Aditi Mehta, Ph.D. is a scholar and educator of urban studies and planning.

The Politics of Community Media in the Post-Disaster City

I spent 2016 living in between New York City and New Orleans to conduct dissertation research about community media that emerges in the post-disaster context. Through this process, I was able to learn about amazing low and high tech activism, resistance, and storytelling projects including 2-Cent Media, Bridge the Gulf, Land of Opportunity, and Sandy Storyline among others.  I am spending 2017 analyzing the data and writing the dissertation. The research focuses on a crucial aspect of the architecture of inequality that characterizes U.S. cities, unequal access to the production of knowledge through media, and identifies promising new social and technological infrastructure that can help address these significant disparities. 

WORKING ABSTRACT: When a city experiences disaster, inequality and marginalization become more pronounced as different groups of people compete for limited resources to recover and rebuild. While contemporary mainstream media reports an array of narratives about the calamity, it may still ignore a variety of perspectives and the lived experiences of minority populations. This creates a biased knowledge base about the events before, during, immediately following, and long after the disaster. Accordingly, disaster in the city can trigger new formats of expression to amplify voice in the city also known as community media. Creators of community media construct discursive spaces for groups and individuals disregarded by dominant media institutions and practices.  As information communication technologies (ICTs) become more accessible, community media becomes easier to produce and disseminate, and it manifests in varied forms with diverse purposes. But, how exactly do informal or formal collectives use community media in the aftermath of a disaster during immediate recovery and longer-term rebuilding? And what type of symbolic power (visibility) does community media have? Under what circumstances does it translate into material gains for a group or neighborhood (access to money, policy victories, etc.)? My research investigates community media in post-Katrina New Orleans (2005) and post-Sandy New York City (2012). I am completing a comparative case study of various grassroots media initiatives including low-powered FM radio, Wifi mesh networks, social networking sites, citizen journalism, blogging, oral history projects, and participatory documentaries.

This research was funded by the Harold Horowitz Student Research Fund, the MIT Priscilla King Gray Public Service Fellowship, the New York Public Library Research Fellowship, and the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South Research Fellowship.