Socially Responsive Communication at Memefest


 Having just spent a week working at Memefest Festival of Radical Communications on mapping socially responsive communications, I had the opportunity to reflect on what it means to make communications that address societal problems. Oliver Vodeb described seven characteristics of socially responsive communications as a starting point from which the group assembled to build on the theory by creating new maps. While intrigued by Vodeb’s work and appreciating its relevance I believe that something is missing.

Socially responsive communications must also address ecological problems because we are all ultimately completely dependent on the wellbeing of the ecological system for social wellbeing. The consequences of ecological degradation are more keenly felt by the poor and the least politically powerful so the environment is also about social justice. Powerful forces have a vested interest in representations of the nature as ‘resources’ available for industrial exploitation and actively work to suppress communications that challenge this orthodoxy. As the impact of ecological problems increasingly drives social problems, representations of the environment is a primary site of struggle.


Over the week at Memefest, we explored the role that social marketing plays in communication as opposed to the proposed practice of ‘socially responsive communications’. My group eventually created workshop, website and silkscreened ‘toolkit’ about the dynamics of the market as inherently expansive and social marketing as destructive of social and ecological values. Social marketing not only misrepresents actual activities of corporations but feeds the illusions of that corporate culture will accept limits on the industrial exploitation of nature. Social marketing is increasingly successful at securing its position as the hegemonic discourse of socially conscious organizations in the public sphere. There are fewer spaces for public dialogue and critical analysis of the claims of social marketing by independent researchers. As a communicator making work on ecological issues, I am keenly aware of how public debates are defined by the work of those agencies producing social marketing and how this practice functions in a profoundly anti-social and anti-ecological manner by assuring the public that business as usual (or a variation of business as usual) is sustainable.

Consequently, I feel compelled to re-write Oliver’s treatise on socially responsive communications in order to address the role communication plays in representations of the natural world and ecological crisis. Environmental degradation is a consequence of a profound lack of ecological understanding and failure of political and economic systems to prioritize environmental imperatives. Any attempt to address social problems with communication must also address our failure to orient ourselves as ecological beings, embedded within and utterly dependent on ecological systems for future wellbeing. Historical analysis on the phenomenon of denial describes collective acknowledgement as the first step to resolving grave social problems that have been collectively denied. I have added five new points make an explicit recognition of the ecological basis for social wellbeing necessary. This approach aims for a dramatic re-orientation of priorities in regards to the environment. Creating systems that function within ecological limits must be acknowledged as a top priority goal for social justice to become possible across class, race, geography and generations.

Social Responsive Communication  

Five new points added to five of Oliver Vedeb’s (mine in black – Oliver’s in grey)

  1. It displays hidden relationships of power in society
  2. It establishes communities of cooperation and opens new communication channels.
  3. It participates actively in social-cultural-political processes.
  4. It pays attention to its own effects of communication on society and culture.
  5.  It establishes dialogue and/or conditions for the dialogue.
  6. It understands itself as embedded within both ecological and social systems.
  7. It understands ecological and social systems as the true source of prosperity.
  8. It prioritizes the health of these systems over economic goals.
  9. It acknowledges crisis conditions within ecological and social systems.
  10. It works towards developing new knowledge and skills that will facilitate systems health and address the root causes of systems crises.

Thanks to Oliver and everyone else at Memefest’s Festival of Radical Communication. Photos by Rok Klemencic, Kevin Yuen Kit Lo at Loki Design and Alain Bieber at Rebel Art.

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