Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Marc Edelman

Committee Members

Jane Schneider

Jeffrey Himpele (Outside Reader)

Subject Categories



This dissertation analyzes the participatory community radios of post-war El Salvador through ethnographic research and analyses of their operations and programming. It explores the concrete local meanings of civil society and the ways this medium helped construct a vibrant popular culture.

Its core is an analysis of the relationships between the community radios and the activities of emerging civil society organizations as part of a post-war movement reflecting a Gramscian discourse of civil society. Examples show how their collaboratively produced programs sought to increase popular participation especially among the formerly marginalized rural and urban poor, as well as to deepen understanding of human rights, promote practices of citizenship, and redefine "news" to fit their particular audiences.

A viable civil society depends on the availability of public spaces. The dissertation investigates the issues underlying the battles to legalize the community radios and expand this virtual public space. Analyses of radio broadcasts of school graduation celebrations demonstrate the radios' central role in activating the local public sphere, building on critiques of Habermas' foundational concept (1989).

Community radio is not a smaller version of commercial radio, promoting consumption which listeners arguably use to create a feeling of belonging (Garcia Canclini 2001). Instead, these radios are a form of popular culture: transformative expressive practices which reconnect people to their own agency and through which they construct a sense of collective identity (Rowe and Schelling 1991:7). Case studies go beyond cultural imperialism critiques to show how songs circulating in commercial regional and global music markets were locally contextualized on community radio through dedications and other local programming. Other examples explore how everyday music and programming covering the annual celebration of the return from the refugee camp expressed a hybrid but distinctly local sense of culture. Like other participatory or alternative media practices, this programming was an empowering means of self-representation and the basis for a sense of collective identity (Ginsburg 1991,1997; Sreberny-Mohammadi and Mohammadi 1995; Lopez Vigil 1996). Overall, this dissertation shows how these communication projects contribute in a small way to undo the marginalization of the communities they serve.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.

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