Picturing and Packaging Protest: Newsmedia coverage and its implications for social movement scholarship

When the folks at Mobilizing Ideas asked us Daily Disrupters to write about our research I knew this would be a challenge.

Here’s the challenge: In today’s media environment you get one sentence.images

If your first sentence is good, then readers might move on to your second sentence. If not, then, game over.

I know this because of the research that I do.

I study Indigenous resistance. Since the 1980s, Indigenous peoples have engaged in widespread resistance to Canadian state and settler-colonialism.

They have done so via hundreds of direct action events including marches and road blockades. My earliest work used newspaper data to document these important events (Wilkes 2004a; Wilkes 2004b; Wilkes 2006).

Along the way, I also developed an interest in the newspaper articles themselves. It was clear that many of the issues, such as selection and description bias, that a number of social movement scholars were talking about, also applied to the media’s coverage of Indigenous resistance (Wilkes and Ricard 2007).

However, it was also clear that there were other aspects of this coverage that the literature was not talking about.

1. Packaging protest

While certain types of content and meaning have been studied, others have not. This includes the ways that stories are presented or packaged within the media once selected (Wilkes et al. 2010a) and how media frames of collective actors also serve to frame the group that is outside the frame (Wilkes et al. 2010b).

2. Picturing protest

The social movement literature has largely ignored images and imagery. Studying images poses new challenges. Anyone who has tried to code images knows that assigning a single frame to an image is extremely difficult. Our solution to this problem is to code each individual within images (Corrigall-Brown and Wilkes 2011).

3. Picturing and Packaging Protest

I have combined this interest in picturing and packaging protest by tracing the discourses surrounding the repeated appearances of a single image of resistance, entitled Face to Face, over time (Wilkes and Kehl 2014;http://news.ubc.ca/2014/09/22/oka/ ). This image (shown below) is one of the most iconic Canadian images of all time.


Face to Face. Shaney Komulainen 1990.

Via headlines, readers come to “read” imagery such as Face to Face in a more or in a less focused way. I call this focusing process “visual crystallization” and “visual pluralism” (forthcoming 2015  in Journalism Studies).

I see the next challenge as one of understanding the media’s usage of single words to describe resistance. As many scholars have pointed out, no word selection used in the course of writing and discussing resistance – “nation”, “sovereignty” ,” treaty”, “protest”, “claim” has a universal agreed-upon meaning (LaRocque 2010; Simpson 2008; Stark 2008).

To say, for example, that Indigenous People are in Canada has very different connotations that to say that Canada is located on Indigenous land.

These single words are very important. Most readers now only scan news headlines containing a few words. These few words don’t even make up a single frame.

The recent shift in how we read therefore poses a major challenge to how we think about the movement-media relationship.

Just think about how you read this post.


LaRocque, Emma. (2010). When the other is me: Native resistance discourse, 1850-1990. University of Manitoba Press.

Simpson, Audra. 2008. “Subjects of Sovereignty: Indigeneity, The Revenue Rule and Juridics of Failed Consent.” Law and Contemporary Problems 71: 191-215.

Stark, Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik. 2008. “Sovereignty”, in Encyclopedia of United States-American Indian Policy, Relations, and Law. CQ Press, Congressional Quarterly Inc.

Wilkes, Rima and Michael Kehl. 2014. “One Image, Multiple Nationalisms: Face to Face and the Siege at Kanehsatà:ke” Nations and Nationalism 20: 481-502.

Corrigall-Brown, Catherine and Rima Wilkes. 2012. “Picturing Protest: The Visual Framing of Collective Action by First Nations in Canada.” American Behavioral Scientist. 56: 223-243.

Wilkes, Rima, Corrigall-Brown Catherine and Danielle Ricard. 2010b. “Nationalism and Media   Coverage of Indigenous People’s Collective Action.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal. 34: 41-59.

Wilkes, Rima, Corrigall-Brown Catherine and Daniel Myers. 2010a. “Packaging Protest: Media Coverage of Indigenous People’s Collective Action.” Canadian Review of Sociology. 47:349-379.

Wilkes, Rima and Danielle Ricard. 2007. “How Does Newspaper Coverage of Collective Action Vary? Protest by Indigenous Peoples in Canada.” Social Science Journal. 44: 231-251.

Wilkes, Rima. 2006. “The Protest Actions of Indigenous Peoples: A Canada-U.S. Comparison of Social Movement Emergence. American Behavioral Scientist. 50: 510-525.

Wilkes, Rima. 2004b. “First Nation Politics: Deprivation, Resources and Participation in Collective Action.” Sociological Inquiry. 74: 570-589.

Wilkes, Rima. 2004a. “A Systematic Approach to Studying Indigenous Politics: Band–Level Mobilization in Canada, 1981-2000.” The Social Science Journal. 41: 447-457.



Filed under Emerging Stars in Social Movement Research, Essay Dialogues

3 responses to “Picturing and Packaging Protest: Newsmedia coverage and its implications for social movement scholarship

  1. Pingback: Emerging Stars in Social Movement Research | Mobilizing Ideas

  2. Pingback: Picturing and Packaging Protest: Newsmedia coverage and its implications for social movement scholarship | Mobilizing Ideas | Public Philosophy Journal

  3. Pingback: Emerging Stars in Social Movement Research | Mobilizing Ideas

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