Foundations of Critical Media and Information Studies

Fuchs, Christian. 2011. Foundations of Critical Media and Information Studies. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-58881-2. 384 pages. Rouledge Advances in Sociology No. 52. Hardcover and paperback and Kindle edition.

The paperback edition of this book was published in 2012.


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Also available from Routledge is Christian Fuchs’ book “Internet and Society: Social Theory in the Information Age“ (Paperback version published in 2011).

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About this book

Foundations of Critical Media and Information Studies lays down foundations for the analysis of media, information, and information technology in 21st century information society, as well as introducing the theoretical and empirical tools necessary for the critical study of media and information. Christian Fuchs shows the role classical critical theory can play for analyzing the information society and the information economy, as well as analyzing the role of the media and the information economy in economic development, the new imperialism, and the new economic crisis. The book critically discusses transformations of the Internet (‘web 2.0’), introduces the notion of alternative media as critical media, and shows the critical role media and information technology can play in contemporary society.

The book provides foundations of a critical theory of the media, information, information technology, and the information society. It introduces methodological and theoretical tools for studying media, information technology, and the information society in a critical way.

This book provides an excellent introduction to the study of media, information technology, and information society, making it a valuable reference tool for both undergraduate and postgraduate students of subjects such as Media Studies, Sociology of Media, Social Theory, and New Media.

Christian Fuchs is Chair Professor in Media and Communication Studies at Uppsala University’s Department of Informatics and Media Studies. He is also board member of the Unified Theory of Information Research Group (Austria) and editor of tripleC (cognition, communication, co-operation): Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society. He is author of many publications in the fields ICTs and society, media and society, information society studies, and critical theory.

Reasons for reading this book

* To find out more about critical theory today: The book updates critical theory for 21st century information society.

* To acquire tools for critical analyses: The book introduces methodological and theoretical tools for studying media, information technology, and the information society in a critical way.

* To read more about a critical theory of media and the information society: The book explains the foundations of a critical theory of media, information, information technology, and the information society.

* To find out more about how power structures frame the media and the Internet: The book provides a power structure analysis of the media and the Internet.

* To engage with alternative media and the alternative Internet: The book identifies alternative potentials of the media, culture, and the Internet.

What international scholars say about “Foundations of Critical Media and Information Studies“:

‘The information and communications media are absolutely central in the new globalized world of the twenty-first century. To understand their role requires a renewed assessment of the way we analyse and understand the media, information and communications. Christian Fuchs has performed an invaluable task in reconsidering classic Marxist theory and political economy to help understand critically the place of the internet, the ‘knowledge economy’, and class in ways that afford illuminating insight into contemporary crises and capitalist development.’
Peter Golding, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), Northumbria University, UK

‘Christian Fuchs is a demanding and able young scholar who insists on the relevance of old traditions of thought. Foundations of Critical Media and Information Studies is a forceful reminder that we forget at our peril the legacy of Marx – not to mention Theodor Adorno, Hebert Marcuse, Oskar Negt… indeed, the range of Critical Theory. For those who believe the Internet, iPhone, web 2.0 and web 3.0 changes everything, Dr Fuchs’ treatise will make for a very sobering read.’
Frank Webster, Head of Sociology Department, City University London, author of Theories of the Information Society, 3rd edition (2006)

‘Foundations of Critical Media and Information Studies by Christian Fuchs is a superior and sophisticated introduction to critical analysis of communication. It provides an accessible yet deeply informed understanding of media history and theory. In particular, Fuchs has a remarkable facility with Marxist theory and economics, and he makes a compelling case for their singular importance to our times. After reading this book, no student or scholar in communication will look at globalization, the Internet and participatory democracy the same again. This book should be required reading for all who care about media and democracy.’
Robert W. McChesney, co-author, The Death and Life of American Journalism

‘Christian Fuchs systematically and relentlessly disposes of the false starts and pseudo critique fettering not only media theory, but critical social theory more broadly. Reinstalling the Marxian components vital to rigorous thought, he establishes the conceptual groundwork necessary for a political understanding of communicative capitalism.’
Jodi Dean, Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and author of Blog Theory and Democracy and other Neoliberal Fantasies

‘Foundations of Critical Media and Information Studies provides a well argued and theoretically sound critique of the march of the one-dimensional, instrumentalist adoption of modern ICT that reinforces existing structures of domination and economic and political injustices. With its theoretically and empirically grounded critical perspective, the book is an important contribution to the literature on social media, information, ICT and information society. The book shows how classical critical theories of Marx, Marcuse, Horkheimer, Adorno and others can help us understand the developments in information economy and society and envisage alternative roles that media and ICT can play. It also reflects on celebratory and uncritical hailing of the Internet, web 2.0 and social networking as democratizing technologies, dominant in the public media. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the Internet, social media and ICT and how we can use them to make a better world.’
Dubravka Cecez-Kecmanovic, Professor of Information Systems, Australian School of Business, The University of New South Wales, Australia

‘This is a courageous and important work of critical theory for the 21st Century. In an era of small-scale and local theory, Christian Fuchs’s book stands out in its willingness to make overarching claims about the failings and pathologies of capitalist society. Thankfully, Christian Fuchs has met the timely challenge of developing a critical theory of the information society that matches the scale and reach of this society itself.’
Mark Andrejevic, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, University of Queensland

‘This book skillfully combines theoretical rigour with precise empirical research to provide an outstanding guide to the critical analysis of media and information. It is must reading for those interested in social theory, informational capitalism and the uncertain future of the global economy.’
Vincent Mosco, Canada Research Chair in Communication and Society, Queen’s University, Canada


1 Introduction

PART I: Theory

1 Introduction 1

PART I: Theory 9

2 Critical theory today 11
2.1 What is critical theory? 11
2.2 The problem of immanence and transcendence in critical theory 26
2.2.1 The positivist notion of critique 28
2.2.2 The postmodern notion of critique 29
2.2.3 Critical theory as immanent transcendence 34
2.3 The debate on redistribution and recognition: the problem of base and superstructure in critical theory 43
2.3.1 Fraser and Honneth: the debate on redistribution and recognition as a reframing of the problem of base and superstructure in critical theory 43
2.3.2 Base and superstructure reconsidered: towards a dialectical model of society and a dialectic-materialistic moral philosophy 48
2.4 Dialectical philosophy and critical theory 53
2.4.1 Dialectical thinking as ideology 53
2.4.2 Negative dialectics: Adorno and Bhaskar 55
2.4.3 Marcuse, Bloch and beyond: the subject–object dialectic 58
2.5 Conclusion 71
3 Critical media and information studies 75

3.1 Information science and media and communication studies 75
3.2 Critical media, communication and information studies 93
3.3 Dialectical philosophy and critical media and information studies 112
3.4 Information society theory and informational capitalism 121
3.5 Conclusion 132
4 Karl Marx and critical media and information studies 135

4.1 Introduction 135
4.2 The Marxian circuit of capital 137
4.3 Karl Marx on media and communication 141
4.3.1 The role of the media in commodity production 141 Media technology as technology of rationalization 142 The specific process of capital concentration and centralization in the realm of the media 143 The specific role of media capital in the production of media contents 144 The general role of the media in intra-organizational corporate communication 146 The general role of the media in the globalization of capitalism 147
4.3.2 The role of the media in commodity circulation 148 The specific function of media infrastructure capital in the accumulation by transmitting media contents 148 The media as carriers of advertising messages that advance commodity sales 149 The general role of the media in reducing the circulation and turnover time of capital 149 Media and the globalization of world trade 151 The spatial centralization of capital by means of transportation and communication 151
4.3.3 Media and ideology 152
4.3.4 Alternative roles of the media 154
4.4 Conclusion 155

PART II: Case studies 161

5 The media and information economy and the new imperialism 163

5.1 Introduction 163
5.2 Theories of new imperialism and global capitalism 167
5.3 An empirical analysis of the new imperialism 176
5.3.1 The concentration of capital 176
5.3.2 The dominance of finance capital 177
5.3.3 The importance of capital export 181
5.3.4 The economic division of the world among big corporations 185
5.3.5 The political division of the world 197
5.4 Informational capitalism and the new imperialism: an empirical analysis 203
5.4.1 The concentration of capital in the information sector 203
5.4.2 Finance capital and information capital 207
5.4.3 Capital export and the information industries 209
5.4.4 The economic division of the world and information corporations 215
5.4.5 The role of information in the political division of the world 217

6 The new crisis of capitalism and the role of the media and information economy 223

6.1 Introduction 223
6.2 The new capitalist crisis 224
6.2.1 Economic crisis – a consequence of regulation failures? 225
6.2.2 Crisis as failure of capitalism 226
6.2.3 Karl Marx and the crisis economy of finance capitalism 230
6.3 Capitalist crisis and the capitalist information economy 233
6.4 Conclusion 240
6.5 Data appendix 244

7 Participatory web 2.0 as ideology 255

7.1 Introduction 255
7.2 Participatory democracy 260
7.3 Ideology critique of claims about participatory web 2.0 265
7.4 Class, exploitation and the internet 279
7.5 Conclusion 290

PART III Alternatives 293

8 Alternative media as critical media 295

8.1 Introduction 295
8.2 Theories and concepts of alternative media 297
8.3 Alternative media as critical media 298
8.4 Critical media and the counter-public sphere 304
8.5 A typology of critical media 307
8.6 An alternative Internet 310
8.7 Conclusion 322

9 Conclusion 323

9.1 Guidelines for critical media and information studies 323
9.2 Towards a commons-based Internet? 328
9.3 Struggles for a commons-based society? 340

References 350

Index 375

Example Chapter

1. Introduction

The social networking site Facebook introduced a feature called Beacon in November 2007. The technology collects data about user activities on Facebook and on external sites (such as online purchases) and reports the results as stories on a newsfeed to the users’ Facebook friends. Beacon collects usage data about users on other partner websites, even if the user is logged out from Facebook, and uses this data for personalized and social advertising (targeting a group of friends) on Facebook. The partner sites include for example eBay, LiveJournal, New York Times, Sony, STA Travel, or TripAdvisor. Users can opt out from this service, but it is automatically activated and legalized by Facebook’s privacy policy. Many users were concerned that Beacon violates their privacy. The civic action group MoveOn ( started a Facebook group and an online petition for protesting against Beacon. Many users joined the online protest, which put pressure on Facebook because the corporation became afraid that a large number of users would leave Facebook, which would mean less advertising revenue and therefore less profit. In December 2007, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote an email to all users and apologized. A privacy setting that users can opt out of the usage of Beacon was introduced. However, it is an opt-out solution, not an opt-in solution, which means that potentially many users will not deactivate this advertising feature, although they might have privacy concerns. An online survey among students who use Facebook showed that 59.9% have not opted out of Facebook Beacon (Fuchs 2009a). Facebook automatically uses targeted advertising. There is no way to opt out.

“We allow advertisers to choose the characteristics of users who will see their advertisements and we may use any of the non-personally identifiable attributes we have collected (including information you may have decided not to show to other users, such as your birth year or other sensitive personal information or preferences) to select the appropriate audience for those advertisements” (Facebook Privacy Policy; October 5, 2010).

Hearing such stories about Facebook has led many users to believe that Facebook and other profit-oriented social networking sites are large Internet-based surveillance machines (Fuchs 2009a).

The Pirate Bay ( is a Swedish web platform that indexes BiTTorrent files and enables users to search for torrents. BitTorrent is one of the most widely used Internet peer-to-peer file sharing protocols. In December 2009, Pirate Bay was the 107th most accessed web platform in the world; approximately 1% of all Internet users accessed it within 7 days (data source: web traffic statistics, accessed on December 5, 2009). Pirate Bay has approximately 4 million registered users. This shows that it is a very popular tool. In 2008, Swedish prosecutors filed charges for operating a site that supports copyright infringements against the owners of the Pirate Bay. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry sued the Pirate Bay for copyright infringements in individual lawsuits. In April 2009, the Pirate Bay operators were found guilty. The fixed penalties included prison sentences and fines in the amount of several million Euros. The Olswang Digital Music Survey, conducted by Entertainment Media Research in 2007, showed that 57% of Internet users aged 13-17 and 53% of Internet users aged 18-24 say that they have illegally downloaded music from Internet filesharing site (data source: Office of Communications: Communication Market Report 2008, 81; N=1721).  66% of Internet users aged 15-24 say that it is morally acceptable to download music for free and 70% say they do not feel guilty for downloading music for free (Youth and Media survey 2009, N=1026, Office of Communications: Communication Market Report 2009, 278). The Swedish Pirate Party achieved more than 7% of Swedish votes at the elections for the European Pariliament in 2009. One of its demands is the reform of copyright law:

“All non-commercial copying and use should be completely free. File sharing and p2p networking should be encouraged rather than criminalized. Culture and knowledge are good things, that increase in value the more they are shared. The Internet could become the greatest public library ever created” (Pirate Party Sweden, Principles,, accessed on December 5, 2009). I

In September 2009, the German Pirate Party achieved 2.0% of the votes in the German Federal Elections. At the end of 2009, Pirate Parties existed in more than 35 countries. The popularity of Pirate Bay and the relative success of Pirate Parties on the one hand and the legal measures taken by the recording industry and the film industry on the other hand show that there is a fundamental conflict of interests between many young Internet users and the media industry.

In October 2009, student protests against the commodification and economization of higher education emerged at all Austrian universities. The students squatted lecture halls and demanded more public funding for higher education and the introduction of democratic decision-making structures in the universities. The protests spread to other countries like Germany and Switzerland. The students made use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter for organizing and communicating their protests (see: They also used Internet live video streaming for transmitting the discussions in the squatted lecture halls to the public. At several universities the debate emerged whether Internet live streaming brings primarily public support or poses primarily the danger that the planning of protest activities is monitored and that as a result protests will be disrupted by political opponents. A solution that was taken at some universities was that the Internet live stream was turned off when crucial organizational debates were conducted, but apart from that remained online.

Neda Agha-Soltan, a 27-year-old Iranian woman, was shot on June 20, 2009, by Iranian police forces during a demonstration against irregularities at the Iranian presidential election.  Her death was filmed with a cell phone video camera and uploaded to YouTube. It reached the mass media and caused worldwide outrage over Iranian police brutality. Discussions about her death were extremely popular on Twitter following the event. The Iranian protestors used social media such as Twitter, social networking platforms, or the site Anonymous Iran for co-ordinating and organizing protests.

The newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson died after being beaten to the ground by British police forces when he watched the G-20 London summit protests as a bystander on April 1st, 2009. The police claimed first that he died of natural causes after suffering a heart attack. But a video showing police forces pushing Tomlinson to the ground surfaced on the Internet, made its way to the mass media, and resulted in investigations against police officers.

Austria and Ireland have two of the most highly concentrated newspaper markets in the world (Hesmondhalgh 2007, 173). The Herfindahl index allows measuring market concentration:


hi… absolute value of the reach achieved by media group number i
H > 0.18: high degree of concentration
0.18 < H < 0.10: medium degree of concentration
H < 0.10: low degree of concentration
(Heinrich 1999, 230f)

Tables 1.1-1.4 show the readership shares of daily newspapers in Ireland and Austria and a grouping by ownership groups.

Table 1.1: Readership of Daily and Evening Newspapers in Ireland

Newspaper NameOwnerReadership (in Thousands)Share
Irish IndependentIndependent News & Media50820.48%
Irish Daily StarIndependent News & Media46018.54%
The Irish TimesIrish Times Trust31912.86%
Evening HeraldIndependent News & Media31712.78%
Irish SunNews International (News Corporation)28911.65%
Irish ExaminerThomas Crosbie Holdings2389.59%
Irish Daily MirrorTrinity Mirror plc2198.83%
Irish Daily MailAssociated Newspapers Ltd (Daily Mail and General Trust plc)1315.28%

Source: Joint National Readership Survey 2007/2008.

Table 1.2: Readership of Daily and Evening Newspapers in Ireland Structured by Ownership Groups

OwnerReadership (in Thousands)Number of HoldingsTotal Share
Independent News & Media1285351.79%
Irish Times Trust319112.86%
News International (News Corporation)289111.65%
Thomas Crosbie Holdings23819.59%
Trinity Mirror plc21918.83%
Associated Newspapers Ltd (Daily Mail and General Trust plc)13115.28%

Table 1.3: Readership of Newspapers in Austria

Newspaper NameOwnerReadership (in Thousands)Share
Kronen ZeitungMediaprint Zeitungs- und Zeitschriftenverlag Gesellschaft m.b.H & Co KG296239.56%
Kleine ZeitungStyria Medien AG82010.95%
ÖsterreichMediengruppe Österreich GmbH6999.34%
KurierMediaprint Zeitungs- und Zeitschriftenverlag Gesellschaft m.b.H & Co KG6128.17%
Der StandardOscar Bronner3524.70%
Oberösterreichische NachrichtenJ. Wimmer GmbH3364.49%
Tiroler TageszeitungMoser Holding2913.89%
Krone Kärnten/Neue KTZMediaprint Zeitungs- und Zeitschriftenverlag Gesellschaft m.b.H & Co KG2733.65%
Salzburger NachrichtenSalzburger Nachrichten Verlagsgesellschaft m.b.H.2543.39%
Die PresseStyria Medien AG2523.37%
TOP VorarlbergVorarlberger Medienhaus2222.97%
Vorarlberger NachrichtenVorarlberger Medienhaus2022.70%
WirtschaftsblattStyria Medien AG971.30%
Neue Vorarlberger TageszeitungVorarlberger Medienhaus580.77%
Kärntner TageszeitungKärntner Druck- und Verlagsgesellschaft m.b.H.570.76%

Source: Media-Analyse 2007/2008

Table 1.4: Readership of Daily and Evening Newspapers in Austria Structured by Ownership Groups

OwnerReadership (in Thousands)Number of HoldingsTotal Share
Mediaprint Zeitungs- und Zeitschriftenverlag Gesellschaft m.b.H & Co KG3847351.38%
Styria Medien AG1169315.61%
Mediengruppe Österreich GmbH69919.34%
Oscar Bronner35214.70%
J. Wimmer GmbH33614.49%
Moser Holding29113.89%
Salzburger Nachrichten Verlagsgesellschaft m.b.H.25413.39%
Vorarlberger Medienhaus48236.44%
Kärntner Druck- und Verlagsgesellschaft m.b.H.5710.76%

The Independent News & Media group controls more than 50% of the Irish newspaper readership, the Mediaprint group more than 50% of the Austrian newspaper readership. The Herfindahl index is H=0.318 for Ireland and H=0.308 for Austria. This shows that the newspaper markets in Ireland and Austria are very highly concentraded.

I see power as “’transformative capacity’, the capability to intervene in a given set of events so as in some way to alter them (Giddens 1985, 7), the “capability to effectively decide about courses of events, even where others might contest such decisions” (Giddens 1985, 9); and domination as the employment of means of coercion for influencing the course of events against the will of others. Power is a fundamental process in all societies; domination is a form of coercive asymmetric power relationship between dominant groups or individuals and dominated groups or individuals. Given these definitions, the examples just given show that the media in contemporary society are fields for the display of power, counter-power, domination, and sites of power struggles (for a discussion of communication power see Castells 2009 and Fuchs 2009b). Facebook controls millions of personal user data that it makes use of in order to accumulate capital. Capital is a form of economic power, the Internet is a communication power tool that Facebook uses in order to accumulate economic power. Facebook users cannot directly influence Facebook’s management decisions and policies, so there is an asymmetric power relation between Facebook and its users. However, the example shows that Facebook users have tried to exert counter-power against Facebook’s domination by making use of cyberprotest. The multimedia industry makes money profit by selling media products. Filesharers argue that a democratic media structure requires that media products should be freely available to all and therefore engage in sharing and downloading such goods over the Internet. The interests of these two groups conflict, the media industry tends to see filesharers as thieves of private property who negatively impact their profits, filesharers tend to see the media industry as exploiters of the cultural commons. Legal suits and continuous downloading are practices that shape the power struggle between these two groups. This struggle is oriented on setting the conditions for the access to cultural goods. The Internet is a field of conflict in this power struggle. The protesting Austrian students perceive the lack of public funding for higher education and undemocratic decision making structures within universities as forms of domination that they question and that they want to transform. They make use of social media for exerting counter-power against dominant structures that negatively impede their conditions of studying and living. Also the examples of the use of social media in Iran and the United Kingdom show that the Internet and mobile phones can be used as tools for exerting counter-power against domination. The examples of the Irish and Austrian newspaper markets illustrate that media concentration is a concentration of economic capital in the hands of dominant corporations who have the power to influence public opinions, policies, and consumer decisions.

The media are tools for exerting domination, power, and counter-power, they are power structures themselves, and spaces of power struggles. Critical media and information studies (CMIS) conduct analyses of the power structures and domination structures of the media. The overall aim of thIS book is to discuss what it means to study the media and technology in a critical way. Information and communication technologies have transformed the ways we live, work, communicate, inform ourselves, engage in social relationships, form values, tackle political problems, etc. This book outlines foundations of a critical social theory of the media that is applied to example studies. It introduces basic theoretical concepts and questions of a critical theory of the media and explains how critical empirical media research works with the help of case studies.

I am convinced that CMIS needs to operate on three interconnected levels: critical social theory, critical empirical research, and critical ethics. CMIS consists of a critical theory of the media and information, critical media and information research, and critical media and information ethics. Based on this distinction, this book consists of three parts: Part 1 (Theory) discusses theoretical foundations, part 2 (Case Studies) provides example case studies, part 3 discusses potential alternatives to dominiative media structures (Alternatives). CMIS is based on the insight that academia is not separate from politics, but that political interests in heteronomous societies always shape academic knowledge production. If this is the case, then it is impossible for academic knowledge to be value-free, neutral, and apolitical. The claim that academia should remain apolitical is itself an ideological claim that frequently legitimates positivistic and uncritical research, which celebrates society as it is, and wants to delegitimize critical studies that aim at contributing systematic knowledge to the transformation of structures of domination into structures of co-operation and participation.  CMIS is deliberately normative and partial; it supports and wants to give a voice to voiceless and oppressed classes of society.

The task of this book is to ground foundations for the analysis of media, information, and information technology in 21st century information society. Theoretical and empirical tools for critical media and information studies will be introduced. I discuss which role classical critical theory can play for analyzing the information society and the information economy. I also analyze the role of the media and the information economy in economic development, the new imperialism, and the new economic crisis. The book critically discusses transformations of the Internet (“web 2.0”, “social media”, “participatory media”), introduces the notion of alternative media as critical media, and shows which critical role media and information technology can play in contemporary society.

Part I (chapters 2-4) deals with theoretical foundations of CMIS. Chapter 2 focuses on how a critical theory of society should be conceived today and why such a theory is needed. It focuses on the role of base and superstructure in critical theory, the role of classical critical theory (Marx, Marcuse, Bloch, Horkheimer, Adorno, etc) for contemporary critical theory, and the difference between instrumental and critical theory. The role of the debates on public sociology (Michael Burawoy and others) and recognition/redistribution (Nancy Fraser, Axel Honneth) for contemporary critical theory are discussed. Furthermore three different understandings of what it means to be critical are identified, various definitions of critical theory are compared, and a definition of critical theory that has an epistemological, an ontological, and an axiological dimension is suggested. The role of dialectical philosophy for critical theory is discussed.

In chapter 3, the theoretical context and a typology of critical media and information studies are elaborated. Critical studies of media and information are distinguished from other forms of studying these phenomena. A typology of critical media and communication studies is constructed. Example approaches for the commodity hypothesis, the ideology hypothesis, the alternative media hypothesis, and the alternative reception hypothesis are discussed. It is argued that integrative bridging approaches can be found and that a disciplinary matrix can enhance the dialogue about commonalities and differences within critical media and information studies.

Chapter 4 shows that Karl Marx’s works are important theoretical foundations for studying media, information, and technology in contemporary society. A systematic discussion of the role of the media in Marx’s works is elaborated. This discussion aims to show that other than assumed by many communication scholars, Marx provided foundations for the critical analysis of media, information & society that can be re-actualized for analyzing media and information in contemporary society. A model that allows showing the connection of the role of commodity- and ideology-aspects of media and information, media reception, and alternative media in capitalist society is introduced.

Part II (chapters 5-7) provides example case studies that show how CMIS operate as theoretically grounded empirical analyses. It is shown how methods such as statistical analysis and empirical ideology critique can be applied for studying the media in a critical way.

In recent years, the notions of imperialism, global capitalism, and capitalist empire have gained importance in critical globalization studies. Within the context of this discourse, chapter 5 deals with the question if the new imperialism can be characterized as informational/media imperialism. The problem of most approaches that speak of new imperialism, global capitalism, or capitalist empire is that they do not have a theoretically grounded notion of imperialism. Therefore the notion of imperialism is discussed and re-actualized. Based on this discussion, it is tested with macroeconomic statistical analysis of existing data if contemporary capitalism is a new form of imperialism and what role media and information play in this context.

Chapter 6 analyzes the role of the media and information industry in the new crisis of capitalism that was triggered by the collapse of the asset-based mortgage system and developed into a global economic crisis. Two broad groups of explanations for the new capitalist crisis are distinguished. For answering the question how the global information economy has been affected by the new economic crisis, economic data of 210 global information corporations for the fiscal years 2007 and 2008 are analyzed. The empirical sample allows drawing conclusions for the effects of the economic crisis on large corporations in the information economy as a whole and for various sub-industries. The component industries of the information economy that are analyzed in more detail are: the media content industry, the semiconductor industry, the software industry, the high-tech industry, and telecommunications.

The rise of web 2.0, “social networking sites” and “social software” has resulted in techno-optimistic claims that the Internet will bring about participatory democracy. Such optimistic observers interpret the fact that consumers of information also become producers (=prosumers, produsers) as the rise of a participatory culture and of a participatory media system. Chapter 7 argues that such approaches have an unclear notion of participation and that participation should best be defined with the help of participatory democracy theory (Carole Pateman, Crawford Brough Macpherson). Based on this theory, the claims of contemporary approaches that we now live in a participatory media age are tested by contrasting them with the empirical political-economic reality of the contemporary media landscape. It is therefore argued that it is an ideology to claim that we live in a participatory media age and that it is more feasible to assume that the media have participatory potentials that can only be realized based on fundamental societal changes. The corporate-dominated web 2.0 is conceived as a class-structured, exploitative space. The chapter gives an example of how to apply theoretically grounded empirical ideology critique to media studies.

The media are not only structures of domination and fields for the exertion of domination. They are also potential tools that are used for struggling against domination and for organizing and communicating protest. Part III (chapters 8 and 9) discuss potential alternative usages of the media.

Chapter 8 discusses the notion of alternative media. It aims at developing a definition and to distinguish different dimensions of alternative media. The notion of alternative media as critical media is introduced. The characteristics of alternative media are explained based on critical theory. The category of critical media is connected to Oskar Negt’s and Alexander Kluge’s notion of the counter public sphere. Critical media are seen as the communicative dimension of the counter public sphere.

Chapter 9 identifies guiding principles for critical media and information studies. The dominative media structures that are characteristic for capitalist society are contrasted with the vision of commons-based media in a commons-based society. This vision is explained by discussing how an alternative Internet could look like and how struggles for an alternative media landscape are connected to struggles for an alternative society.