Political culture keywords: exploring the media practices of social movements that are worlds apart
Proposed abstract to the special issue of Media, Culture and Society on “Media, political cultures and social movements”, Veronica Barassi, Alice Mattoni and Anastasia Kavada (eds.).
John Postill (RMIT)
23 October 2016
The concept of political culture offers scholars of media and social movements a powerful way to overcome the field’s traditional neglect of cultural specificities. This concept must, however, be handled with care to avoid both ahistoricism and sociocultural determinism (the evil twin of technological determinism). With this note of caution in mind, the present essay proposes an approach to the holistic study of social movements and their technological mediations inspired by Williams’ (1976) classic Keywords, Peters’ (2016) Digital Keywords remake and Sewell’s (2005) theory of historical change. I propose the urgent compilation of culture-specific political vocabularies from the ground up, i.e. by drawing from vernacular resources along six lines of inquiry: actors, practices, media, divides, trends and events. The resulting glossaries would provide scholars with rich spaces of dynamic relationality in which to locate particular activist groups or movements and their media practices. These glossaries would then be amenable to historical comparisons within the same political culture or to cross-border comparisons with coeval ones elsewhere. I briefly exemplify this approach by sketching the 2004-2016 trajectories of digital rights activists operating within the Spanish and Indonesian political cultures, whose respective sets of keywords are – not surprisingly – worlds apart.