Reflections on Research, and the Culture War being played out in Media

I’ve been updating the web site today, organizing pages (there’s now a page for Research in the UK and another for Laura Ingalls Wilder posts), and it made me consider the trajectory of my research thus far.

One of my particular early challenges was what appeared to be an inability to settle on a research area. It’s fairly clear by the volume and variety of subjects that I’ve written about that I enjoy a wide variety of interests. It took some time for me to settle on what has become the through-line, however, and that is actually fairly simple:

How do people underserved by traditional media platforms use media to build their own communities, bolster their own political power, and effect change?

“Underserved” is an interesting word. To use it means acknowledging that traditional mainstream media do not serve the same function for particular classes and groups of people that they do for those who are in control of the messages spread by it. It implies that mainstream media reinforce a status quo when it comes to power and control. Thus, people who recognize that they are not served by traditional media turn to other means by which they can get messages into the morass of mediated communication.

Today, this can be achieved through the construction of a relatively cheap web site, the networking of varied social media platforms, and the ability of those who want to get a non-mainstream message out to find like-minded people to help with those networks.

Such sites still face a credibility problem, because, of course, one way to maintain the status quo is to immediately downplay, discredit, and label messages that contradict the status quo as “not credible.” (Or, perhaps, “fake.”)

Originally, I was interested in how new media platforms (when they were new, in the late 1990s) would work alongside their traditional counterparts (newspapers, magazines.)

But as I dug more deeply, I realized that how media platforms are used, and for what purpose, is as important, or more so, than the mere fact that they exist. Local newspapers, for example, exist to provide news and information of local interest to the community, to build communal structures for communication across the area, and to provide common ground for discussion in public spaces.

National and international news platforms are meant to do the same, in a larger sphere, reinforcing public status quo at that level.

But the splintering of media platforms has meant that media consumers can choose, to a greater or lesser degree, which platforms they want to listen to. This has lead to more and more media consumers choosing to “listen” or pay attention to only those platforms that agree with their particular views of what the status quo should be. That has led to general upheaval, because in a world where many voices can be heard, with many ideas about how things should be, people have stopped listening to any voices that might contradict their own.

Thus, a culture war being played out on the public stage.

I mentioned, once, that I view history as music, in a way. Each chord reflects the voices of thousands, at all levels of society in all forms, and each is utterly necessary to create the music that is culture and structure in society.

Suppression of voices will mean instability.

Well. I don’t know that I’ve made any sense in this bit of exploratory writing. It’s tough to boil some of these thoughts down. But what I’m generally thinking, given the work I have done and will continue to do in exploring how underserved populations have found their voices and expressed them, using media platforms to build community and effect change, is that real social and political change can only come when the voices of the underserved are made manifest–and one listens to the stories they can tell.

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