Hegemony or resistance?
The Ambiguous Power of Communication
This year’s conference theme seeks to explore the ambiguous relationship of communication towards hegemony and resistance. It relates, for example, to the various ways in which communication has been described not only as a value of our times – echoing an ideal for social transparency and communality – but also as a threat in terms of global domination. This ambiguity has prompted debates in academia about communication being at the same time a value and a tool, a space of consent and one of struggle, and having (more authentic) local and global dimensions.
For example, recent demonstrations around the world, such as Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, the chilean students’ protest, or the Los Indignados movement, as well as the Québec student’s strike and Idle no more in Canada, have triggered discussions and reflections about the utopia of communication. Massively supported by digital media and organised around the ideal of building more authentic forms of community, these mass movements of “global solidarity” have mobilized communication as a value that challenges authorities, financial or economic globalisation and dominant representations of the world-as-we-know-it. These movements draw on the argument that global corporate media and cultural industries have distanced us from more faithful forms of communication. In this sense, they echo what John Durham Peters has described as our obsession for communication as a “registry of modern longings,” whether based on democracy, social and economic justice, or “the mutual communion of souls.” While embracing these arguments, protest movements have a paradoxical relationship to communication, resisting its role in the domination of global cultural industries and capitalism while at the same time applauding its capacity to foster values and communality that would otherwise have been lost. They often do so through disruptive communication practices using communication technologies or cultural productions.
While multiple sites of resistance are spreading around the world, much of the debates about communication technologies mark an increasing suspicion towards the new media’s capability for empowerment. The crisis unveiled by the Edward Snowden case, the importance of Big data and the NSA’s large-scale espionage practices, just to name a few examples, reveal part of the ambiguous relationship that the public maintains with the media. Despite a general consensus over the past few years, which is critical of the use of communication technologies for surveillance and ideological purposes, few people have really changed their own use of communication devices. Political reform promises, as well as the social, economic and cultural prominence of new technologies seem to contribute to the maintenance of a negotiated status quo. Such situations are far from exceptional and examples abound of what Antonio Gramsci referred to as hegemonic domination by consent, where communication not only represents an instrument for control, but also a space for the expression of the majority – “organs of public opinions […] that are artificially multiplied” – that legitimate these practices.
Beyond these examples, this year’s conference theme concentrates on this ambiguous power of communication. What are the finalities of communication with regards to opposing forces acting at micro, meso and macro levels? To what extent can media and communication “change our living world”? How can communication contribute to the empowerment of individuals and groups in their local contexts? How do modern forms of communication interact with the ideal of democracy, considered as much an apparatus for manipulation as for freedom? If communication has power, what is the nature of this power? How do media represent hegemonic processes and acts of resistance? In what ways do entertainment, social media, journalism or public relations act as symbols of resistance or control for corporations and civil society? In what ways does media and communication research constitute in itself a site of hegemonic domination or of resistance? Contributions may include empirical research from a wide variety of terrains, or methodological and theoretical papers from a large scope of epistemological perspectives.