On digitally networked technologies, hegemony and regime durability in authoritarian regimes: A Zimbabwean case study

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Information Communication and Society, 2014, 17 (8), pp. 1034 - 1047
Issue Date:
2014-01-01
Metrics:
Full metadata record
This study seeks to comprehend how the mobile phone and the Internet change power relations between citizens and the state, by assessing the possibilities they allow for in terms of Gramsci's theory of hegemony, which explores class struggles and domination. It illustrates this theoretical position with a case study analysis of Zimbabwe. This way, it hopes to give a better explanation of diverging outcomes in terms of empowerment of citizens vis-à-vis their government. The paper addresses the ambiguous theoretical and empirical relationship between digitally networked technologies (DNTs) and democratization. It argues for an analytical distinction between democratization of public discourse, democratization of opportunities for collective action, and democratization of political decision-making. Synthesizing theories of liberation technologies, theories of alternative and participatory discourse, and Gramsci's theory of hegemony, this paper warns for technological deterministic thinking about DNTs' impact on the democratization of discourse and the democratization of opportunity for collective action. It further contends that, even if both types of democratization are realized, the democratization of political decision-making does not necessarily follow. Applying this theoretical synthesis to the case of Zimbabwe, this paper argues that the proliferation of DNTs, although having powerful effects, is but one factor that has changed power relations in Zimbabwe since independence. DNTs expand the number and reach of alternative discourses and can be a key campaigning tool for opposition politics but the standards upheld in DNTs-enabled communication seem to foster further polarization. Expanding spaces for counter-hegemonic forces and increasing popular acceptance of human rights discourses have limited the manoeuvrability of the Mugabe regime. Whether this will suffice to bring about real political change, however, will depend on the regime's continued successfulness in making apparent as opposed to real concessions. © 2014 Taylor & Francis.
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