As a second year doctoral student in the Communication & Culture program at York University, a fluent speaker of Spanish and Portuguese and with years of amassed experiences in Chile, Brazil, the UK and Spain, Guy Hoskins is well equipped to study the intersections of communication technologies and democratic forms around the world. His current research centres on the role of ICTs in developing the public spheres of emerging democracies. Hoskins is a current holder of a Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders’ Fellowship as well as the previous recipient of a Joseph Armand Bombardier Graduate Scholarship.
Beyond cocoons and butterflies: Models of (digital) civic mobility in established and emerging democracies
The role of mobile digital communication technologies in shaping new forms of civic engagement has been well-documented and robustly theorized, especially in the context of mature democracies in the developed global North. There, the ‘civic cocoon’ offers a compelling theoretical model in which to analyse the activity of a swathe of citizenry at once highly networked yet atomized, engaging with political causes fleetingly and piecemeal from the safety of a private digital realm. Implying a withdrawal from the conventional practice of politics and civic engagement, the cocoon also conveys mobility, figuratively in terms of enabling participation in a plethora of causes but also literally given the affordances of the mobile web. Conversely, we might dub the use of such tools to coordinate street-level protests such as the ‘Battle of Seattle’ as indicative of a ‘butterfly’ model; highly mobile, lithe and visible. The most celebrated cases of mobile communication technologies being used for political or civic ends in the global South have tended toward the latter trend, as the deposing of President Estrada in the Philippines is exemplar. A certain binary therefore emerges between the notion of the ‘cocoon,’ observed until now exclusively in the developed world, and the ‘butterfly’ that predominates in developing societies. The clean delineation of theoretical binaries, however, are inevitably sullied by on-the-ground realities and a confluence of factors now evident in emerging democracies such as Nigeria, India and Brazil suggests that this particular one is under threat. The emergence of a burgeoning and restive middle class, a rapid diffusion of smartphones coupled with the continuing prohibitive cost of broadband, an enthusiastic adoption of SNS and a discredited political elite, collectively create the conditions for a hybrid form of digitally-enabled civic engagement, one that petitions the state from a multi-modal and free-floating public sphere.