Bringing together questions of globalization and its impact on labor, as well as how the news media report on such issues, Deepa Kumar’s Outside the Box: Corporate Media, Globalization, and the UPS Strike (2007) succeeds in using a case study to provide support for larger theoretical claims. Kumar analyzes the media coverage of the UPS strike of August 1997, in which 185,000 UPS workers across the United States walked off their jobs, to argue that collective struggle is key to challenging policies of globalization.
Kumar sets the context of the strike by explaining what effect globalization has had on the working class. She defines terms such as lean production and neoliberalism, giving the reader less familiar with such concepts simple explanations, clearly from a viewpoint unfavorable to management. The discussion of the negative effect of capitalism on labor is followed by the argument that people are not helpless in combating economic forces, the UPS workers’ successful strike a case in point.
While it is questionable whether Kumar overstates the ratio of resistance and dominance to globalization, she offers a model called the Dominance/Resistance Model, which “examines both the ways the status quo is upheld . . . and how critical views might enter the media” (p. 38). Giving the reader background on how the commercial media system works, she explains that despite the pro-corporate bias in coverage of economic issues, collective struggle does have the power to impact the tone of media coverage. This is Kumar’s central argument. The material experience of large movements challenging the status quo, struggling for hegemony, is a way to get media to acknowledge dissent.
From her analysis of news stories from the major TV networks and three national newspapers, Kumar finds that coverage in the first week of the strike followed a nationalist narrative, in which the public interest was equated with the interests of business. But in week two of the strike, an anti-corporate tone emerged, with coverage more favorable to the strikers and Teamsters. Kumar argues public opinion, 55 percent favorable to the strikers, resonated with the general public, who felt class identification. Once the strike was over, however, media coverage returned to the pro-business status quo.
Kumar ends with a discussion of the lessons to be learnt from the strike, particularly for communication theory. In the most theoretically dense section of the book, she argues that cultural studies, pragmatism, and even political economy do not go far enough to theorize resistance to the neoliberal economic system. For the reader with knowledge of these subject areas, more in-depth discussion and support might be needed for these points and her Dominance/Resistance Model.
Despite the large problem of organizing the television chapter by frame and newspaper chapter by newspaper, Kumar succeeds with an interdisciplinary study, as she is able to take a critical argument, support it with an empirical case study, and situate it within the context of social and social scientific theory.