Saturday, March 17, 2012

Transliteracy, Participatory Media, Political Movement, Kony 2012

Assignment 2 Stack on delicious: Transliteracy,Participatory Media, Political Movement, Kony 2012

My stack in Delicious is driven from the Kony2012 video. Its Web 2.0 response is prolific and has engaged the public sphere and experts alike. While the video’s intent was to move the powers at hand to “Capture Kony”, its unintended consequences are a participatory media onslaught that has engaged its participants to align, assess, and critique the movement under a political, social, and economic lens. It provides an opportunity to see both transliteracy and participatory media unfold under a movement drawing immediate global response.

My first posting is included as an “extra”. SueLampert (NNM blog, 2012) kindly pointed me to Guardian openjournalism: Three Little Pigs advert – video in her response to my posting on transliteracy. The advert framed under the “Three Little Pigs” fable demonstrates transliteracy in action through a succinct interweaving of a variety of narratives (print media, cell phone, video, twitter, YouTube). It is the unfolding of unintended consequences under the guise of a well-known story, and the public’s reactions and the interpretations by those considered the experts with a surprise outcome.

The Kony 2012: what's the real story? , my first assignment two posting, is the actualization of ThreeLittle Pigs advert imagined transliteracy event. The webpage is an excellent example of participatory media in action. Its is a transliteracy aggregation of public and expert postings of YouTube videos, written comments, and articles that address themes around the video, its creator, its over simplification of the political situation, potential concerns about misinformation of Kony’s actual location as well as the video’s potential to negatively impact the social and economic state Uganda. This page represents N. K. Hayles’ (2007, p.187) concept of the hyper attention cognitive style – that desire to switch focus rapidly among different tasks, preferring multiple information streams, seeking a high level of stimulation, and having a low tolerance for boredom. Its robust information presentation takes the viewer at pace from one theme to the next.

I was both intrigued and overwhelmed by the enormity of the content in the Kony 2012: what's the real story? However, I had the good fortune of tuning into CBC’s “Q” airing of  Kony 2012: Is simplification a necessary partof successful advocacy?” This post cast, my second assignment two posting, is a debate between World Bank social media strategist Teddy Ruge and National Post columnist Matt Gurney and spoke to me as an example of Hayles (2007, p.187) deep media experience (and my engrained cognitive style) as it concentrates on a single media focus to provide a deeper understanding. It caught me at the right place at the right time - in the car listening to the radio, unable to be drawn away by other narrative forms - and allowed me to zero in on the content presented to better situate the many narratives presented in the Kony 2012 dialogue.
This verbal narrative is the debate of two that breaks down the Kony 2012 video, its themes, and their respective successes and challenges. It speaks to manipulating the masses and how the creator has been able to drive participatory media movement in ways that no other advocacy group has been able to do. It draws a parallel to the 80s political narrative of “Band Aid” but also allows voice to where Uganda is at – despite Kony’s impact. In summary, it is an “all in one” opportunity to grasp the impact of the Kony 2012 video in a uni-dimensional, concentrated narrative.

After having reviewed these two representations of the Kony 2012 event, I was moved to find an academic explanation of political movement and social media. My research led me to my final assignment two posting, "From Virtual Public Spheres to Global Justice: A Critical Theory of Internetworked Social Movements" (Langman, 2005). In his paper, Dr. Lauren Langman, a professor in the Department of Sociology at Loyola University of Chicago, posits that “the electronic networks that made contemporary globalization possible also led to the emergence of ‘‘virtual public spheres’’ and, in turn, ‘‘Internetworked Social Movements’’(p. 44)”. This led me to delve into his examination of social media theory and the Frankfurt school of thought to see if I could better flush the process of political mobilization through participatory media.

The paper examples a variety of narratives used across time for political mobilization and speaks to participatory organization through the clever use of electronic media. I interpret Langman’s main intent as the presentation of the function the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory to consider the role of literacy and media in fostering participatory movement to offer a “contemporary framework in which legitimacy crises are discussed and participants arrive at consensual truth claims; in this process, new forms of empowered, activist identities are fostered and negotiated that impel cyber activism” (Langman, 2005, p.44).

The paper is lengthy and full of valuable content. I did seek initially to find one or two pages to draw link to the concepts of transliteracy and participatory media. Frankly, I surmised that its reading in entirety provides political/transliteracy insight into past narratives practices as well as those unfolding in though new media much like Sue Lampert presented in her transliteracy lecture. In light of the three previous postings, this thought stood out:

The mediations between injustice and adversity, which are often far removed from personal experience, and actual participation in a social movement depend on a number of factors: (1) information and the way it is framed; (2) a personal identity that is receptive to this information; (3) a structural location conducive to activism; and (4) linkages or ties with networks of social actors with similar concerns. (Langman, 2005, p. 52)

In the case of the Kony 2012 video, I see that its ability to draw a viral transliteracy response arises from an extremely well created narrative that captures the masses and the experts equally in a manner that compels both to sound in. Participatory media is the ubiquitous mechanism that aggregates these many narratives.

I’ve said enough – hopefully, this provides a snapshot of the transliteracy, its actualization in both a hyper and deep cognitive style, and a complementary academic approach to draw all aspects together. 

Over and out,



Hayles, N. (2007). Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes. Profession, 187-199. doi:10.1632/prof.2007.2007.1.187

Langman, L. (2005). From Virtual Public Spheres to Global Justice: A Critical Theory of Internetworked Social Movements. Sociological Theory, 23(1), 42-74.


  1. Hello LJ,

    Really well thought out post. I love the way it builds from a news story to a search for a theoretical explanation for the concepts at work in Kony2012.

    In your post you say "It speaks to manipulating the masses and how the creator has been able to drive participatory media movement in ways that no other advocacy group has been able to do." Here, you point out that it is the creator that has been driving the participatory media movement. I'm curious to know how you think the movement is going to be affected by said leader's "naked meltdown" on Saturday.

    Although Jason Russel is visible throughout the video, I can't help but wonder if you think the video has transcended his involvement and has become a movement capable of functioning without a figurehead. Do you think a smart mob necessarily needs a leader?

  2. Thanks Jarret for having looked at my posting and having reflected upon it. The pressure on those leading anything can be overwhelming not to mention that of a global movement! Kony 2012 and specifically Jaaon Russel’s intense scrutiny would create enormous pressure on any person. Everyone has a breaking point and Saturday Russel reached his. How will the movement be affected? Easy to keep it simple - status quo – those who want to talk about the movement will do so, those who want to delve into the motives of Russel and the validity of Invisible Children Charity will continue to do so. Russel's Kony 2012 video has initiated and piralled conversations on all aspects – at this stage the work lies in the powers that be.

    Interesting question – does a smart mob lead a leader? Yes, I believe movements need someone to be the catalyst. Will the Kony 2012 movement need a leader? That is a good question. The conversation is there – Russel, as the leader, has done his job. People have learned about the situation. Now it is in the hands of the world leaders to pursue the task. If nothing is done, the Kony 2012 (or maybe Kony 2013 or 2014 or 2015) will need someone to drive the movement. Action is best tackled in organized number. Just my opinion ;)