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