Meet the Habermasses: Charting the Emergence of a Social Media-Enabled Public Sphere in New Democracies

By Guy Thurston Hoskins.

Published by The Technology Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: January 8, 2014 $US5.00

The role of the Internet in connecting citizens and the state at the extreme poles of the democratic continuum has been the subject of great scrutiny. Orthodoxy suggests online platforms may engage apathetic voters in mature democracies like the US, and embolden the protest of activists living under autocracies such as Iran, but what of the political impact on citizens living in “emerging democracies”? Such a question has been largely neglected, yet this tier of polities represents fertile ground for innovations in democratic communication. In this paper I survey three episodes of contestatory politics ‘from below’ in Brazil, Chile and India and examine the use of social media platforms to petition the state. I use the compelling parallels between these events and Habermas’ classic account of public sphere formation in bourgeois Europe as an entry point to explore how social media may form the architecture for a public sphere in emerging democracies that negates both strong media concentration and weak representative institutions. In so doing I propose three theoretical scenarios that constitute the range of possible state responses to the emergence of online public spheres: ‘threat repression’, ‘polity absorption’ and ‘elite tokenism’.

Keywords: Technologies in Community, New Media, Social Movements, Emerging Democracies

International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp.25-39. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: January 8, 2014 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 408.182KB)).

Guy Thurston Hoskins

PhD Student, Joint Program in Communication & Culture, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Guy Hoskins (BA, University of Southampton; MA, York University) is a PhD student in the Joint Communication and Culture Program at York University and a course instructor at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. Recently completed research examined the online advocacy network as a model for a transnational public sphere while current efforts are focused on the role of social media in the politics of emerging democracies. Guy is a fluent speaker of Spanish and Portuguese, has several years of experience in business development within magazine publishing and retail brand marketing and is a current holder of a Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders’ Fellowship.


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