Chapter 11. Radio: Engaging Communities Through Grassroots Media

Kevin Howley

Kevin Howley is Associate Professor of Media Studies at DePauw University. His research and teaching interests include the political economy of communication, cultural politics, and the sociology of media and popular culture. His work has appeared in the Journal of Radio Studies, Journalism: Theory, Practice, and Criticism, Television and New Media, the International Journal of Cultural Studies, and Social Movement Studies. He is author of Community Media: People, Places, and Communication Technologies (Cambridge, 2005) and editor of Understanding Community Media (Sage, 2010). He writes a regular column for The Bloomington Alternative and is a frequent contributor to The Ryder Magazine.

In this chapter I use the term “grassroots media” to describe a set of social relations, political attitudes, and cultural practices associated with community-based media production and distribution. I do so at the risk of glossing over significant conceptual distinctions between grassroots media and equally useful designations, such as "alternative," "citizens," "community," "participatory," and "radical media" (e.g., Downing, 2000; Atton, 2001; Gumucio Dagron, 2001; Rodriguez, 2001; Howley, 2005a). Despite, or perhaps because of, the use of these different terms, scholars have produced an impressive body of research that enhances our understanding of the critical and decisive relationship between grassroots media, democratic communication, and evolving notions of citizenship (Rodriguez, Kidd, & Stein, 2009; Howley, 2010).


Savvy and politically committed as it is, this scholarship rarely explores the potential of grassroots media for popularizing research. This situation is a bit surprising given that academics frequently work alongside, and in support of, grassroots media (Halleck, 2002; Day, 2009). Indeed, for scholars, cultural critics, and public intellectuals whose work is unapologetically out of step with so-called conventional wisdom, grassroots media provide an outlet for research and analysis that receives scant attention in mainstream media. Drawing on my personal experience with community and independent media across the United States, this chapter considers the possibilities for engaging communities in research efforts within and through grassroots media.


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