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Socially Responsive Communication at Memefest: Comments for a Comprehensive Theory

The week at Memefest Festival of Radical Communications on mapping socially responsive communications as provided a valuable opportunity to reflect on what it means to make communications that address societal problems. Oliver Vodeb described seven characteristics of socially responsive communications as a starting point from which the group assembled to build on the theory by creating new maps. While intrigued by Vodeb’s work and appreciating its relevance I believe that something is missing that I want to address with this post.

Socially responsive communications must also address ecological problems because we are all ultimately completely dependent on the wellbeing of the ecological system for social wellbeing. The consequences of ecological degradation are more keenly felt by the poor and the least politically powerful so the environment is also about social justice. Powerful forces have a vested interest in representations of the nature as ‘resources’ available for industrial exploitation and actively work to suppress communications that challenge this orthodoxy. As the impact of ecological problems increasingly drives social problems, representations of the environment is a primary site of struggle.

Over the week at Memefest, we explored the role that social marketing plays in communication as opposed to the proposed practice of ‘socially responsive communications’. My group eventually created workshop, website and silkscreened 'toolkit' about the dynamics of the market as inherently expansive and social marketing as destructive of social and ecological values. Social marketing not only misrepresents actual activities of corporations but feeds the illusions of that corporate culture will accept limits on the industrial exploitation of nature. Social marketing is increasingly successful at securing its position as the hegemonic discourse. There are fewer spaces for public dialogue and critical analysis of the claims of social marketing by independent researchers. As a communicator making work on ecological issues, I am keenly aware of how public debates are defined by the work of those agencies producing social marketing and how this practice functions in a profoundly anti-social and anti-ecological manner by assuring the public that business as usual (or a variation of business as usual) is sustainable.

Consequently, I feel compelled to re-write Oliver's treatise on socially responsive communications in order to address the role communication plays in representations of the natural world and ecological crisis. Environmental degradation is a consequence of a profound lack of ecological understanding and failure of political and economic systems to prioritize environmental imperatives. Any attempt to address social problems with communication must also address our failure to orient ourselves as ecological beings, embedded within and utterly dependent on ecological systems for future wellbeing. Historical analysis on the phenomenon of denial describes collective acknowledgement as the first step to resolving grave social problems that have been collectively denied. I have added five new points make an explicit recognition of the ecological basis for social wellbeing necessary. This approach aims for a dramatic re-orientation of priorities in regards to the environment. Creating systems that function within ecological limits must be acknowledged as a top priority goal for social justice to become possible across class, race, geography and generations.

Social Responsive Communication - Five new points:

1. It understands itself as embedded within both ecological and social systems.
2. It understands ecological and social systems as the true source of prosperity.
3. It prioritizes the health of these systems over economic goals.
4. It acknowledges crisis conditions within ecological and social systems.
5. It works towards developing new knowledge and skills that will facilitate systems health and address the root causes of systems crises.

Thanks to Oliver and everyone else at Memefest's Festival of Radical Communication for a memorable week.

The Issue of the 100% Male Conference Panel

I was one who asked the male panel at Memefest's Festival of Radical Communications 'Inspiration day' why there were no women presenters. I think it's worth unpacking this topic a little with the intention of helping Memefest develop into an network with strong input from women and other marginalised voices. Diversity of representation should by now be standard practice in any international network, but is especially critical for one that aspires to represent a radical tradition.

The Memefest speakers represent excellence in design, critical thinking, engagement with social movements and activism. In their defence the group represents those active within the Memefest network that evolved organically over the past decade. Speaker choices might not be a matter of producers choosing men but rather choosing people who were active building the network. There were many women participants in the workshop (although the facilitation was also 100% male most of the week). It was suggested that perhaps the next generation will be more equal. I consider the struggles my mother endured and am aware that changes made by feminism have been the result of active intervention; not passively waiting for the next generation to resolve masculine domination. Today women are central to all radical social movements (at least all those I know) and radical female writers are well recognised. In sharp contrast, the design industry is particularly good at privileging male voices and roles out all male panels at conferences with astonishing consistency and shamelessness. What I find particularly disturbing is that this can happen under the auspices of radical communications.

When I spend a day watching a panel of men present their work, I find myself slipping into despondency pierced by outbreaks of frustration. First, I become bored with a sameness of perspective and expression. Then these events start to represent more than just the results of one organisation's decisions on composition of a panel, but all the many subtle ways in which women are undermined in systems that still privilege men and male perspectives. In communication and design industries this masculine bias is amplified as dominant cultural discourses are constructed by and reflective of the experience of masculine cultural producers.

Although Memefest has grown organically and done an admirable job in building a community of radical communicators, this issue of balance and female voices is critical. Women and 'other' marginalised voices offer deeper critiques of systems of exploitation because we have the lived experience of being on the end of oppressive discourses, structures and systems. Feminism and anti-oppressive scholars have argued that marginalised perspectives can offer clearer critiques the ways that power works. A network of radical communicators must be explicitly feminist and anti-racist; and it must also do the work that accompanies creating inclusionary processes.

How is work created by women with different? Mapping out the territory covered by female radical communicators could be seen as an important part of the Memefest workshop's week-long project 'Mapping Socially Responsive Communications'. I believe that women communicators have unique contributions in our method, style and content due to different subjectivities. This difference is especially noticeable for radical women - as radical women will more likely challenge conventions. These differences mean that we are less likely to be featured in design magazines or conference panels. Defining difference is sketchy territory but I will hazard one comment that I think is particularily relavant. We often have a different approach to collaboration; one which accepts the value of diversity and allows voices to keep their individuality (and authorship) within a group. Perhaps this attitude comes from a historical awareness of how collectivism and universalising discourses can reproduce the perspectives (and power hierarchies) of the dominant voices.

It might sound strange to describe women's voices as excluded in an era when women are everywhere in the media. As long as women peddle the dominant ideology they are well received. Progressive networks must acknowledge women's input as vital. When there is an obvious lack of balance, conscious intervention is necessary. I am sorry that I made the panel uncomfortable on Friday, but I had to say something. Several women expressed gratitude to me. I also have to say that I resent having being forced to do so. This issue made the week quite hard work for me. It is an uncomfortable process of publicly criticising a group of men that I think are doing good projects (as individuals). I think it is important enough issue to risk the discomfort as networks and society at large will continue to perpetuate these problems until we confront the reasons why women are filtered out influential positions within industries and make determined efforts to address these problems.

I should also mention that I am have faced the same problem in other networks where I was the person at the platform. During my years with Transition Town Brixton we struggled with the fact that we had a overwhelmingly white membership in Brixton, well known for as a centre of black culture. In Climate Camp and Climate Justice Action we sought to use the privilege we held to support voices from the global south. Making concerted efforts to show solidarity across sex, race, class and location is the foundation of radical politics but always more difficult in practice than in theory. Critically, it's not about token voices, but strong critical voices. Memefest seems open making this happen and I would welcome a conversation on this topic within the Memefest community. Oliver's socially responsive communication aims to 'expose how power works'; masculine domination is one of the most subtle examples of power and should be a primary site for contestation.

Read original post here: http://www.memefest.org/en/openblog/2011/06/inspiration-day-puts-the-odd-in-the-oddstream/?showme=1

Hopenhagen: Design Activism as an Oxymoron

Abstract for the Design History Society conference Design Activism and Social Change. See blog for more pictures and links: http://ecolabs.posterous.com/

Hopenhagen was an initiative by the International Advertising Association in support of the United Nations at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP-15) in Copenhagen December 2009. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon UN asked for help from the international advertising industry at Davos in January 2009. Hopenhagen took the form of an international public relations campaign culminating with an installation in the public square in central Copenhagen during the COP-15 summit. Hopenhagen created a feel good façade where corporate sponsors were helping governments save the world.

Meanwhile, many of the thousands of climate activists congregated in Copenhagen for the summit found Hopenhagen so offensive that they made the campaign and installation itself an object of their protests. Hopenhagen is a classic example of corporate appropriation of people’s movements and the subsequent neutralization of the messages demanding structural change and social justice. As such, Hopenhagen embodies the conflict within the concept of design activism itself. While design functions predominately as a driver of consumption, consumerism, globalization and unsustainable behavior; activism is concerned with social injustice and environmental devastation. Activists struggle to combat the forces of globalization by forming social movements and resisting corporatisation of the commons and everyday life; designers are normally servant of corporate entities. These two forces are integrally at odds.

Corporations want to appear to be doing socially valuable design. Yet creating a campaign around the idea of stopping climate change, as part of a branded exercise within a corporate culture committed to intensive fossil fuel infrastructure, is worse than useless because it institutionalizes hypocrisy. This paper will describe how Hopenhagen 2009 damaged genuine people’s movements at Copenhagen. It will also prescribe strategies for public exhibitions to avoid the appropriation of dissent.

Based in or near London? Come to Visual Camp! Far away? Vote on best Project!

Create visuals that communicate policy issues/scenarios in really compelling ways.

10th May between 5-9pm, London.

Visual Camp - vote on projects: http://bit.ly/e6MEV4

Visual Camp- register to come: http://visualcamp.eventbrite.com/

Decoding Visual Media: Representations of Nature in Popular Culture

I am interested in how representations of Nature in the media and popular culture effect our attitudes towards Nature. I would like to study this phenomenon and could use some help from you, yes you reader. I need more examples. I am going to try and crowd source visual samples. Please help me out by visiting this new blog: http://decoding.posterous.com . Read the brief descriptions of the main themes under investigation. If you come up with some samples that reflect the themes, please send them in or let me know. I hope to make it worth your while in the end by writing something useful. Many thanks.

IMAGE: Oil and Water - photoshot by Vogue summer 2010 on the theme of the Gulf Oil spill.





jody boehnert




United Kingdom (Great Britain)



I have joined the Memfest community becasue i am interested in

Communications, critical theory


U of Brighton


Phd candidate - due Oct. 2011

Working place


Books I like

Uncivilization: The Dark Mountain Manifesto. Steps to an Ecology of Mind - Bateson, Reproduction / Masculine Domination - Pierre Bourdieu, Planet Dialectic - Sachs, Visual Language - Horn, Thinking in Systems - Meadows, Critical Pedagogy - Kahn, Ecopsychology - Roszak, Down the Wire - Orr

Websites I like