefits and broaden participation for all. After
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Journal of Creative Communications, 8, 2&3 (2013): 89–106
the ‘People Power Revolution in 1986’, the Philippines has been recognized for having one of the freest
media in Southeast Asia. Yet, there is a ‘militarization of the media’ in the country, which involves direct
censorship, violence, killings and other human rights violations against journalists, and the use of libel
and defamation laws to silence dissent (Brooten 2011, p. 244). The commercial and militarized media
in the country do not meet the communication rights of the most marginalized groups. Moreover, the
continuing ability of national elites to use economic and political power to pursue their own interests
and the apparent inability of the state to match policy with deeds to address minorities’ grievances
ensue. Despite the popularity of ‘People Power Revolutions’ that created openings of popular mobili-
zations and space for dissent, these revolutions are also represented by the social majority, and do
not necessarily represent the particular grievances of minorities (Soriano, forthcoming). Ethnic, ethno-
religious and sexual minority movements are therefore examples that show how discontent continues
despite the enactment of certain legislations, as these groups continually contest exclusions, oppressions
and inequalities that result from structural inequality. Despite some forms of response from the state and
openings for political expression, the overt and covert forms of control and repression as well as the
sensitive relations between the state and minorities serve as significant grounds for problematizing the
condition of minorities in Philippine society, and a significant context in understanding the character of
their online political mobilization.
Case Studies
Through preliminary online research on Philippine minority organizations with a presence in online
spaces, 25 organizations with active sites were shortlisted as possible cases. The case studies for this
article, Cordillera Peoples Alliance or C PA (an ethnic minority organization), the MILF (an ethno-
religious, sub-national minority) and Ladlad (an LGBT political party) were selected purposively
(Yin 2009, p. 91) based on the legitimacy of the organization (e.g. not fly by night), scope of network
based on expert interviews and secondary research, online activity and agreement to participate in
the research. Face to face, online, and telephone interviews with organizations’ leaders, information
officers, and members, as well as experts and civil society members significantly involved with the
group’s activities were conducted in April–May 2010 and February and May 2011. The form, content,
and style of political mobilization in the online spaces were also reviewed and analyzed at three time
periods: January to May 2010 (in preparation for and during field interviews), October to December
2010, and May to July 2011. Themes were generated from recurring topics that appeared in both
interviews and online spaces (Ryan & Bernard 2003). Through coding, memo-writing and analysis, the
thematic categories were developed. The quoted messages are excerpts of interviews in their original
form, except for those that had to be translated from the local language.
CPA, founded in 1984, is an alliance of grassroots people’s organizations, among the indigenous com-
munities in the Cordillera region of the Philippines. CPA mobilizes ‘for the defense of ancestral domain
and for self-determination’ and promotion of social justice and indigenous people’s rights (CPA website, 2010). CPA was selected because of its activist roots and strong linkages with other
Cordillera civil society and grassroots organizations, having the historical association of leading the
indigenous movement. The CPA launched its website in 2004 with assistance from the Swedish Society
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Journal of Creative Communications, 8, 2&3 (2013): 89–106
for Nature Conservation. Aside from its website, CPA also maintains e-groups for internal communica-
tion (CPA members, personal communication, May 2010, February 2011; Soriano, forthcoming)).
The MILF, on the other hand, is considered the biggest organization leading the Muslim minority
struggle for self-determination in the Philippines. The organization had been engaged in a violent armed
conflict with the Philippine military but at the same time is a major party in the peace negotiations with
government. The Moro struggle is rooted in the government’s failure to recognize their entitlement to
land (Mindanao) and livelihood resources, which they lost through the migration of Christians in
Mindanao. This resettlement policy led to the Moros’ minoritization in Mindanao where Muslims were
reduced from about 75 per cent of Mindanao’s population in the 1900s to 25 per cent in the late 1960s
(Rodil 2004; Soriano & Sreekumar 2012). Aside from dispossession of land, the Moros’ resentment
against the Philippine state is caused by the relative poverty of the Muslim dominated provinces vis-a-vis
other provinces in the country (PHDN 2008; Soriano, forthcoming). To communicate its struggle to a
broader audience, the MILF launched its main website,, in 1998. Now, it maintains four
websites.7 One of these sites is an Arabic website aimed to attract the sympathy and support of the larger
Islamic community. MILF also has two active Facebook accounts and Twitter and MySpace pages,
which as of July 2011 have no content.
Ladlad is the national political party of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders in the Philippines
(and purportedly the only one in Asia), and this makes it a suitable case for the analysis of how minorities
use online spaces to mobilize themselves as a collective political force. Ladlad ran for the first time
during the 2010 national elections, after the Elections Commission finally granted them accreditation
under the party-list system. The party-list system of elections, promulgated in the Philippine Constitution
of 1987, is intended to allocate space for the inclusion of society’s marginalized sectors in law-making.
A Congressional seat is deemed to give the LGBT community a voice in the crafting and passing of the
pending Anti-Discrimination Bill. Ladlad did not receive the sufficient number of votes to acquire a seat
in Congress during the 2010 elections, but the party has launched an intensified campaign for the 2013
Table 1. Case Study Organizations
Organization Name Minoritization Description
Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) Ethnic (indigenous) Local activist/alliance of indigenous grassroots
Moro Islamic Liberation Front Ethno-religious (Muslim) One of the lead Moro revolutionary groups
Ladlad Sexual/Gender
National LGBT political party
Table 2. Online Spaces of Case Study Organizations
Organization Type Website e-Magazine Facebook e-group Twitter
Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance Indigenous √ √*
Ladlad LGBT √ √ (2) √ √
Moro Islamic Liberation Front Muslim (3)*** √ √ (2) undisclosed
Source: Based on interviews and review of online spaces, October 2012.
Notes: *Exclusive to members; not accessible to researcher.
**One is the original website, another a mirror website; and a third one, an Arabic version of the website.
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Journal of Creative Communications, 8, 2&3 (2013): 89–106
polls (Soriano, 2014). This inclusion of LGBTs as political actors is a significant departure from typical
characterizations of LGBT people in society and an interesting aspect for the analysis of LGBT political
formations within a largely conservative and Catholic society (Soriano, 2014). In recent years, Ladlad
has developed a wide set of Internet based campaign strategies. Of the three minority groupings, the use
of online spaces to bring together members and mobilize them as a collective force was only possible for
Ladlad because of the greater number of members that have online access.
Structures and Strategies
I now discuss the multiple enabling and constraining structures surrounding minority online political
mobilization and how minority groups work their way through the dialectical tensions that surround
their Internet engagement. Civil society-led ICT initiatives fail if they ignore the embedded nature of
technology (Sreekumar 2011, p. 164). As technology is not independent of local and social forces and
resources, it is important that ICTs are appropriated by local organizations with careful assessment of
the usefulness of the technology given local conditions. Identification of social and political constraints
that marginalized communities face in their engagement with technology is crucial in understanding
social innovations.
Historical Motivations
A long history of minoritization from social, economic, and political fronts and their previously limited
access to outlets of expression and fair representation in traditional media have encouraged these groups
to value the availability of online spaces through which they can communicate their struggles strategically
to a broader audience that other media forms they use for communicating resistance (i.e. local radio,
newsletters) could not reach. The historical experience of marginalization and othering inspired the
groups to be careful of how they constructed themselves and their struggle in online space. They believe
that what they put online contributes to the construction of their activist identity, as articulated by a CPA
leader, ‘Our website is us—our organization, our struggle, what we aspire for. The website represents
us!’ At the same time, they are minorities, and therefore have a particular way of representing themselves,
‘This is who we are. That is what we are not . . . This kind of information we can say public, these ones
are ritual-based and should not come out’ (Indigenous leader, Personal communication May 2010; see
also Soriano 2012). These considerations make them cautious at the backstage, in the process of deciding
what words, symbols and meanings would constitute them and the struggle. Similarly, the MILF Web
team narrated that the Luwaran website banner carries photographs of past and present MILF leaders,
including those who have passed away, as these communicate the long history of the struggle and inspire
feelings of support from their Islamist supporters.
Clearly, the groups were not only concerned about expression: voicing out their dissent, frustrations
or anticipated futures, but took into consideration a target audience, what an audience might make
of their articulations, and what the audience could do with their online utterances and productions.
Their exposure to issues of imperialism and global capitalism, which played an important role in the
devastation of their lands (indigenous groups) or minoritization from a place they previously ruled
96 Cheryll Ruth Soriano
Journal of Creative Communications, 8, 2&3 (2013): 89–106
(Moros), made them cautious that similar forces could potentially affect their online initiatives. For
CPA and the MILF, their distrust of the state motivated them to invest in more secure Internet hosting
facilities and exercise caution in their website articulations. Ladlad is also conscious of homo- and trans-
phobic entities lurking in the online space and has imposed rules that discourage anonymity amongst the
members participating in its social networking sites and e-groups.
Further, online media engagement is influenced by enabling and constraining structures, which have
historically evolved to shape minorities’ meaning-making of this communicative space. Historical link-
ages with international actors and entities influenced the connections they sought to build through their
online activities. The Moros’ experiences with colonization and continued armed conflict with the state
have encouraged them to seek support from the international community, which has historical involve-
ment in the conflict in Mindanao. These include Islamic supporters and philanthropists from the Middle
East, international entities monitoring the peace and conflict situation in Mindanao such as the Interna-
tional Monitoring Team and the United States.8 A strong network of indigenous organizations globally,
on the other hand, and the availability of globally linked indigenous initiatives and advocacies have
inspired and sustained the indigenous group’s use of online spaces not only to document its internal
activities but to exchange developments and initiatives with indigenous groups in other parts of the world.
These groups’ reflection and awareness of the history of their minoritization and their relationships with
the state and other international actors, suggest a purposive appropriation of technology.
The cases of online political mobilization by minority groups represent cases of technological
engagement from within. This differentiates minority groups’ online political mobilization from certain
ICT for development (ICT for D) interventions for marginalized communities where the purposes and
rules of use are developed from the ‘top’ (i.e. policymakers, technology providers) and imposed upon
the ‘bottom’ (grassroots community of users). The lure of technological promises to development and
project funds attracts marginalized communities to take in ICT for development projects. However,
some technology interventions may not necessarily have relevance to the communities’ everyday lives
and struggles. In contrast to many ICT for development interventions, where technology and purpose
are imported from national governments or international development agencies to the communities,
the experiences of new technology appropriation explored in this study emanate from the minority
groups’ exploration of how to make use of available communication tools to advance their historically
minoritized positions and find support and solutions to their struggles. The organizations reported that
launching online spaces was attractive to them because an online space serves as a communicative space
that they could build and own, ‘without the mediation or control of others’ and which was accessible
to them despite their limited resources. Purposive and strategic uses of online media emanated from a
drive to use available technological tools for emancipation and weave them into existing activist and
resistance goals of the organizations. Although technology is introduced through external sources (i.e.
other organizations or partners/funders), the objective, purpose and design of online spaces developed
internally. Their activist roots, prolonged immersion into community causes and anti-capitalist views
from decades of experience of marginalization yielded a more careful appropriation of technology.
Power Dynamics Within Minority Grouping
As power and influence may be at play in terms of who gains access to technology within a grouping,
an analysis of power dynamics within the community or larger minority grouping, and how the
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Journal of Creative Communications, 8, 2&3 (2013): 89–106
organizations being studied are positioned in this dynamics, are important conditions in the under-
standing of minority engagements of online media and its larger implications. How organizational
elements: leadership, membership, skills, resources, as well as the interplay of elements of power
and control within the organization are also important aspects that can enable or constrain the organiza-
tion’s use of online media. The decision-making process of how identity, local knowledge, the struggle,
and the organization are to be represented in a virtual stage can represent an intense negotiation of local
cultural values and the opportunities and risks presented by technology to these groups.
It is important to note that most of the organizations studied in this article have relatively more
resources in comparison with other minority organizations in the Philippines. Limitation in terms of
financial resources is compensated by educated and activist leaders who have some background on the
use of computers and Internet, and who have linkages with local and global actors and organizations.
CPA, Ladlad and the MILF are broad-based organizations in the Philippine context, which represent a
number of members, member-organizations and networks.
As online engagement entails material and skill requirements, the groups’ purposes were driven by
the reality of Internet access of their communities and members. For example, CPA’s website is
predominantly written in English, thus privileging a particular target audience. CPA explained that
indigenous groups in the Cordillera are also not homogeneous and belong to different ethno-linguistic
groups. However, limited resources do not allow them to provide multiple translations. CPA explained
that those who have access to the online space in the Cordillera are usually also the ones capable of
reading and writing in English, while most printed materials and local radio programmes they maintain
are provided in the commercial lingua franca of Cordillera, which is Ilokano (Soriano, 2012, p. 39).
As most communities represented by the indigenous and Moro organizations do not have Internet
access and the skills to use the Internet, the online spaces are targeted towards the external community
of supporters, while traditional forms of communication and mobilization are maintained for their
grassroots communities. For these groups, the Internet is seen as most useful for publicity, credibility-
building, and networking with like-minded and Internet-connected local and international organi-
zations. In interactions with their local networks and members that are mostly grassroots-based, they still
rely on face-to-face communication and other relevant media such as print, radio and telephone
communication. This implies that minority groups are conscious of the appropriate media to reach
particular audiences. Although the case studies have shown how the groups retain enclaves of local and
grassroots support through offline forms of communication, their online articulations still raise challenges
concerning the representation of the communities they claim to speak for. On the other hand, because
Ladlad has a critical mass of LGBT Internet users to mobilize online, they capitalized on their social
networking sites where queers actively participated in to campaign and mobilize themselves as a political
It would be wrong to perceive that the online strategies are free of the domination imposed by class,
gender or religion. As Foucault argued, when subjects participate in any social practices, they are
immediately caught up within the relationships of power struggle (Foucault 1980). Amongst the Moro
activists and members of the Web Team, for example, the men significantly outnumber the women. The
important leadership positions assigned to those who make important decisions on online content and
production, are occupied by men. For Ladlad, having balanced representations from its diverse
membership is also a challenge. The organization would have to manage the predominant representations
by gay males and potential overshadowing of issues of other groupings (i.e. lesbians, transgenders,
transsexuals and bisexuals). Also, within these minority groupings are further sub-groupings that add
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layers to the extent of minoritization. For example, a leader of Ladlad emphasized the difficulties
experienced in mobilizing LGBT members from the Muslim community, not only because many of
them do not have access to the Internet but because they face more stringent societal and religious
norms that prevent them from coming out as members of the queer community. In terms of its political
campaigning and spreading the reach of their advocacies, Ladlad also recognizes the huge income divide
among the community, which implies that their online spaces merely complement their caravans and
door-to-door campaigning. Although several members of the LGBT community have access to the
Internet, a significant percentage of the LGBT community still live in detrimental conditions and are
unable to secure jobs.
Nations Real and Imagined
The distribution of communicative spaces and the opportunities to participate in these spaces are
unequally distributed, with increasing gaps in access to communicative infrastructures between the dom-
inant and minority groups. National minorities are often neglected or marginalized from state policies
and programmes and over the years some of them have developed hostile relationships with the state.
Yet, although minority groups seek connection with international actors to solicit alternative audience
and support, the nation remains an important frame of reference, especially as the state still takes on a
crucial role in the creation and regulation of the media network (Appadurai 1993).
Although Internet penetration in the Philippines (ITU 2011) remains at approximately 29 per cent of
the population9 and still biased in more urban areas, minority groups have begun to gain substantial
online presence in websites, blogs and other social media. The call centre industry has expanded beyond
the capital Metro Manila and into Philippine provinces and has fast tracked the establishment of Internet
and telecommunications services in some geographically remote areas (De Chavez, R., Bolinget, W., &
Anongos, A., Personal communication, April and May, 2010). This was accompanied by a national
Community Telecentre Programme as well as the rise of local enterprises such as cybercafés, which
facilitated access to the Internet in smaller towns. International and local development organizations
have also embarked on projects to assist minority communities in using new media technologies.
But despite the availability of access to the Internet, the use of the Internet for electronic surveillance
and monitoring by national governments is well-documented (OpenNet Initiative 2009). In fact, some
scholars have shown that despite its potential for linking activists from the margins of the global
South to larger organizations in other parts of the world, telecommunication systems are being
increasingly regulated in the national and global arenas which control the infrastructure or context of
communication (Kelly & Etling 2008; York 2011). Nonetheless, studies have also shown how smaller
activists have used Internet facilities to undermine government controls and link with counterparts
in other parts of the world despite restrictive conditions (Dutta & Pal 2007; Franklin 2005; Oo 2003;
Rodgers 2003, p. 12). The OpenNet Initiative reported that there is no evidence of national filtering
of the Internet in the Philippines (OpenNet Initiative 2009). However, these same technologies are
used by the military to monitor the so-called enemies of the state, and use the same information for
counter-intelligence operations (Magno 2009).
Although minority groups might consider themselves members of sub-national or transnational
communities, the nation remains to be the primary context for everyday lives and imaginations and those
who produce media and their audiences. Further, the global relations of a nation often supersede the
Online Mediation of Minority Dissent 99
Journal of Creative Communications, 8, 2&3 (2013): 89–106
global connections of minority groups (Ginsburg et al. 2002, p. 11). However, how the concept of ‘nation’
is altered with the use of online technology for national minorities, and how the use of online media
challenges the relevance of the nation-state for the struggle of minority groups, are interesting areas that
can be explored. Here I bring in Benedict Anderson’s (1991) notion of ‘imagined communities’, where
the media and the imagined attachments and relations created by the media, play crucial roles in
producing nations and creating national imaginaries. How does online media engagement create new
perceptions or alter existing notions of nation and belonging to minority groups?
All the three minority groupings, connected to their position as subordinated cultures, have complex
relationships with the state. The Moro group, given its secessionist roots and armed conflict with the
military, encounters the greatest animosity in terms of state relations despite being involved in continued
peace negotiations. It is because of these conflicting relations with the state that they need to manage
multiple online representations and use symbolic forms of political messages. As they continue to
participate in peace negotiations and bargain for an acceptable political settlement, they need to project
a diplomatic stance in their official website pages, especially as international actors monitor the peace
talks and movements of Muslim revolutionary actors under counter-terrorism (Soriano & Sreekumar,
The Moro group also showed how imaginations of an Islamic ‘nation’ have inspired them to seek sup-
port and solidarity with Islamic communities outside the Philippines. Anderson’s (1991) concept of an
‘imagined community’ argues that media plays a crucial role in producing nations and shaping national
imaginaries. The Muslim minority’s use of online media can be seen as a mode of reconfiguration of a
Bangsamoro nation (Islamic Republic separate from the Philippine state) that has well-established ties
with international actors of similar experience. The use of an Islamic version of the website created a sense
of belonging with other Islamic communities, as the MILF was able to find an audience and generate
support from Muslim activists, intelligentsia, philanthropists and supporters, as well as fundamentalists.
However, the organization’s location within the boundaries of the Philippine nation and the hosting of
its websites in the United States implies that the political uses and controls of cyberspace by national or
international structures also figure in the MILF’s actualization of its goals in the use of online media.
Constraints in terms of national resources, infrastructure and skills that are connected to the Moro’s
position as national minorities also determine the reality of the reach of the message to the grassroots,
and raises questions about issues of representation and ‘speaking for’ the rest of the Moro community.
Also, while MILF’s websites reached their target Islamic supporters both for moral and financial support,
the sites also attracted extremists offering support and encouraging the MILF to shift from its ‘diplomatic’
approach to ‘more radical’ directions (for a detailed discussion, see Soriano & Sreekumar 2012). The
indigenous group CPA, which has a more leftist orientation, also expressed concern over the radical
posts it articulates in its website, but nonetheless argued that they need to report and provide opinion
even on sensitive issues such as abductions, land grabbing and adverse effects of ‘development projects’
towards indigenous communities.
For the LGBT group, a close analysis of Ladlad’s online spaces manifests a complex arena of online
engagement that operates within cultural orientations dictated by national norms. Ladlad stands as a
national organization existing within a divergence of ideologies carried by its members, including
those whose self-concepts are heavily influenced by the teachings of the Catholic Church, which
wields a strong influence in Philippine society as moral authority (Soriano, 2014). The reality of
religious influence over Philippine culture shows that setting up rules for public, political talk and
private talk, and negotiating the issues that it advances in its online spaces is necessary in order
100 Cheryll Ruth Soriano
Journal of Creative Communications, 8, 2&3 (2013): 89–106
to advance an agenda in Philippine society, because extremely radical approaches can be immediately
nullified or censored.
While minority activists widen their repertoires of contention, states are still the drivers of technology
and maintain control over its development. While minorities are able to build international alliances
through their online presence, these international entities still recognize state institutions over activists;
and even though the groups are able to reach out to potential networks beyond the nation state, their
struggles still require nation-state attention. The actual outcomes of their online political mobilization to
solicit support from international actors are dependent on how the support generated could translate into
influence on state positions and expedited action towards their grievances and claims.
Global/Transnational Networks of Solidarity
The global character of online media implies the internationalization of a local struggle, where the limits
of local capabilities can be enhanced through global connections with similar activists and supporters.
However, whether the minority group’s purpose is to simply inform or create awareness of the struggle
or draw concrete support from and build connections with international actors, the use of online media
by some minority groups may be attached to this dependence over the international community in
addressing some claims made at the national or local level. Putting the struggle online also necessarily
‘globalizes’ the reach of the struggle, thereby having implications on ownership and control of informa-
tion and knowledge, as well as the intricacies of managing and constructing minority activist identity
amidst a ‘global’ target audience. Issues of activist spaces’ exposure and intermingling with the forces of
commercialism in the Internet have been raised in previous studies (Dilevko 2002 on development
NGOs; Ginsburg et al. 2002 on indigenous movements). Minorities’ uses of global media have also been
feared to lead to greater marginalization (Bailey & Harindranath 2006; Sardar 1996), ‘strategic essential-
ism’ and commercialization (Campbell 2010; Himpele 2008) and ‘objectification’ (Ginsburg et al. 2002;
Landzelius 2006) even as it creates a window for expression and emancipation for some (Bakardjieva
2003; Campbell 2005; Siapera 2005).
Despite concerns that minority online engagement may lead to further marginalization, the Internet’s
global character allows minorities to share common experiences, struggles, and strategies with people
who face similar cases of minoritization around the world. Given the limits of opportunities provided to
minorities at the nation-state level, minorities globally have sought connections and networks with
similar communities in other parts of the world. It is within this global networking that formal and
informal international organizations of minorities have been established.
For the Moro and indigenous groups, it is this connection and the possibilities of expanding their
network of supporters that motivated the groups to embark on the creation of online spaces. For the case
of the MILF, this includes the perception that obtaining the international community’s support (i.e. the
United States, International Monitoring Group and Organization of Islamic Countries) would influence
the Philippine state in taking more seriously their political demands. The group needs to attract
the support of the United States which has played a role in the annexation of Moro communities in
Philippine history and in the process needs to show its support for counter-terrorism operations. MILF
believes that such networks and negotiations project an image of commitment to peace and cooperation,
which could help fast track the enactment of political resolutions to the conflict. The group also ensures
that documentation of their meetings with representatives of international organizations are posted in
Online Mediation of Minority Dissent 101
Journal of Creative Communications, 8, 2&3 (2013): 89–106
their website to support this ‘anti-terrorism’ position. Considering that the Muslims are often treated as
a homogeneous entity in Philippine discourses, this effort is also undertaken, they argue to differentiate
themselves from the extremist organization, the Abu Sayyaf Group. On the other hand, the MILF also
maintains its networks with Islamist supporters with different levels of politico-ideological ends (Soriano
& Sreekumar 2012).
Similarly for the indigenous group, the internationalization of the indigenous rights discourse
stemmed from the collective work of indigenous communities in different parts of the world. Given the
commonalities of struggle of many indigenous communities globally, international solidarity had been
strengthened over the years. The passing of the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples, which CPA participated in, is an example of international solidarity building that motivates a
local organization to participate within global discourses. Likewise, the intervention of the international
community on national issues of forced disappearances, mining, and climate change that impact on
communities’ ancestral domain give prominence to the importance of these networks for smaller
indigenous communities locally. CPA narrated an instance when their online networks helped in obtaining
the attention of the government regarding a case on ‘forced disappearances’ of some of its members,
. . . For example, our campaign against destructive mining has reached the international community and therefore
generated much support. The same for our human rights campaign against extra-judicial killings, we used our
website to target the international community’s support: NGOs, civil society organizations, parliamentarians,
and multilateral bodies like UN agencies or European Union. They received it quickly and their response
was fast. . . . So for that issue on extra-judicial killings, regarding our hitlist [‘deathlist’ of CPA members], the
forced disappearance of James Balao [CPA member], they all sent a barrage to Malacanang [seat of Philippine
Presidency] about the issue. We were able to call Malacanang’s attention and the issue got popularized in
mainstream media.
These strategies reflect the transnational context by which such minority activists craft their purpose and
strategies of online political mobilization. It also shows that nation-states as the sole defining basis for
political interaction is undermined by online media use. It was surprising that the same was not apparent
for Ladlad, despite the level of online activity of many queer groups and their activism in other parts
of the world. Although Ladlad cited instances of LGBT movements or cases of discrimination in other
parts of the world, the online spaces were built primarily to convene a local movement and collective
rather than to reach out to a global audience. Because a critical mass of its members have access to the
Internet, Ladlad focuses its online efforts to mobilize its organization as a viable political force, while
attracting Filipino LGBTs located in other parts of the world. Given that the political voice (i.e. seat in
Congressional policy-making) sought by Ladlad is determined through national elections, the group
perceives that it first needs to prioritize the generation of support from its membership. By doing so, they
will have sufficient capacity to penetrate the state and alter policy.
The indigenous and Moro groups aspire to internationalize the struggle in response to government’s
shortcomings in protecting their interests, whether from corporate greed or oppressive ‘development
projects’. The solidarity built with other groups globally, the information, resources and strategies
exchanged, and feeling of finding a broader audience is valued by these groups. However, while minority
groups’ uses of new media can be construed as purposive, the transnational circuits surrounding online
new media render these spaces not fully controllable by the minority groups. Therefore, while we see
emergent strategies of creative appropriation and the benefits for reaching out to a wider, international
audience, minority struggles can also be threatened by the same transnational nature of the online space.
102 Cheryll Ruth Soriano
Journal of Creative Communications, 8, 2&3 (2013): 89–106
Media flow is much too dynamic to be controlled, but the minority groups attempt to manage their online
expositions through a discernment of the risks accompanying the publishing of content and the
construction of their identities and struggle. Further, while the groups strategize their online engagement
so that they serve the purpose of broadening support towards the struggle, there is no effective gauge
over how such ‘international linkages and connections’ can contribute to a resolution of the struggles in
the way envisioned by the groups (Soriano & Sreekumar, 2012). Online articulations and connections
increased the exposure of the groups’ struggles and provided alternative discourses that challenge
dominant frames, but the role of mainstream media and intellectuals that make these alternative online
productions, statements of opposition and alternative histories accessible to the mainstream and public
majority is relevant. For example, the Facebook characteristics of tagging and sharing of resources
helped the queer groups in expanding the reach of their campaigns to non-queers, as it allows inadvertent
exposure to content not normally sought by a user.
Logic of Technology
Online media’s capacity for bringing in dispersed minorities together to discuss common issues, express
fears or provide advice had been particularly useful for these minority groups, where public and offline
articulation is limited by available spaces for physical gatherings and articulating political claims. The
many-to-many reach of Internet technology allowed these minorities to penetrate the scene of politics.
The absence of mass-media style editorial control also opens up possibilities for new forms of political
engagement, giving minorities the opportunity to create new informational resources about their
grievances, aspirations and struggles.
Online spaces afforded the flexibility of secluding group articulations into cocoons of solidarity
and support on the one hand, while simultaneously enjoining the support of external communities and
countering prejudist remarks in these spaces. Specifically, the case of Ladlad reflected that this flexibil-
ity works for minority groups who need spaces where they can build a community while challenging
misrepresentations and prejudices. Ladlad members explained that unlike their everyday offline
interactions in a heteronormative society such as the Philippines, the online space enables them to
shield themselves from discrimination by moderating their online spaces and blocking haters. The orga-
nization makes an effort to delete derogatory comments in their Facebook pages, because ‘these taint the
credibility of the organization as a political party’.
Nonetheless, the Web remains a site of diverse voices and interests and continues to cater to prejudice
and hate speech. The circuits, reach, and interpretations of online messages are also unpredictable, and
the posts can easily be used by antagonists to reinforce prejudices, further segregate minorities and
nullify the seriousness of their demands. Further, uncontrolled exchanges can expose the organizations’
competing ideologies, covert operations, or internal conflicts and cast a shadow of doubt over their
capacity to speak for and manage the rest of their community. These dilemmas represent the challenges
of venturing into an interactive virtual realm and the difficulties of maintaining control over organizational
image and representation. Still, their online articulations provide an important challenge to
hegemonic discourses of normalcy and democracy and contribute to the disruption of the structures
of prejudice and discrimination. These then provide an entry point for new or alternative political
articulations and voices. These sites of solidarity-building and political mobilization can serve as basis
for the germination of louder and broader forms of resistance.
Online Mediation of Minority Dissent 103
Journal of Creative Communications, 8, 2&3 (2013): 89–106
The strategic imperatives of minority groups’ online political mobilization strategies make these
appropriations of technology fundamentally different from the logics of political action in modern
democracies. Beyond the public claims being made, a range of purposes and strategies, as well as
enabling and constraining structures are obscured behind an apparent meaning. These online media
engagements communicate important meanings by which minorities engage with technology, view the
controls and forces surrounding technology, and use technology to achieve political goals in the light of
structures and conditions of use. A history of minoritization, exposure to multiple threats and controls,
and deprivation of communication resources have shaped a conscious and cautious stance of technologi-
cal engagement by these groups, with attention to the structures that enable and constrain their strategic
uses of technology. Through online strategies, minorities are able to find ways of transforming technol-
ogy beyond being an arena of struggle and extend it into a site in which they can articulate their claims
and mobilize their communities and supporters.
Multiculturalism has inspired studies on cultural politics, or the political mobilization of minorities
on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or gender, while the availability of the Internet for these minorities
has inspired various forms of political engagement and mobilization. But the Internet caters to the
competing forces of hegemony and counter-hegemony. As a neoliberal product, the Internet carries
potentials for nurturing the exploitative agendas of multinational and transnational corporations, in
maintaining state controls, in silencing activism, and in reinforcing dominant cultures, norms, and
agenda. At the same time, however, the Internet also opens up a space by which the resistive capabilities
of people from the margins can be facilitated and the articulation of their struggles amplified.
Not only is it necessary to have some conception of the political, economic and technological dynam-
ics that make the information technology a reality, there is also a need to be cognizant of what constitutes
people’s understanding of this reality, including its production and consumption. Minority groups’ dif-
fering positions and relationships with regard to enabling or constraining structural conditions such as
local culture and capacities, relationship with the nation-state, international linkages, and technological
possibilities and limits offer contributions to the field. This situated analysis also allowed the exploration
of minorities not only as recipients or users of technology but as online political activists creatively
working their way through multiple structures and opportunities that come with online mediation.
1. A ‘minority group’ as a sociological category has been used in a variety of studies, although its conceptualization
has been contested. Other sociologists prefer to use the term ‘oppressed groups’ than minority groups (See
Meyers 1984, p. 12). Meyer argues that the term oppressed groups better captures the process of domination
in economic, cultural, political and social arenas than Wirth’s conceptualization of a minority group. Using the
term oppressed groups, however, would seem to neutralize the cultural identity and characteristics of a particular
minority group, which this article engages. For example, the working class is oppressed, some migrant workers
are oppressed, and even some consider call centre workers to be working under ‘oppressive conditions’. Wirth’s
(1945) conceptualization of a minority group will be used in this article for its emphasis that it is not purely a
numerical concept, and minoritization occurs in terms of asserting a cultural orientation different from a dominant
national framework, which becomes a basis of its marginalization or subordination. The term ‘minority’ can also
accommodate the fact that minorities oscillate across varied aspirations and conditions of minoritization (He &
Kymlicka, 2005; Kymlicka 1995, 2002), which is important in this study.
104 Cheryll Ruth Soriano
Journal of Creative Communications, 8, 2&3 (2013): 89–106
2. The term ‘Moro’ refers to Muslims indigenous to Christian dominated Philippines and will be used throughout
this paper. The term Moro historically contains a derogatory connotation, originating from the word ‘moors’
although the Moro revolutionary organizations have used the term to define an identity for their struggle. The
term Bangsamoro, also mentioned in this article, comes from the words bangsa (nation) and Moro (Muslim
identity), and has signified the Moro’s clamour for an independent state (Soriano & Sreekumar, 2012).
3. The Cordillera region is home to the major indigenous groups of about 1.2 million in population (ADB 2002).
4. Republic Act No. 8371 (1997), entitled An Act to Recognize, Protect and Promote the Rights of Indigenous
Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples.
5. In the recent peace negotiations, the MILF has shifted its claims from secession (independent Bangsamoro state)
to power-sharing through an autonomous political entity, the ‘Bangsamoro’.
6. The Philippines was under Martial Rule under the Marcos administration from 1972 to 1981 to suppress
increasing civil strife. A series of popular demonstrations in the Philippines to protest the human rights violations
and economic downturn were staged, which culminated in a mass protest at the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue
(EDSA) in 1986, dubbed ‘People Power’ or ‘EDSA’ Revolution. The Revolution facilitated the ouster of
Ferdinand Marcos from power and led to the proclamation of Corazon Aquino as President.
7. MILF’s online spaces include: (a); (b), its mirror website; (c) an Arabic
Luwaran, and (d) The Moro Chronicles, These
three other websites all have direct links from the Home Page of the main website,
8. During the American colonial period, the United States played a role in the forced annexation of Moro
communities to the Christian-dominated Philippine Republic despite having successfully resisted Christianity
and retained its Islamic political and religious traditions (MILF Leader, Personal communication, May, 2010;
Soriano & Sreekumar 2012; Tuminez 2008).
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Cheryll Ruth Soriano is Associate Professor, Department of Communication, De La Salle University,
Manila, Philippines. Her research focuses on the politics and dialectics of new media engagement by
minorities and social movement organizations. E-mail:
... CPA, founded in 1984, is a federation of grassrootsbased organizations of the indigenous communities in the Cordillera region of the Philippines. It is active both in international lobbying for the promotion of indigenous peoples rights and in mobilizing its grassroots alliances on local issues such as commercial mining and establishment of dams in ancestral lands, and "enforced disappearances" (Soriano 2014). CPA uses a variety of media from Internet-based website and social media to more traditional ones such as broadcast radio, printed publications, cassettes, t-shirts, banners, and placards. ...
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ICTs and Development in India' is a unique attempt to study the nature and consequences of the growing presence of Information Technology in development projects in India.
'Imagined Communities' examines the creation & function of the 'imagined communities' of nationality & the way these communities were in part created by the growth of the nation-state, the interaction between capitalism & printing & the birth of vernacular languages in early modern Europe.
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This lively book focuses on how different Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities engage with new media. Rather than simply reject or accept new media, religious communities negotiate complex relationships with these technologies in light of their history and beliefs. Heidi Campbell suggests a method for studying these processes she calls the "religious-social shaping of technology" and students are asked to consider four key areas: religious tradition and history; contemporary community values and priorities; negotiation and innovating technology in light of the community; communal discourses applied to justify use. A wealth of examples such as the Christian e-vangelism movement, Modern Islamic discourses about computers and the rise of the Jewish kosher cell phone, demonstrate the dominant strategies which emerge for religious media users, as well as the unique motivations that guide specific groups.
How does the concept of 'space' impact upon International Relations? This book examines this interesting subject with reference to the ideas of French sociologist Henri Levebre and applies his theories to the use by NGOs of advances in information communications technologies, particularly the internet.
Communicating Social Change: Structure, Culture, and Agency explores the use of communication to transform global, national, and local structures of power that create and sustain oppressive conditions. Author Mohan J. Dutta describes the social challenges that exist in current globalization politics, and examines the communicative processes, strategies, and tactics through which social change interventions are constituted in response to the challenges. Using empirical evidence and case studies, he documents the ways through which those in power create conditions at the margins, and he provides a theoretical base for discussing the ways in which these positions of power are resisted through communication processes, strategies, and tactics. The interplay of power and control with resistance is woven through each of the chapters in the book.
Contesting Media Power explores the worldwide growth of alternative media that challenge the power concentration in large media corporations. Media scholars and political scientists analyze alternative media in Australia, Chile, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia, Sweden, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Topics include independent media centers, gay online networks and alternative web discussion forums; feminist film, political journalism and social networks; indigenous communication and church-sponsored media. This important book will help shape debates on the media's role in current global struggles.