The Construction of Social Space in an Alternative
Radio Text: Resistant Praxis and Hegemonic
Rhetoric at KUNM-FM, Albuquerque
Submitted to the AEJMC Qualitative Studies Division
for presentation at the 1997 national conference
Division of Communication Arts
315 Shorter Ave., Box 296
Rome, GA 30165
[log in to unmask]
cover page without name
The Construction of Social Space in an Alternative
Radio Text: Resistant Praxis and Hegemonic
Rhetoric at KUNM-FM, Albuquerque
Submitted to the AEJMC Qualitative Studies Division
for presentation at the 1997 national conference
The Construction of Social Space in an Alternative Radio Text: Resistant
Praxis and Hegemonic Rhetoric at KUNM-FM, Albuquerque
The Construction of Social Space...
This paper is part of a larger ethnographic study that I have conducted on
KUNM-FM, a noncommercial radio station in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The
fundamental issue of the overall study is how an imagined community is
constructed through discourse occurring at the station. This paper examines a
specific KUNM program to illustrate how discursive patterns not only construct
New Mexican communal space, but also privilege an a priori social hierarchy
which is contradictory to organizational principles of KUNM and other
The Construction of Social Space in an Alternative Radio Text: Resistant
Praxis and Hegemonic Rhetoric at KUNM-FM, Albuquerque
The Construction of Social Space...
This paper is a part of a larger ethnographic study that I have conducted on
KUNM-FM, a noncommercial radio station in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The
fundamental issue of the overall study is how an imagined community is
constructed through discourse occurring at the station. During the 1996 AEJMC
conference, I presented a paper on how such a community was constructed via
listener letters printed in KUNM's newsletter. Here, I examine a specific KUNM
program to illustrate how discursive patterns not only construct New Mexican
communal space, but also privilege an a priori social hierarchy which is
contradictory to organizational principles of KUNM and other "alternative
Data for the study were collected during the summer of 1995. As a
participant-observer at the station, I interviewed station staff (paid and
volunteer), recorded programs for analysis, attended management meetings and
live programs, and helped with routine organizational tasks such as organizing
mass mailings. My principle source of data for this paper is a broadcast of a
weekly, KUNM production called Women's Focus.
KUNM and "alternative media." Founded in 1960 as a student-run operation at
the University of New Mexico, KUNM has evolved into a National Public Radio
affiliate with an estimated 56,000 regular listeners and an annual operating
budget of over $600,000. Its signal forms a circle with a sixty-mile radius
centered in Albuquerque, and translators boost the signal to Santa Fe, Taos, and
other locations throughout northern New Mexico. In 1995, Arbitron ratings
ranked KUNM eighteenth out of thirty-two radio stations in Albuquerque's densely
packed market (Towne, 1996).
Like most public radio stations, KUNM broadcasts nationally-produced programs
such as NPR's news series, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as
many hours per week of public radio's ubiquitous jazz fare. On the other hand,
unlike most NPR affiliates, KUNM's day-to-day operation is highly dependent upon
about 150 volunteers, many of whom produce over sixty percent of the station's
programming. Such productions include Latino news and music, women's
programming, a Native American show, programs featuring specific musical genres
such as blues, reggae, and grunge, plus numerous hours of free-form music
wherein all genres are played in a single program. Volunteers also have a
strong voice in station management via participation in many areas of station
governance such as programming decisions and hiring of paid staff.
KUNM is among a class of radio stations, community access cable channels,
publications, theater groups, and so on often described in communications
scholarship as "alternative media" (see, for example, Velasquez, 1993).
Although cases reported upon range widely in their organizational structures and
activities, alternative media are generally described as sharing three minimum
requirements: an active base of volunteers, distrust of commercially sponsored
media, and a strong commitment to promoting social equity. Scholars often
associate alternative media with democracy, arguing that such organizations
foster egalitarian principles. Butalia (1993: 53), for example, writes that,
"Alternative media are part of a much more horizontal process: not only in
democratization and demystification of the processes of making media...but also
being at the very heart of struggles for democracy and social change."
Occasionally, however, scholars have challenged the validity of such arguments.
Mattelart and Piemme (1980), for example, noted that Canadian cable-access
television channels were consistently dominated by middle-class participants,
despite rhetoric about universal access. More recently, Hochheimer (1993) has
raised pointed questions about the democratic potential of community radio
stations, given the expenses, internal stresses, and external opposition
associated with those stations. I share the skepticism--or at least,
reserved optimism--evidenced by Hochheimer, Mattelart, and Piemme, and this
paper is intended to uncover and explain the gaps between KUNM's alternative
principles and the hegemonic implications of a sample program.
Space plays a central role in my exploration of KUNM. Here, I analyze how
KUNM's geographical milieu is discursively constructed in a single broadcast in
order to reveal assumptions about the people who inhabit that space.
Space, performance, and coded text. Numerous scholars have recently studied
the relationship between perceptions of geographical space and social power.
The ways in which given spaces are conceived, these scholars report, are closely
correlated with behavior within those spaces and with personal and communal
identity (Cuba & Hummon, 1993; Proshansky, Fabian, & Kaminoff, 1983; Young,
1988). Drawing from Foucault's work on social discipline (1977), for instance,
Shields (1992: 64-65) writes that the "regime of spatiality has the effect of a
'placing' of individuals into social fields, and a 'spacing out' of
institutional structures and jurisdictions to constitute a field or ground for
the operations of power and the flow of knowledge in regularised, day-to-day
situations." And Massey (1994) concurs, arguing that conceptions of place are
"stretched out social relations," an "ever shifting social geometry of power and
signification." Following this line of thought, space does not simply exist as
an objective reality. Rather, social forces actively vie to construct space in
their own best interests.
The tourist industry is a particularly important source of spatial
construction. Tourist bureaus construct, refine, and affirm the nature of
particular spaces and then promote those spaces on national and global
markets--thus transforming "space" into "place." Much has been written about
how, in defining places, tourism also functions to construct residents, often in
an inequitable manner. For example, Nash (1989) describes how core/periphery
relationships are fostered by tourist industries so that residents of rural
hinterlands are marketed as resources for consumption by the core; service
economies develop in peripheral regions to fulfill the dreams of metropolitan
visitors in a distinctly unequal partnership. As Kapferer writes, "the
fashionable metropolitan world finds its own redemption in a fantasized
periphery [and] the harsh struggle at the edge is once more appropriated and
transformed to the interests of the metropole eager as always for the
authentication of its own world view (quoted in Babcock, 1990: 387; see also,
New Mexico is a rich site in which to study tourism and its rhetorical
construction of place and people. New Mexico's industrial base is quite small,
and except for federal subsidies, tourism is the state's largest source of
revenue (Council of State Governors, 1993). For over a century, the New Mexican
tourist industry has marketed the state as a place where time has stood still
and where ancient tradition is still an everyday practice (Hinsley, 1990;
Weigle, 1989). The state is portrayed as an escape from the pressures of
industrial society, a spiritual mecca, and a site where travelers can experience
authenticity in an otherwise superficial world, and its slogan is a testament to
New Mexico's correlation with mystical escape: New Mexico is "the land of
enchantment" (for an example, consult New Mexico Department of Tourism, 1995).
Even so, researchers have demonstrated that in its construction of a spiritual
haven, New Mexican tourism has also constructed residents--particularly Native
Americans--as the exotic other. In her study of tourism's representations of
Pueblo women, for example, Babcock (1990: 404) writes that, "she is valued
because she is, if only in...imaginary projections, outside history, outside
industrial capitalism....This is aesthetic positivism and this is a form of
neo-colonial domination--a gaze which fixes and objectifies, which masters."
KUNM volunteer and paid staff would abhor these unpleasant findings, yet my
analysis of a sample program's discourse on New Mexican space reveals a tendency
to affirm social hierarchies promoted by the tourist industry. Although the
program's songs and dialog promote notions of multicultural and gender equality,
recurrent references to space (as well as time) frame socially progressive
discourse within a paradigm which assumes the naturalness of given social
inequities--namely those between core and periphery, rich and poor, white and
WOMEN'S FOCUS AS A TEXT
Women's Focus is broadcast on Saturdays from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm. It has been
on the air since 1983, and its purpose is to showcase music by women and to act
as a conduit through which women's issues are publicized. Each week's broadcast
is usually loosely organized around a central theme such as women's health.
Guests are interviewed about the week's topic, and interviews are interspersed
with announcements and music. Hosts rotate among a small cadre of regular
programmers. Once per month, the show's title changes to Voces Feministas, and
the program focuses upon issues of special relevance to Latinas.
The sample text--broadcast in July, 1995--was chosen for analysis because
spatial discourse is particularly evident, providing ample data for
investigation. The broadcast consists of twenty-two segments, listed in Figure
1. Briefly summarized, the broadcast concerns travel in New Mexico and features
two interviews with women who have written about the subject; the first guest is
a co-author of a New Mexican travel book, and the second is a local professor
who has written on nineteenth-century women who travelled in New Mexico.
The program opens with short segments of international women's news provided by
a satellite service, followed by the two interviews and a list of local women's
events. Songs, sometimes specifically about travel, open and close the program
and divide the interviews and other segments. Promotional carts and
underwriting announcements are interspersed among the songs and features.
While the sample broadcast can be considered feminist in the sense that it is
produced by and for women, it is not a radical feminist text. Only one song is
specifically feminist--"Sisters are Doing It for Themselves" by Aretha Franklin
and Annie Lenox. Rather than exhibit a position that is overtly critical of
patriarchy, the program is more of an informal clearinghouse of general
information pertaining to women. Some alternative media scholars, however, have
argued that despite the absence of a critical edge, shows like Women's Focus are
an important element in women's struggle for power. For example, Bredin (1991:
40) maintains that whether they are critical of patriarchy or not, women's
community radio shows have already made significant gains by establishing a
"space" through which women can address other women via a typically
male-dominated technology. Hence, such programs are by definition ideologically
My approach to Women's Focus is quite different. I begin my analysis with the
assumption that ideological resistance and hegemony are in constant conflict
within popular texts, including noncommercial radio shows. Therefore, I assume
that while Women's Focus does create a space for women, the resistant elements
of that space clash with the text's countervailing hegemonic tendencies. I
would go so far as to say that hegemony functions through the creation of such
spaces wherein marginalized people unwittingly re-articulate paradigms preferred
by the dominant perspective (see also, Meehan, 1989). This is precisely what
happens in the sample broadcast of Women's Focus: Discursive patterns within and
across segments of the program affirm social hierarchies despite the program's
resistant ideological tone.
Specifically, my argument is that three processes occur via spatial discourse
of the sample broadcast which construct New Mexico in ways that sanction social
hierarchies: First, the program's host affirms her and her guests' roles as
mediators who define New Mexican space and cultures for their listeners.
Second, New Mexican space is defined in ways that extol the state as an ideal
place, rich in authenticity and the potential to beneficially transform
travelers. Third, specific types of behavior within New Mexico are privileged,
based upon economic, racial, and core/periphery criteria. The processes tend to
overlap throughout the text; however, I analyze each separately below.
Betty as mediator. The mapping of cognitive space is a process of mediation
between reality in all its complexity and simplified representations of that
reality. In discussing travel in New Mexico, Betty selects fragments of
reality which she--with the help of her guests--recombines in a plausible
manner. In fact, selecting fragments and combining them into a unified whole is
not only Betty's function as host of Women's Focus, but also a means through
which she establishes and effects her authority and power--albeit within
As a skilled programmer, Betty introduces musical selections and news, conducts
the interviews, selects stories from an assortment offered by WINGS (Women's
Information and News Gathering Service), and reads the Women's Focus calendar,
all while sustaining a consistent flow from segment to segment. As such, Betty
is a "custodian of flow and regularity, the personification of a force which
creates unity out of fragmentation" (Feuer, 1983: 17). "Force" is an apt word,
since Betty's position is one of power--the power to direct the content and
course of the program.
Betty continually manages programming flow by grounding fragmented segments of
Women's Focus into the here-and-now of her live broadcast, thereby continually
reaffirming her centrality. For example, because WINGS is recorded days before
Women's Focus, Betty brings listeners up to date on a feature about Tibet even
before playing the tape. In doing so, Betty tacitly reminds listeners of her
dominant position as mediator through which, in this case, she is able to
overcome temporal deficiencies in the WINGS feature.
Following WINGS, Betty reorients listeners to the local space and live time of
her broadcast by explaining how listeners can contact WINGS producers for more
information on the stories. Betty's instructions not only create a smooth
transition; they also effectively transform information presented in WINGS into
potential experience lived by audience members, grounding global events into
local praxis. A moment later, Betty repeats this action in a slightly different
way by explaining that one of the other Women's Focus hosts, "called up to
remind us that the Tibetan monks are in New Mexico right now, and they are doing
a sand painting at the Albuquerque Museum." Again, listeners are encouraged to
experience locally what had been presented as global information in WINGS.
Also, note Betty's syntax. Her use of inclusive pronouns runs throughout the
entire program, consistently "hailing" listeners in a manner that constructs the
audience as a homogeneous community: "Today is our travel day...," "We're going
to be talking...," "We started out with....," "Stay with us...," and so on.
Much as she creates a unified program from disparate elements, Betty establishes
an "imagined" communal identity, evoking a sense of Gemeinschaft among listeners
throughout KUNM's broadcast range, especially among the female target
audience. Betty's power is therefore more than just the ability to direct
the program; she discursively constructs the audience as a cohesive entity
conforming to her perceptions of who her listeners are.
Expertise and mediation. Although Betty assumes central authority vis a vis
the text and the listening community, it is her guests who provide the
proficiency through which space is constructed--but always under Betty's
guidance. Early in the interview with the tour book writer for example, Betty
remarks, "As you go along these roads, you're going through the desert or
something like that and you don't really know what kind of things are off the
road. It looks like there's nothing there, but there really is." We need
experts, Betty implies, to tell us what is really there. One of Betty's
immediate roles, therefore, is to establish her guests' expertise as New Mexican
Consistent with KUNM's alternative media ethos, is important to Betty that her
guests are motivated by selfless appreciation of New Mexico rather than by
commercial desires. When the tour book writer explains that neither she nor her
co-authors are full-time tour-book writers, Betty attests, "So it's not like
you're professional travelers." At another point, Betty remarks, "So it's the
experience of really knowing New Mexico instead of just trying to get to some of
the tourist-type things," suggesting that her guest's perspective is genuine,
not governed by crass, commercial interests.
In turn, the writer responds that because she is a resident of New Mexico, her
book possesses veracity lacking in other travel guides:
I think that our perspective living here is important to a
book. We've certainly read all of the other guides to New Mexico.
And we find it apparent who came in, wrote something about the state,
and left. And found that there's lacking that kind of intensity, and
interest, and perspective that someone living in the area would have.
Staking her claim as an insider, the writer authenticates her and her
co-authors' comprehension of the state, legitimating their perspectives
regarding what New Mexican places are worth visiting and the ways that they
should be experienced, in contrast to profiteering outsiders.
Betty's second guest, the history professor, does not go to such lengths to
justify her book or her viewpoint. Perhaps this is because as an
Albuquerque-based academic, this person is already assumed to be above the
commercial mentality that governs outsiders' perspectives. On the other hand,
as her interview winds down, the professor does stress the importance of
studying New Mexican history--itself a form of spatial mediation. She mentions
that in order to be certified in New Mexico, teachers are required to take a
state history course to which Betty cheerfully responds, "Yes, I think that's
one of our good laws." In this way, the authority of New Mexican law is used to
legitimate the professor's perspective as a mediator of space (and time).
I pay special attention to the justification of both guest's perspectives
because invocations of authenticity and law are significant ways of validating
claims to truth. Both authors, with Betty's help, substantiate their positions
as insiders who are best fit to speak the language of New Mexican space.
Furthermore, Betty's own legitimacy as a mediator and "culture broker" (Nash,
1989: 45) is further bolstered as she directs the experts' discussion.
Shields (1991: 262) argues that discourse about space tends to cluster around
recurring myths or tropes which privilege particular conceptions of communal
identity. Evident knowledge and use of these core images, according to Shields,
serves to mark communal insiders. In the Women's Focus interviews, Betty and
her guests demonstrate three such recurring representations. They are 1) New
Mexico as a land rich in unusual folk cultures, 2) New Mexico as
transformational space, and 3) New Mexico as idealized space. These themes are
not only present within the live discourse of Women's Focus, but are also on
occasion reinforced by some of the other pre-recorded texts within the
Folk cultures. "We have so many interesting personalities and places with a
different emphasis because of the different cultural groups who are here,"
remarks Betty's second guest. Indeed, New Mexico's cultures are often mentioned
as a source of wonder during the program, and this theme is all the more
noteworthy since the state's many natural, scenic attractions are rarely
discussed. After all, the program is ostensibly about travel, not culture per
se. With culture privileged over scenery, the implication is that "traveling in
New Mexico" is principally the experience of meeting "the Other" in New Mexico.
New Mexican cultures are described as being both quaint and exotic. For
example, at one point, the travel writer describes the state's amusing private
You could do another book on funky museums in New Mexico
[laugh]....There's a potato museum, and a telephone museum, and a
museum called "My Favorite Things" in Ancho, New Mexico. There are
small museums on almost any topic throughout the state.
This dialogue--framing New Mexican folk as affably unconventional--occurs
immediately prior to a reminder of Native American other-ness which must be
We do try to emphasize, particularly to the new visitor, how to
travel to a pueblo with the respect for the people who live there.
Newcomers, more than New Mexicans, may not have an understanding that
it is home to the people who live there and has to be treated as
By juxtaposing exotic and humorous images, this discourse manages to be alluring
in its sense of adventure while disarming potential fears elicited by notions of
the exotic Other.
New Mexico's folk are discursively located within a vaguely defined hinterland
beginning beyond the borders of Albuquerque, but within easy reach of the city.
"I encourage my students to get out and look at what we have," explains the
history professor. "Most of them do and are surprised and amazed that they've
lived within sixty miles of some of these wonderful places and haven't seen
them." The travel writer similarly explains that listeners can see many of New
Mexico's sights in a day "and then get back," "back" presumably meaning
Albuquerque. In effect, while the folk are positioned in the periphery,
travelers are assumed to venture forth from the city. The folk are thus
constructed as resources to be utilized by travelers from the urban core,
illustrating Nash's concept of tourism-based spatial imperialism.
The meet-the-folk theme is also a prominent factor in a cart played between the
interviews (segment #11 in Figure 1). The cart features a male voice promoting
a local program heard later in the day: "Please join us as we explore four
centuries of folk music and folklore of the Hispanic Rio Grande del Norte. We
will listen to the unfolding of the history of this region through the music and
the voices of la gente." Although the program promoted by the cart is not about
traveling, New Mexican travel is prominent factor of the cart as is the communal
form of hailing listeners ("join us"). Also, folk culture is a significant
element of the cart, with the reference to "la gente," inviting listeners to
hear directly from the folk who populate the New Mexican outback.
Almost certainly, the cart's parallel with the principle content of Women's
Focus is coincidental, since carts are usually scheduled by paid staff; yet even
if Betty or her assistant deliberately chose to play it, the cart demonstrates
that an emphasis upon New Mexican travel and upon the folk/la gente runs across
different forms of KUNM productions. Furthermore, as a secondary text that
seems disconnected from the primary text, the cart subtly reinforces the
importance of these themes because no direct link is made. That is, the cart is
a self-enclosed break within the program, yet it functions to re-state the
primary text's core-periphery assumptions at a deep structural level.
Both the cart and the principle text share the same perspective--a viewpoint
from the urban core looking out upon the regional Other, the latter viewed as a
source of wonder and authenticity. Urry (1990) terms such a viewpoint "the
tourist gaze," a phrase inspired by film theorists such as Mulvey (1974) who
have associated "the gaze" with social power: The gaze is the objectification of
relatively weak classes of people for the pleasure of relatively strong classes.
In this case, by establishing a perspective whereby people beyond Albuquerque's
perimeters are classified as "la gente" or as quaint/exotic Others, a social
hierarchy is reinforced between the state's urban core and its rural periphery.
Conceptions of the periphery reflect needs and desires assumed to exist at the
Transformational space. An important element in the program is an assumed
transformation that New Mexican space and la gente effect upon travelers. For
example, the transformation is evoked by Betty's first guest who describes it in
epistemological terms: When Betty asks what people get out of traveling in
their own state, the writer responds, "I can't help but think of Thoreau who
said 'I have traveled a great deal in Concord,' with the implication that he had
indeed observed a tremendous amount and learned a great deal from traveling in
his own neighborhood. And I think we can do the same." Later, she explains
that, "We learned a great deal from people who lived in areas outside the urban
areas of New Mexico by asking lots of questions."
Here again, we can see how discourse positions travelers/KUNM listeners within
the core, gazing out at the peripheral folk. The folk represent a reservoir of
wisdom lacking at the center. While this relationship might seem skewed in
favor of the folk (since the core apparently lacks wisdom), the balance in fact
goes the other way. The folk are positioned to serve the urban core by
willingly sharing their cultural richness with city travelers who desire to
educate themselves by casually hobnobbing with authentic Indians and Latino
The epistemological theme is also developed by the history professor. When
discussing one of the first women to travel the Santa Fe trail, the professor
explains: "She was proud that she had come and experienced the hardships, got to
see the scenery, got to meet new people. She felt that she grew a great deal,
not only older, but wiser, by the time she left." By both accounts, then,
travelers in New Mexico are richer for their efforts, not in terms of money, but
with regard to their intellectual and spiritual development.
New Mexico as idealized space. Besides its effect upon travelers, New Mexican
space is invariably depicted in positive ways. In the first interview, for
example, Betty asks if it is safe for women to travel in New Mexico. Her
guest's response is very much in the affirmative: Although she often traveled
alone or with her daughters, she never had any problems regarding safety.
Programming flow is also important in this case, because the song immediately
following this interview is "Women Doing It for Themselves," which includes a
line closely corresponding with the author's statement:
This is a song to celebrate
The conscious liberation of the female state
Mothers, daughters, and their daughters too
Woman to woman, were singing with you
As before, I don't know if the transition from one text to the other was
planned, but it doesn't really matter. Together, the interviews and the song
can be read as a single, overlapping message: It is good for mothers and
daughters to do things on their own, and New Mexico provides a safe place for
that to occur.
New Mexican space is also subtly praised in contrast to spaces outside the
state's borders. The terminology used in two juxtaposed carts (segments #6 and
#7 in Figure 1) is interesting in this regard. The first cart credits Women's
Focus underwriters: a feminist bookstore and a massage therapy school. During
this cart's thirty seconds, New Mexican space is heavily emphasized: New Mexico
is mentioned three times, plus Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and a specific street
address in Albuquerque are mentioned once each.
In contrast, the second cart for a nationally syndicated series is framed in
terms of global space and unspecified other local spaces:
The planet is not in good shape....In various ways, nature's
limits are beginning to impose themselves on the human agenda.
Initially at the local level, but also at the global one.
Although space is emphasized in both carts, the implications regarding
respective spaces are contradictory: New Mexico is represented positively by a
socially progressive book store and a "center for healing arts," whereas "the
planet is not in good shape." The planet is sick, but New Mexico is a place for
physical and social healing. Together, the carts subtly define New Mexico as a
place of virtuous, healing experience in contrast to the outer world,
reinforcing similar characterizations of the state defined by Betty and her
guests throughout the primary text.
Finally, it is important to consider what is not present in the space
represented by the sample program. Absent from the program is any sense of
cultural, racial, or economic disparity; it is as if social hierarchies are
absent from New Mexico as are their visible traces upon the physical landscape.
Lutz and Collins (1993: 103-04) note the same tendency in their study of
National Geographic photographs:
[It is] a world that is predominately middle class, in which
there is neither much poverty nor great wealth. It is a world
comfortable to contemplate. Like the absence of violence or illness,
these pictures reflect back to Americans their own self-image as a
relatively classless society....
In fact, there is substantial economic differentiation among New Mexicans,
especially between residents of the core and the periphery. According to the
1990 U.S. census, the percentage of individuals in Albuquerque reported to be
living beneath the poverty level was 14.6%, whereas in rural New Mexico that
figured was almost twice as high at 27.3% (U.S. Dept. of Commerce, 1990).
Because the program is a celebration of New Mexican space (rather than a
critique), there is no room within it for discussion of economic inequities.
Recognition of the difference would seem out of place in such a text; it would
break the spell of communitas--the illusion of the state's happy, multicultural
GUIDED BEHAVIOR WITHIN NEW MEXICAN SPACE
As the mythic geography of New Mexican space is defined across the textual
segments of Women's Focus, behaviors appropriate to that space are articulated
by Betty and her guests in two ways: During the interviews, listeners are guided
toward preferred forms of experience in the peripheral zone, whereas the
"Women's Focus calendar" feature near the end of the program guides experiences
within the core. Both sets of experiences, however, are closely associated with
the commodification and consumption of New Mexico.
Commodification of space and time. Whether the experience is of place
or--in the case of the historian's interview--of time, expert mediation is
required (as we have seen above), and such mediation comes at a price. Betty's
first interview is, of course, a plug for the author's new tour book, and in
case the audience misses that implication, Betty closes the interview with a
hearty endorsement: "The book is published by the University of New Mexico
Press. I think we can encourage people to get this one...." The interview is
an invitation to get out and rub elbows with la gente, but only through
mediation provided by the book.
In a remarkable twist, the author explains that her book has very wide margins
so that travelers can record their observations and adventures alongside the
printed recommendations of places to see. In effect, tourists are encouraged to
write their own tour books, but within the confines of the manual--"confines"
meaning both the spatial areas described by the book and the spatial format of
the book itself. The book, therefore, simultaneously transforms space into a
product for mass consumption, inscribes readers into that space, and denies its
mass (i.e., inauthentic) effects since everyone's experiences within the defined
space are different. As Bell (1995: 58) puts it, space commodified as cultural
experience seems "always more than and ever beyond the promotional images of
There are no overt appeals to buy the history professor's book, although the
title is mentioned twice. On the other hand, Betty does strongly recommend that
listeners attend the professor's lecture on women travelers in New Mexican
history. The lecture is part of a series of talks and performances called
"Landmarks, Legends, and Lore" held in a historic hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico
(80 miles northeast of Albuquerque).
Whereas the tour book commodifies space, "Landmarks, Legends, and Lore"
commodifies time: We can get in touch with the past by purchasing tickets to the
presentations. This is most evident with regard to one of the symposium's other
presenters (mentioned favorably twice by the history professor) who will perform
an impersonation of a
famous New Mexican homesteading woman, "Ma'am Jones of the Pecos." Through the
purchase of tickets, listeners can bridge a temporal gap by meeting a historical
person, much like visitors to Disneyland witness Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address"
in robotic form. (Also, as a homesteader, Ma'am Jones is a member of the
peripheral folk so that communication with the folk is also transformed into a
A theme recurs throughout the second interview which also ties back to the
sales pitch of the tour book. On two occasions, the history professor laments
that little is known of historical women who traveled to New Mexico (principally
Anglo military wives and missionaries) because they left few records. Luckily,
however, some women wrote diaries describing their experiences through which we
can understand their lives and times. This discourse is intriguing in light of
the previous interview, because a problem is defined (lack of women's travel
accounts) that has already been remedied (a product through which women write
their travel stories). Of course, the new travel guide won't tell us more about
historical women, but at least future historians will have plenty of late
twentieth-century travel diaries to study. And as with the portrayal of Ma'am
Jones, use of the book promises to collapse New Mexico's past and present; by
recording their personal adventures as travel diaries, contemporary women
reproduce virtually the same experiences shared by "our foremothers who came to
New Mexico," as Betty puts it.
"Our foremothers who came to New Mexico" is an especially instructive phrase
here, because women as a community are again constructed in a particular way.
Betty's implication is not that all of her audience shares the same European
lineage, but that the women's community as a whole is partially rooted in
Europe. It is significant, however, that the preferred means of exploring New
Mexican space is that practiced by women of European ancestry. By recreating
history, then, women travelers are urged to privilege that part of their
communal roots which is European. Consumption of New Mexican space as guided by
the text thus bounds individuals' potentially idiosyncratic experiences within
preferred communal practices which, in turn, are informed by Euro-American
Core events. Besides traveling and attending the historical colloquia, other
things to do within New Mexico are highlighted as Betty reads the Women's Focus
calendar (Figure Two). Whereas the interviews dwell upon experience in New
Mexico's peripheral zone, the calendar almost exclusively concerns events
occurring in Albuquerque.
The events described by Betty are also heavily weighted towards what Bourdieu
(1984) terms "taste culture"--petit bourgeois pastimes such as poetry readings
and fine arts exhibits (Fig. 2: Items #1, 5, 6, 9-14, 16). This is not to say
that working-class women would never be interested in such things; however, of
the seventeen items read, ten require a considerable amount of cultural capital
to fully appreciate. Even the events that don't demand sophisticated cultural
tastes are in fact skewed toward professionals: The special deal for people who
are behind on their child support (#8) pertains only to those who hold
professional licenses, and the meeting with police about domestic abuse (#17) is
held at 2:00 on a Tuesday afternoon when most people are required to be at work.
Of the events listed, only the Women in Transition Conference (#4) seems to
address, and be accessible to, working-class women.
The same could be said with regard to race and ethnicity. From the information
provided by Betty, no items (with the possible exception of "Una Tarde de
Cultura") specifically address minority issues. The calendar therefore
reaffirms some of the tendencies described so far. It reestablishes the
core/periphery division, in this case by framing experience within the core
largely in terms of high culture as opposed to folk culture described with
regard to the periphery. Plus, it ignores socio-economic differentiation among
listeners with regard to race, ethnicity, and cultural capital. In effect, the
calendar positions the communal "we" and "us" as if all listeners shared the
same ethnicity, race, and cultural capital possessed by upper- and middle-class
people of European descent.
Core vs. Periphery Activities. An important distinction between the calendar
and the interviews is that the calendar is presented with much less urging on
Betty's part. When mentioning the first two items on the list, Betty does
quickly add a few words to the effect of "that should be good," and "these are
really important meetings," but nothing more. The rest of the calendar is
simply a list of events and dates. The implication is that listeners should
explore the periphery, but that they need no encouragement to attend arts events
in the core; exploration of the fringe is framed as an imperative or an
obligation, whereas arts consumption in Albuquerque seems natural and needing no
Zukin's (1990) discussion of "circuits of cultural capital" is helpful in
understanding the difference between the interviews and the calendar. Zukin
writes that economies based in arts production and tourism have two basic
requirements: 1) mediators who explain the significance and value of specialized
consumer products and 2) space within which to continually expand. Once a
particular space is established as being of cultural value (e.g., as a historic
district), a cycle is put into operation beginning with architectural
restoration, the establishment of avant garde performance venues, specialty
boutiques, and so forth which eventually lead to investment by multinational
corporations. Consumption within this rarified atmosphere is more than just
shopping; with the help of mediators--critics, waiters, salespeople,
etc.--shopping and other forms of tourism in such spaces become "paradigmatic
quests for social meaning in a consumption-biased world" (p. 47). The cycle
continually repeats itself as new spaces are "discovered" and developed in this
Betty's role as mediator in Women's Focus is indicative of this process. Over
the past decade, Albuquerque's downtown has strongly felt the process of
gentrification with the establishment of new boutiques, several arts spaces, new
restaurants, and even the requisite brewery so common nowadays among gentrified
spaces. The market is already there, so there is no need for much persuasive
mediation on Betty's part. In fact, further advertisement might endanger the
downtown's sense of authenticity. The circuit of cultural capital does not
remain still, however; as it expands, consumers/listeners must be encouraged to
move outward on new "paradigmatic quests for social meaning," and this occurs
through the sales pitches of the interview segments of Women's Focus.
IDEOLOGY AND NEW MEXICAN SPACE
The construction of New Mexico in the sample broadcast simultaneously ignores
and affirms social hierarchies. Distinctions based upon class, ethnicity, and
race are absent from the mythical New Mexican space as constructed by Betty and
her guests. Furthermore, by addressing listeners as if they all shared the same
tastes, backgrounds, environments, and financial wherewithal, the audience is
monolithically constructed as women who posses the cultural capital required to
appreciate the communal events being promoted and who are gratified by the
Euro-centric celebration of New Mexican culture.
While ignoring hierarchies among the community of address, the program also
indirectly creates one by identifying rural people as resources through which
urban people can gain the satisfaction of personal development. After all, that
is what the experience of New Mexican travel seems to mean. The periphery is a
source of authenticity which urban dwellers are assumed to desire and purchase
via mediated guidance. The maintenance of this social hierarchy is thus
required for the well-being of those within the core. There is an economic
implication here, since the periphery--despite romantic notions of la gente--is
beset with a high rate of poverty. Following implications to their unstated
conclusion, the status quo must be preserved so that the core has easy access to
nearby sources of authenticity.
Besides justifying economic reality, the program also functions to direct
movement and behavior among listeners. City dwellers/listeners are positioned
as people who naturally gravitate toward poetry readings and plays in the
gentrified areas of the city--to the core of the core so to speak. On the other
hand, while the program pulls listeners into gentrified areas, it also projects
them outward to new spaces created by the gentrification process.
Prescribed patterns of mass movement, preferred forms of consumption,
perpetuation of New Mexican social strata--each of these factors can be
associated with a single word: power. The irony is that this power flows
through well-meaning people who really have very little power in themselves.
Rather, it is the mythology that holds the power, and Betty and her guests are
vehicles through which the mythology is expressed.
The core perspective. Betty and her guests perform an important service for
the New Mexican economy by articulating myths whereby New Mexico is designated
as a place of personal transformation and a source of authenticity in a world of
artificiality--the same themes noted by scholars who have studied the history of
New Mexican tourism. While other researchers have described these themes with
regard to rhetoric designed to draw people to New Mexico, Women's Focus
illustrates how such notions can be packaged for consumption within the state:
The program encourages the local market to see its own backyard, or as Betty
aptly puts it, "to find out more about this great state of ours, which really is
a 'land of enchantment.'"
Spatial discourse recirculated by Betty and her guests is, of course, intended
as a politically progressive service for KUNM listeners--a means of promoting
unique cultures and multicultural awareness--all within a feminist framework.
Betty's sincerity is evident in her donated time and labor, yet the lack of a
strong, critical approach to New Mexico has left Betty open to the enticing
mythology which has defined the state for over a century. Betty's praise of New
Mexico is closely correlated with an industry which profits from and promotes
inequitable social conditions; Betty re-articulates notions regarding the
peripheral folk and their urban counterparts, thus defining individuals
according to the roles required by the economic system.
Possible points of resistance. There is no guarantee that Women's Focus
listeners will "read" the text's messages as I have analyzed them.
Nevertheless, as this paper demonstrates, analysis of discursive frames within a
broadcast is essential for understanding how contextual influences work their
way into KUNM programming.
Also, it is difficult to generalize from one broadcast to KUNM programming as a
whole. It would be interesting to examine spatial representations on other
Women's Focus broadcasts to determine if there is consistency from week to week.
Also, it would be worth examining spatial frameworks on other series, especially
those that are not so overtly tied to New Mexican identity, such as Street Beat
(rap music) and Music to Soothe the Savage Beast (grunge), as well as programs
produced specifically for working class and minority audiences, such as Singing
Wire and Voces Feministas. Perhaps these programs pose a challenge to the
core\periphery, class-based discourse of the sample program.
On the other hand, we must keep in mind that all of KUNM's programming is
peppered with institutional discourse via promotional carts, underwriting carts,
the "KUNM community calendar" (a pre-recorded feature similar to the Women's
Focus calendar), and other brief programming segments. As this paper has
illustrated, institutional discourse about New Mexican space in these secondary
texts closely parallels that of the sample broadcast. Therefore, even if some
programs were to present a different spatial perspective, they would continue to
recirculate the themes present in this analysis.
Virtues of a single sample text. If generalization from this study to other
KUNM programs is problematic, one could say that generalization to other radio
stations, or to other "alternative media" is even more troublesome. I would
agree completely with such a reservation; however, the findings of this study
are not intended to be generalizable to other cases, but rather to provide new
ways of thinking about and approaching alternative media. As such, this paper
was written in the spirit of Geertz's (1973) often-quoted chapter on "thick
description." Ethnographic studies, Geertz writes, do not build upon one
another, but rather "run alongside" one another; findings in one location
provide ways to think about what is happening in other places. The same holds
true, I believe, for qualitative textual analysis.
In this case, my intention was to test common scholarly assumptions about
alternative media. While this study is not conclusive with regard to all
alternative media, it does strongly suggest that scholars would do well to dig
beneath the rhetoric about alternative media (much of which is of their own
origination) and examine the rhetoric of alternative media. Voluntary
participation, progressive social agendas, and a rejection of bottom-line
thinking do not guarantee that media will ultimately promote democratic,
egalitarian virtues. By studying the deep structure of alternative media texts
with regard to spatial discourse or some other cluster of rhetorical signifiers,
scholars studying other settings and texts will undoubtedly find a tangle of
conflicting intentions and behaviors epitomizing the struggle between
progressive praxis and alluring hegemonic presuppositions.
Figure 1: Syntagmatic Structure of Women's Focus
1. Unidentified song by the Roches
2. Betty welcomes the audience, explains theme of show, and introduces WINGS
(Women's International News Gathering Service)
3. WINGS: features about Tibetan women going to the 1995 International Women's
Conference in China and about Unifem--an organization that collects money for
women's causes from businesses around the world
4. Betty explains how listeners can contact WINGS and that Tibetan monks will
perform in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. She also repeats the theme of the show
5. Song: A light rock vocal by Annie DiFranco, "How Have You Been?"
6. Cart: Credits underwriters: a feminist book store and a school for massage
7. Cart: Promotion for Alternative Radio, a satellite feed which follows Women's
8. Betty tells what songs and artists have been played and introduces her first
9. Interview with the author of a New Mexican travel guide
10. Song: Blues by Bonnie Raitt, "Road is My Middle Name"
11. A cart for the locally produced program, Southwest Sound Collage, about folk
music of NM
12. Song: Rock vocal by Kelly Hunt, "Brick by Brick," about overcoming personal
13. Song: Rock vocal by Aretha Franklin and Annie Lenox, "Sisters are Doing it
14. Betty identifies the station and the program
15. Song: Rock instrumental by Tani Maria
16. Cart: Promo for satellite feed, New Letters on the Air, featuring an
interview with an experimental novelist
17. Betty identifies songs and artists, then introduces her next guest
18. Interview with a NM history professor
19. Song: "Gotta Keep Moving," rock vocal by Etta James
20. Guitar music begins a musical bed for Betty's reading of the Women's Focus
21. Betty thanks her guests and her engineer and previews next week's show
22. Vocal of "Take the A-Train" by Cleo Lane and the Duke Ellington Orchestra
Figure 2: Events listed during the Women's Focus calendar
1. "Landmarks, Legends, and Lore:" lecture on women travelers of the nineteenth
century and two Chatauqua presentations regarding famous New Mexican women
2. state legislature committee meetings: Health and Human Services, Health Care
Task Force, Young Children's Continuum
3. new address: NM Commission on the Status of Women has moved
4. conference: Women in Transition, for displaced home-makers and other women
interested in employment tips, home-based businesses, health issues, etc. and
celebration of women's suffrage
5. art exhibit sponsored by Rainbow Artists
6. "Una Tarde de Cultura," a fund-raiser for a woman who wants to attend the
United Nations World Conference on Women
7. Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping mark anniversary of the
first atomic bomb
8. Human Services Department offers a deal for professional license holders who
are in arrears for child support payments
9. concert by barbershop singers
10. art exhibit: Women Artists of NM
11. audition for Albuq. Women's Theater Project
12. dance benefit for the production of a lesbian play
13. book signing and workshop by the author of The Woman's Book of Creativity
14. black and white ball
15. potluck for Lesbians for Change and presentation of scholarship
16. poetry reading on the internal reality of women
17. meeting: Domestic Violence Task Force of the Albuq. Police Department
Althusser, L. (1970). Ideology and ideological state
apparatuses. In L. Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and other essays. New York:
Monthly Review Press.
Anderson, B. (1983). Imagined communities; Reflections on the origin and spread
of nationalism. New York: Verso.
Babcock, B. A. (1990). 'A New Mexican Rebecca': Imaging Pueblo women. Journal of
the Southwest, 32, 400-437.
Bell, D. (1995). Picturing the landscape: Die Grune Insel; Tourist images of
Ireland. European Journal of Communication, 10, 41-62.
Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Originally published (1964)
Bredin, M. (1991). Feminist cultural politics: Women in community radio in
Canada. Resources for Feminist Research, 20, 36-41.
Butalia, U. (1993). Women and alternative media. In, P. Lewis, (Ed.),
Alternative media: Linking global and local. UNESCO.
Council of State Governors. (1993). The West comes of age: Hard times, hard
choices. Lexington: CGS.
Cuba, L. and D. M. Hummon. (1993). A place to call home: Identification with
dwelling, community, and region. The Sociological Quarterly, 34, 111-31.
Feuer, J. (1983). The concept of live television: Ontology as ideology. In E. A.
Kaplan (Ed.), Regarding television: Critical approaches--an anthology.
University Publications of America.
Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and Punish. London: Allen Lane.
Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures. New York: Basic Books, Inc.
Hinsley, C. M. (1990). Authoring authenticity. Journal of the Southwest, 32,
Hochheimer, J.L. (1993). Organizing democratic radio: Issues in praxis. Media,
Culture and Society, 15, 473-86.
Lutz, C. A. and J. L. Collins. (1993) Reading national geographic. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
MacCannel, d. (1984). Reconstructed ethnicity; Tourism and cultural identity in
Third World communities. Annals of Tourism Research, 11, 375-91.
Massey, D. (1994). Space, place, and gender. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Mattelart, A. and Piemme, J. (1980). New means of communication: New questions
for the Left. Media, Culture and Society, 2, 321-38.
Mulvey, L. (1974). Visual pleasure and narrative cinema. In G. Mast, M. Cohen,
and L. Braudy (Eds.), Film theory and criticism; Introductory readings. New
Nash, D. (1989). Tourism as a form of imperialism. In V.L. Smith (Ed.), Hosts
and guests; The anthropology of tourism, 2nd ed. Philadelphia: University of
New Mexico Department of Tourism. (1995). New Mexico 1995 Vacation Guide. Santa
Proshansky, H.M., A.K. Fabian, & R. Kaminoff. (1983). Place-identity; Physical
world socialization of the self. Journal of environmental psychology, 3, 57-83.
Shields, R. (1992). Places on the margin; Alternative geographies of modernity.
Stavinsky, A. G. & T. W. Gleason. (1995). Alternative Things Considered: A
comparison of National Public Radio and Pacifica Radio news coverage.
Towne, R. (July, 1995). Personal interview. Towne is KUNM's general manager.
Urry, J. (1990). The tourist gaze: Leisure and travel in contemporary societies.
Newbury Park: Sage.
Velasquez, J. R. (1993). Alternative radio: Access, participation and solidarity
Bolivia). In, P. Lewis, (Ed.), Alternative media: Linking global and local.
Weigle, M. (1989). From desert to Disney World: The Santa Fe Railway and the
Fred Harvey Company display the Indian Southwest. Journal of Anthropological
Research, 45, 115-37.
Williams, R. (1992, 1974). Television: Technology and cultural form. Hanover:
Wesleyan University Press.
Young, E. (1988). Rhetoric, division, and constraint: Elements in local social
mobilisation. Sociological Review, 36, 297-319.
Zukin, S. (1990). Socio-spatial prototypes of a new organization of consumption:
The role of real cultural capital. Sociology, 24, 37-56.
 See also, Stavisky & Gleason (1995).
 Carts are thirty-second or one-minute tapes which are usually scheduled by
paid staff. Although programmers play them on schedule, they don't comment upon
them or pay much attention to their content.
 "Betty" is a pseudonymn.
 For more information about "hailing" and "imagined communities" see
Althusser (1971) and Anderson (1983), respectively.
 For more information on textual links, see Williams (1992) discussion of
 The same thing happens in the next cart which promotes another nationally
syndicated series (Fig. 1, #16). Note the sinister terminology used repeatedly
within just thirty seconds:
Announcer: On the next New Letters on the Air, experimental writer William Gass
about writing a novel with an evil protagonist.
Gass: I want to see if I can speak not for the victims, but for the
villains...recognizing, I hope, that they are villains.
Announcer: Gass, a professor of philosophy, also talks about the possible evil
The malevolent terminology here ("evil" [twice], "villain" [twice], and
"victims") is completely contrary to the affirmative language used to describe
local programs, and of course, local underwriters.