Assessing the Radical Democracy of Indymedia
* Article: Assessing the Radical Democracy of Indymedia: Discursive, Technical, and Institutional Constructions. Victor W. Pickard. Critical Studies in Media Communication. Vol. 23, No. 1, March 2006, pp. 19-38
"This study examines the radical democratic principles manifest in Indymedia’s discursive, technical, and institutional practices. By focusing on a case study of the Seattle Independent Media Center and contextualizing it within theories and critiques of radical democracy, this article fleshes out strengths, weaknesses, and recurring tensions endemic to Indymedia’s internet-based activism. These findings have important implications for alternative media making and radical politics in general."
"Even casual observers will note that Indymedia puts forth a radical vision for media democracy. Indymedia’s celebrated slogan, ‘‘be the media,’’ suggests that media production and telling of stories is something to which all people should have access.
However, Indymedia’s radical democratic practice extends beyond website content and mission statements to encompass institutional practices, use of internet technology, and global network operations. To be more specific, Indymedia’s radical democratic practice entails an active renegotiation of all power relationships by democratizing the media (exemplified by an interactive web-based interface), leveling power hierarchies (exemplified by consensus-based decision-making), and countering proprietary logic (exemplified by open-source software). Inherent in these practices are significant strengths, weaknesses, and recurrent tensions, which I trace in the following case study of the Seattle Independent Media Center. I focus on how Indymedia activists, through institutional practices and the amplifying effects of internet technology, are actualizing radical democratic principles.
Aiming to empower marginalized voices, Indymedia goes beyond advocating greater voice in policymaking or a seat at the table. It seeks active re-appropriation and redistribution of space, technology, and other resources to democratize society and thus would level all hierarchies. Thus, much of the structure defining Indymedia as an institution can be described as anarchic (Epstein, 2001) or as ‘‘radical participatory democracy’’ (Polletta, 2002). My use of ‘‘radical democracy’’ indicates an expansive version of participatory democracy that seeks to equalize power hierarchies, correct structural inequities in all institutions, and counter proprietary logic. Such radical democratic practices as Indymedia’s consensus decision-making and open internet technology are invested with values of inclusiveness, diversity, openness, co-operation, transparency, and collective decisionmaking." (http://www.victorpickard.com/upload/rcsm157052.pdf)
"Victor W. Pickard is a PhD candidate in the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Correspondence to: Victor W. Pickard, 1310 Lincolnshire Drive, Champaign, IL 61821, USA. Email: [email protected] Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 2003 Association of Internet Researchers conference in Toronto and the 2004 International Communication Association conference in New Orleans. This paper derives from the author’s Master’s thesis at the University ofWashington under the direction of Lance Bennett, and committee members David Domke and Kirsten Foot. The author thanks Ted Coopman, Sascha Meinrath, and the editors and reviewers of CSMC for their suggestions. The author also gives special thanks to past and present activists of the Seattle Independent Media Center."