Chapter 3: The social foundations of future digital politics
Some argue that we are witnessing, through digital media (and especially social media), an entirely new type of politics, embodied in the 2011 Arab Spring (McDonald, 2011). Others more cautiously understand those events as exceptional moments of mobilization that leave few traces on long-term political structures (Gladwell, 2010). Still others acknowledge as unresolved the question of whether ‘digital civics is all that different from older models’ (Zuckerman, 2013). Underlying this disagreement is the question of why citizens engage and act politically. To make progress on these difficult questions requires giving more attention to the social foundations of political engagement and political action; optimistic accounts of how digital media have suddenly revolutionized political processes tend to neglect that social dimension. Predictions of new forms of political and social connection, even radical politics, have accompanied many previous waves of technological change. In the past half-century, accounts of the internet have been distorted by what Vincent Mosco (2004) sardonically calls the ‘digital sublime’. Yet, hype or no hype, we must acknowledge that the internet is potentially a major source of institutional innovation, because digital communication practices, just like the newspaper two centuries ago, constitute resources with the force of institutions (Chadwick, 2006: 3).
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