Perspective Online

International Perspectives on Protest Movements and the Impact of Technology

by Dr. T. Randahl Morris

In July I presented a research study at the Protest Communication Ecologies Conference in Alghero, Sardinia, off the coast of southern Italy. Close to 150 scholars from 25 countries gathered to share research and perspectives on how the changing communication technology is affecting activism and the formation of protest movements.

International Perspectives on Protest Movements and the Impact of Technology

After the conference, Dr. Morris travelled to Orgosolo in the Barberia region of Sardinia to document protest murals. In this photo, she is standing with the artist named Kikinu who painted this 9/11 mural in solidarity with the United States citizens.

My particular area of interest is in how protest visuals are created and circulate within and across various communication channels. In the study I presented, I looked at four different environments/ecologies in which visuals express strategic messages about social justice issues. Four visual protest case studies spanning a 40+ year period were the basis for this research.

While the traditional and new media cases address the media often most associated with mass communication such as newspapers, television, and social media, I also analyzed sites of permanent and temporary protest images such as murals and Occupy Atlanta. These various environments speak to the myriad ways protestors tell and promote their stories. These four case studies were then evaluated using communication, behavioral, and value theories related to identity formation. The findings suggest that visual protest images are evolving from singular images in unique and mediated environments through a predictable life cycle leading to complex, layered images that circulate in mediated, social, and other virtually and concretely constructed environments.

Applying this type of protest research back into the classroom can be accomplished in various ways. In my visual communication classes, social activism is part of the course and, often, students choose activism visuals for various projects. In my public relations classes, we look at activism related to anti-corporate protests and how organizations can do a better job of setting and/or revising policy and engaging with different audiences to establish and/or repair relationships.

My research in protest and social justice stems, in part, from activities I had my students do while I was in graduate school at Georgia State University.

For example, while walking to my public relations principles class one afternoon I noticed a large gathering on Decatur Street. Once in the classroom I quickly briefed my students. We were going to go back outside and follow the protest march that was about to begin. I particularly wanted the students to pay attention to the messages: Were they clear? Were they strategic? Would they encourage viewers to support and/or become involved?

This experience and others related to Occupy Atlanta in 2011 further developed my interest in protest movements and ultimately in how visuals work in protest activities and testimony. This area of research is incredibly interdisciplinary and offers numerous opportunities for sharing scholarship.

The Sardinia conference was made possible due to a travel grant from Dean N. Jane McCandless in the College of Social Sciences. In addition to incorporating aspects of the research into my classes, I will be presenting some of my travel and research experiences in Sardinia at the UWG 30th Annual Interdisciplinary Conference in the Humanities in October.

by Dr. T. Randahl Morris is an associate professor in the Department of Mass Communications.

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