Perspectives on
Media Research

Title chapter: Mediation opportunity structures in illiberal democracies. Social movement responses to state anti-refugee propaganda in Hungary
Author: Zsofia Nagy
Keywords: social movements, mediation opportunity structures, illiberal democracy
Abstract: The recent rise of illiberal democracies shapes a distinct environment in which social movements emerge and operate. This has challenged social science to offer a more nuanced analysis of the potential of social movements in such contexts. This chapter contributes to this ongoing discussion using the framework of mediation opportunity structures. By focusing on the case of Hungary, the chapter argues that understanding the dynamics of protest and social movements in contemporary illiberal contexts demands that we pay attention to three issues: 1) the structural power of the state to dominate the mainstream media discourse, 2) the logic of right-wing populism that sets limits on public discourse and 3) a new re-feudalization of the public sphere where top-bottom, unidirectional propaganda tools aim to replace forms that promote dialogue. The chapter draws on research in 2015-2016 in Hungary, focusing on three different movement responses to government anti-refugee propaganda and politics: 1) a counter-billboard campaign criticising the government, 2) a grassroots humanitarian movement and 3) a local protest movement against a refugee camp. Highlighting the findings of these case studies points to the key potential of the new media environment and to tactical innovations (in mobilization, organization and direct action) facilitated by social media. However, they also show how the effects of these innovations were limited, mostly as a consequence of their ambivalent relationship towards the populist logic of public discourse and structural constraints in mainstream media representation. The findings show that the application of mediation theory to contentious action in illiberal democracies allows for a nuanced and multi-layered understanding of opportunities and constraints of such action.
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Media and
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