Political science and citizen media

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Political science has long been concerned with the issue of citizen engagement and participation, especially in connection with the development of different models of democracy (Held 2006) and with the liberal democratic imaginary that a social contract exists between citizens and their power-holders (Brown 2015). Work on the role of media within different democratic models, on the other hand, has focused mostly on news media and has been most extensively developed in the cross-field between media/communication studies and political science (Dahlgren 2006; Carpentier 2011). Perhaps as a result of this, citizen media, as a phenomenon and as a concept, has been largely neglected in the mainstream literature within political science.

For classical pluralists, democracy relies on some level of citizen engagement and input, while elitist and corporatist critiques have attributed much less space to active citizenship in increasingly professional and closed decision-making processes (Held 2006). Political science’s conceptualizations of media have historically emphasized news media and its role in shaping democracy through media effects, agenda-setting power and media framing. More recently, the debate has focused on deliberative versus radical forms of democracy and the role played by citizens and by media in either rational or critical public sphere(s). Against this background, this entry attempts to trace and develop an extended concept of media, drawing on examples of mediated citizen engagement through artistic activist practices in agonistic public spheres. The examples discussed include the Yes Men’s satirical and anti-capitalist activist use of tactical media in impersonating World Trade Organization representatives, and the new urban non-violent direct action ‘Reclaim the streets’ in Great Britain in the 1990s (Mouffe 2007). Such initiatives can be seen as part of a development of alternative media or counter-media as participatory spaces (Marchart 2011). The democratic implications of digital media for participation are also explored through examples of how the Zapatistas used media in the rebellion against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and subsequent anti-globalization protests organized by the People’s Global Action (PGA) network (Fenton 2011). Yet another example can be found in De Cleen’s (2015) study of a music festival organized to challenge Flemish far right nationalist movements.

The entry argues that discussions between deliberative and radical democratic approaches to media and citizenship can be fruitfully explored through the concept of citizen media. Citizen media may work to disrupt the possibilities of an inclusive and deliberative democratic dialogue by not working within the rules of the game. It may therefore make most sense to place citizen media in the antagonistic or agonistic political terrain of radical democracy. The entry also considers whether and how the idea of citizen media as a particular form of expression by unaffiliated citizens may render visible the contingent and historical foundation of the liberal democratic social imaginary, given that it operates beyond the social contract. This, again, places citizen media in the realm of radical democracy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Encyclopedia of Citizen Media
EditorsM. Baker, B. Blaagaard, H. Jones, L. Peréz-González
Number of pages7
Publication date22 Oct 2020
ISBN (Print)9781138665569
ISBN (Electronic)9781315619811
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2020
SeriesCritical Perspectives on Citizen Media


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