Media Activism and Postcolonial Futures

Six days of interactive Winter School training

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    About the IIAS/ SSRC Winter School

    There has been growing scholarly interest in better understanding the role of media technologies—from Weibo and WhatsApp to cloud computing and location-based services – in transforming the nature of social movements worldwide. But “Twitter revolutions” that subvert existing structures of media and political power are only a part of this story. The Arab Uprisings also taught states across the Middle East, North Africa and Asia how to tame media activism and deploy digital tools for control. Media activism spread across ideological spectrums and has brought to the forefront not only youth and pro-democracy movements. It has also been used successfully by political parties to embrace ethno-nationalist agendas and enable closer alliances with neoliberal capital and military power. These varied political logics and fates of media activism since 2011 make clear that triumphalist accounts of “media technologies-as-liberation” require revision; there is a pressing need to embed media and technology-centric perspectives on activism in an account of historical context and institutional power.

    In this Winter School, we are interested in exploring these multivalent dynamics of digital media activism in postcolonial contexts where historical and contemporary legacies of global power relations shape and inflect media and political practices. Specifically, we will trace how media industries, from news to entertainment, from social networking services to commercialized broadcasting sectors, create new modes of politics building on existing political divides between middle class minorities and majority publics. We will also consider how the politics of ethnicity, religion, caste/race, gender and sexuality shape these new modes of political engagement.  In this process we will pay attention to the role of the state and the expanded influence of established commercial media industries in generating new forms of public-private surveillance and control. Finally, we will consider the shifting political valences of digital activism, paying attention to how political energies have been re-oriented towards right-wing populism and new digitally enhanced modes of authoritarianism.  

    The Winter School will allow PhD students and advanced research masters’ students with significant professional experience, including journalists and researchers allied with social movements, to problematize these questions in the politically dynamic setting of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is an ideal city to discuss the dynamics of media activism historically and in the present given its postcolonial status, unique media systems in relation to mainland China, and its ongoing power struggle following the Umbrella Movement of 2014.

    Conversations at the Hong Kong Winter School will revolve around critical reflections on media activism in the Asian, including West Asia, or the Middle East, and North African context around the following sub-themes, among others:

    • Contemporary forms of media activism in historical context in relation to earlier 20th century movements, parties, and struggles
    • Dynamics of the relationship between media activism and state and corporate control and surveillance
    • Modes of cross-class media activism (middle class, working class/subaltern media campaigns)
    • InterAsian (by which we mean historical and/or contemporary transnational/cross-national/trans-regional processes, structures, practices, and flows within, across and beyond the territorial and imaginative space of Asia)/transborder social movements and media
    • Media and populism/authoritarianism
    • The genres of mediated expression and the question of "political voice"

    The Winter School was held from January 16-21, 2017, at the C-Centre (Centre for Chinese Media and Comparative Communication Research) at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. In addition to lectures by leading scholars in the field, students also conducted group projects and enjoy fieldtrips to important sites of media politics in Hong Kong, such as public broadcasters, commercial press, independent media platforms, NGOs, and new and old sites of activist struggles. At the end of the Winter School, students gave final presentations to the public including the social movement and media organizations they study.

    Francis LeeZaharom Nain and Srirupa Roy will lead the Winter School with Paula Chakravartty as guest co-convenor and Jack Qiu as host co-convenor. Coming from different academic traditions with diverse theoretical and methodological expertise, the lead trainers and co-convenors shall foster an active atmosphere of open discussion, critique, and empirical inquiry. The goal is to facilitate students’ existing research projects in a related field of study through a combination of lectures, fieldtrips, and group work.

    General information

    For whom

    The Winter School on Media Activism and Postcolonial Futures is intended to support PhD Students or advanced masters’ students with significant related professional experience (such as experience in the field of journalism). All applicants must be committed to or actively working on original research projects that engage with the Winter School theme.


    The application deadline was 13 June 2016. It is no longer possible to submit an application.

    Selection procedure

    The programme allows a maximum of 20 participants. All who apply by the deadline will be informed about the selection results before 20 August 2016. Please note that we will be unable to provide feedback and comments to those applicants not selected for participation.

    Participation requirements

    Selected participants agree to attend and participate in all events from 16–21 January 2017, including lectures, fieldtrips, and group presentations. Participants also agree to read pre-circulated background materials as generated by the Conveners (as relevant).

    Language requirements

    A working language of English is required and presentations will be in English. No translation/interpretation services will be available at the conference.

    Registration fee

    Participants must pay the following registration fee: € 250.


    Half-board accommodation (breakfast and lunch) for seven nights is included for the selected participants.

    Travel costs

    Selected participants are expected to fund their own travel expenses. Limited (partial) scholarships are available. 


    After you have received the confirmation of your participation, you will receive further information about the payment of the registration fee (due in mid-October 2016). You can pay with credit card (Master or Visa) or via bank transfer. 

    Cancellation policy

    Participation in the Winter School can be cancelled free of charge until 60 days before the start. If cancellation occurs within 60 days prior to the start of the programme, the fee will not be refunded.


    Participants can receive a certificate for the Winter School.

    Who organizes the Winter School?

    The 2017 Winter School on Media Activism and Postcolonial Futures is co-organized by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) and the Social Science Research Council’s Transregional Virtual Research Institute (TVRI), “Media, Activism and the New Political.”

    The International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) is a research and exchange platform based in Leiden, the Netherlands. IIAS encourages the multi‐disciplinary and comparative study of Asia and promotes national and international cooperation, acting as an interface between academic and non‐academic partners, including cultural, social and policy organisations. The main research foci are Asian cities, dynamics of cultural heritage, and the global projection of Asia. These themes are broadly framed so as to maximise interactions and collaborative initiatives. IIAS is also open to new ideas of research and policy‐related projects.

    In keeping with the Dutch tradition of transferring goods and ideas, IIAS works both as an academically informed think tank and as a clearinghouse of knowledge. It provides information services, builds networks and sets up cooperative programmes. Among IIAS activities are the organisation of seminars, workshops and conferences, outreach programmes for the general public, the publication of an internationally renowned newsletter, support of academic publication series, and maintaining a comprehensive database of researchers and Asian studies institutions. IIAS hosts the secretariats of the European Alliance for Asian Studies and the International Convention of Asian Scholars. In this way, IIAS functions as a window on Europe for non‐European scholars, contributing to the cultural rapprochement between Asia and Europe. See for more information.

    Launched in 2012, the Transregional Virtual Research Institute (TVRI) Media, Activism and the New Political: InterAsian Perspectives, is one of many projects that comprise the Social Science Research Council’s larger InterAsia Program. The TVRI is a collaborative enterprise that brings together faculty from different disciplines, different international campuses, and at different stages of their careers to further research and training on themes addressing the interrelationship of media and politics within and across InterAsia. Events and research projects examine the symbolic dimensions of mediated activism, media as activism, mediated activism and (counter) revolutions, and mediated populism, among other issues.

    The TVRI is designed to be catalytic in nature, generating new research questions and collaborations, defining lines of innovative work, and drawing attention to lacunae in the field. As with all InterAsia Program research, emphasis is placed on transnational and transregional dimensions of this work and the reconceptualization of Asia as a spatially and historically networked region and interlinked set of formations stretching from West Asia, through Eurasia, Central Asia, and South Asia to Southeast Asia and East Asia.

    See for more information.

    The 2017 winter school will be hosted by The C-Centre, the Centre for Chinese Media and Comparative Communication Research at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The C-Centre aims to contribute to the communication discipline by conducting frontline research on media in Greater China and comparative communication. It also aspires to be the hub of exchange among communication scholars from around the world.

    See for more information.