Portrait de Michelle Stewart

Michelle Stewart. Copyright Christophe Delory

Résidente  à l’IMéRA en 2013-2014, Michelle Stewart (Chair of School of Film & Media Studies, State University of New York, Purchase College) travaille sur les politiques culturelles.

Portrait publié dans Perspectives #16, journal du RFIEA

How would you describe yourself?
When I arrived in Marseille, my research focused mostly on audio-visual policy and, specifically, on how some small efforts to promote “discrimination positive” in the image culture of France had been deployed. I was thinking about the terms of “diversity” that had been constructed and how filmmakers had interpreted this mandate in the works funded by the “Images of Diversity” fund that had been managed by the CNC. IMERA was a great context, because it put me into contact with social scientists thinking about migration and multiculturalism. Marseille was a great context, because it’s a city born of a rich history of migration and diversity, with a very different profile and flavor than Paris.

What is your current research about? 
My current research addresses rise of rightwing extremist media in the US and how the extreme right has increasingly seduced the “alt right,” a younger, more technologically sophisticated and libertarian right. These internauts, previously, would have considered themselves more politically agnostic. Increasingly, however, they have made common cause with forces of the extreme right militia groups, the Christian right, and neoconservatives. These are strange bedfellows indeed. They rally around a sense of white persecution, against identity politics, against immigration, against feminism and they were galvanized by Trump’s campaign and now his presidency. Their online media presence enflames these divisive politics, preferring conspiracy theories and paranoia to more focused class politics and presenting cogent opposition to either leading party in the U.S. I’m interested in the ways in which these online mobilization effectively cross-over into electoral politics and “real world” social movements.

My work focuses on how algorithms and affect were deployed across social media sites in ways that exposed weaknesses in the American media landscape and aided young alt-right internauts in promoting the dominance of rightwing messaging throughout Trump’s campaign. These forms are modular and portable and threaten all democracies to some extent. The American election, in particular, revealed and intensified political polarization and a crisis of legitimacy for the most crucial institutions of our democracy (the media, the electoral system, the presidency itself). My research asks how we might begin to intervene in these institutions. A lot has been said about “media bubbles” and partisan filters, since the last election. My research traces the infrastructures supporting these filters and asks if there is a road back.

Your last word?
To quickly get back to Marseille, it was during my time at IMERA, when I worked with local artists and media groups including Tabasco Video, that I saw the force of local community groups in countering the sedu ctive politics of paranoia and cynicism that has fed the right. It’s here, at the level of the local, that I think we can make progress in terms of rebuilding democratic institutions.

To be published :
“‘Images of Diversity’: Film Policy and the ‘State Struggle’ for the Representation of Difference in French Cinema” in Michael Gott and Thibaut Schilt, eds., Cinéma-monde: Decentred Perspectives on Global Filmmaking in French. Edinburgh University Press, 2017.


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