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ICA 2012: Cheryll Ruth R. Soriano

Minorities and online political mobilization: Investigating ‘Acts of Citizenship’

Current developments in citizenship theory offer an alternative understanding of citizenship as performative, or as performances of rituals and articulations that are meaningful in themselves, and that should be interrogated for what they achieve and their value for the speakers (Isin & Nielsen, 2008; van Zoonen,, 2010). Such a concept of citizenship is relevant for minorities with ambivalent relationships with the State and social majority, and who are now engaging online media to reach out to actors and supporters beyond the demarcated polity to achieve political goals. In order to challenge political, economic, and social structures and express demands for the transformation of such structures, minorities’ online performances weave together spaces of culture with broader agendas of transformative politics. These productions bypass traditional distribution systems and can serve as a promising vector for minority groups as they insert their own stories and struggles into national narratives. This possibility for self-production of political expression is particularly salient for minority groups who have long suffered as objects of others’ image-making and issue-framing practices. However, techno-utopian promises that online media will empower the ‘voiceless’ have also been challenged as issues of “strategic essentialism”, “objectification”, commercialism, and state controls shed doubt on whether online media can truly be localized and emancipatory for minorities (Landzelius, 2006; Ginsburg,, 2002). Yet, as minorities are often understood as diaspora communities in the West and given the understudied nature of minorities from developing societies as online activists, the question of whether new media can be valuable in understanding minorities’ enactment of citizenship remains devoid of actual empirics of social and political mediation.

This paper explores strategies of online political mobilization by minorities from developing Asia who are considered as citizens of the nation-state but are ‘othered’ in particular ways. Through a multiple-case study of minority groups from the Philippines: an indigenous social movement organization, a Muslim minority revolutionary group, and a political party of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the paper investigates what constitutes the strategic appropriation of technology and performance of “acts of citizenship” given varied contexts of online engagement and conditions of minoritization. The paper seeks to surface new understandings of political formations, citizenship engagement and political communication strategies in the context of minorities, as enabled and constrained by the features of online media.

Cheryll Ruth Soriano is a Doctoral Candidate at the Communications and New Media Department of the National University of Singapore. Her research interest lies in the social, economic, and political impact of information and communication technologies and has published along this area of research. Her doctoral research investigates the intersections of cultural activism and social media across different contexts of minoritization.