BY KELLY HAND
“Can social media cause revolution?” Adeline Koh asks this question in her May–June Academe article, “Imagined Communities, Social Media, and the Faculty.” Countering critics who see online engagement with politics and social issues as a form of ineffectual “slacktivism,” she provides a theoretical framework for understanding the potential of social media to create new discourses and challenge the status quo.
Building on German philosopher Jürgen Habermas’s notion of the public sphere—as a product of the medium of print and its contributions to the development of democracy—Koh calls the Internet a “networked public sphere.” She uses political scientist Benedict Anderson’s concept of imagined communities—political communities generated by particular forms of media—to argue that social media empower us to move beyond the passive consumption encouraged by traditional media.
Koh discusses the implications of social media for faculty, who can use the Internet to share and disseminate their research without the time, space, and cost constraints of conventional publishing. Turning her attention to postcolonial studies, she offers examples of collaborative projects that demonstrate the value of unfettered academic exchanges, yet she also argues that postcolonial studies can help us to understand social media and “digital knowledge hierarchies and networks.” With an audience of students who have grown up with the Internet, faculty can’t ignore the importance of the networked public sphere.
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