Culture jamming

Authored by: Vince Carducci

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Citizen Media

Print publication date:  October  2020
Online publication date:  October  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138665569
eBook ISBN: 9781315619811
Adobe ISBN:


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Culture jamming is a form of activism that raises awareness of social and political concerns by deconstructing media communications that emanate from authoritative sources such as corporations and government. A common tactic is to modify or parody the words or images of an official communication, such as an advertisement or a website, to expose an alternative, often subversive, point of view contrary to the message’s original intention. The term ‘cultural jamming’ is generally agreed to have been coined in 1984 by the San Francisco-based experimental music band Negativland. Lievrouw (2011) cites early examples of culture jamming in the late 1970s, though antecedents can be found in the first quarter of the twentieth century with the adoption of Cubist collage and montage by avant-garde art movements such as Dada and Surrealism, and subsequently by the Situationist International, whose technique of appropriating and reconfiguring cultural ephemera termed detournement is central to culture jamming practice. From a political perspective, culture jamming is a declaration of agency within the public sphere, especially in opposition to so-called mainstream culture, akin to the gestures of graffiti and the more sustained productions of tactical media. According to the Situationists, the deconstructive tactic of detournement may be met by the reconstructing force of recuperation, allowing for the co-option and reabsorption of radical ideas back into the dominant system – for example, a Che Guevara t-shirt on sale at the Gap. This entry will examine this mode of address undertaken by unaffiliated constituents within the public sphere.

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