Catalyzing Participatory Communication: Independent Media Centre and the Politics of Direct Action

Scott Uzelman
School of Communication, Simon Fraser University
July, 2001
 

Abstract


In a very short period of time, Independent Media Centre (IMC or Indymedia) has become a transnational phenomenon. Since its inauguration in November 1999 during the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, this internet-based form of participatory, democratic media has spread to eighty-two locations in thirty countries to date. This thesis, which focuses on the IMC movement in general and the Vancouver IMC in particular, is my attempt to better understand this ongoing experiment in democratic media and, moreover, to situate it within broader struggles for social and environmental justice. IMC, I argue, is important in three ways: it provides a means of overcoming the de facto blockade enacted by the corporate media, its participatory nature allows for new and more democratic forms of communication, and it offers an example of the ability of subordinated groups to create autonomous spaces of resistance to domination by capital and the state.



I begin this study with an overview of IMC, its brief history, the processes and structures that comprise it, and the challenges it faces. A more focused discussion on Vancouver IMC follows the overview. This examination of one particular node in the IMC network is inspired by my experience of participatory action research with Vancouver IMC activists for a period lasting more than a year and a half. Following these descriptions, I explore IMC using the lens provided by autonomist Marxism, a variant of Marxism that underscores the ability of subordinated groups to resist capitalist control. Next, I describe the relation of IMC to other forms of media activism, making the distinction between ?alternative media strategies? and ?autonomous media strategies?. In concluding this thesis, I situate autonomous media strategies and IMC specifically within a broader set of tactics employed by subordinated groups ? direct action. I believe the thesis is relevant to ongoing discussions and debates among scholars of media, radical communication and new social movements. I also hope that it will prove useful to IMC activists ? especially to those people with whom I have joined in creating and building Vancouver IMC ? in overcoming the challenges we have faced and surpassing the successes we have had.
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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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