Theses Doctoral

On the Incubation of Radical Ideas: A Communications History

Beckerman, Gal

This dissertation examines the forms of media that are most productive for the formation of social and political movements at their earliest stages. The problem it confronts is a contemporary one: the dominant forms of social media on the internet do not allow for the slow and focused deliberation this is demanded for radical ideas that are attempting to undermine a status quo to begin to take root. Movements rise and fall very quickly, following the metabolism of sites like Facebook and Twitter, without having the long-term impact they seek.

By first looking historically at a series of pre-digital case studies – starting with letters before the scientific revolution and moving through petitions, small newspapers, samizdat and all the way to zines in the 1990s – aspects of more effective incubatory media will present themselves. Each chapter in this first half of the book zeroes in on the affordances of these particular forms of communication that made them so useful.

After having looked at pre-digital communication, the dissertation will then turn to contemporary case studies and the challenges posed by social media for activists of all stripes looking to incubate their ideas on these platforms. Starting with the Arab Spring in Egypt, which offers a cautionary tale of a movement overtaken by the social media metabolism and moving through the 2010s toward Black Lives Matter, there is a progression of awareness about what tools the internet can provide for communication and which prove most productive for offering sustainability to a movement. The conclusion is one gained from the juxtaposition of the historical and the contemporary, which builds to an awareness of what affordances are required for a radical idea to avoid burning out.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Gitlin, Todd
Schudson, Michael S.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 30, 2021