“Liberation technology?” : Toward an understanding of the re-appropriation of social media for emancipatory uses among alternative media projects in El Salvador

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2014-05

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Harlow, Summer Dawn

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Abstract

This dissertation explores whether and how alternative media in El Salvador incorporated information communication technologies (ICTs) for social change, and whether incorporating said technologies changed citizen participation not only in the media process itself, but also in a broader discursive sphere as well as civic and political life. Within the context of a digitally divided region, this project employed ethnographic methods—including in-depth interviews, participant-observation, and a content analysis—to interrogate the perceived potential value of ICTs in alternative media for contesting power, contributing to social change, and opening spaces for citizen participation in technology and through technology. This research is merely a beginning stage in learning how digital communication tools influence alternative media practices, and what that means for participation, mobilization and empowerment. This study contributes to burgeoning literature focused on communication for social change and technologies by adding an international focus, and by furthering our understanding of under what circumstances alternative media can (or cannot) employ new technologies in liberating ways, especially in a region where use of and access to these technologies is far from universal. Ultimately this dissertation advances existing literature with two main contributions: extending our understanding of the digital divide to include inequalities of social media and whether it is used in liberating or frivolous ways, and including technology use—whether liberating or not¬—as a fundamental approach to the study of alternative media.

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