Global New Media Hegemonies: Latin American Youth and Social Change


In this paper I outline the transformative power of new media technologies in Latin American contexts as tools for social change, comparing examples of youth digital activism from both Costa Rican and Panamanian contexts. Focusing on two types of Social Media, both Social Networks and Mobile Communication are examined as tools for Central American youth activists. In my conclusion I summarize the effects of national media policies, the situation of the digital divide and its effect on media democracy. The powerful nature of Citizen Media illustrates how overcoming the digital divide can produce democratic access to the media and societies’ larger institutions for social change.

As media technology accelerates, new opportunities for public discourse emerge, altering the ways that we define media and power. When new media intersects with popular culture it in turn transforms societies’ hegemonic landscapes, as the power of who can speak, both when and where, is altered and multiplied (Luis Serna, 2007). Gramsci (1929-1935) defines hegemony as the way in which power is played out in society, which consists of both coercion, and consent, allowing the dominant society to control the masses through cultural persuasion. Through the media industry, hegemony is maintained, thus justifying the acts of those in power and concretizing the consent of the masses. dian marino (1998) adds to our conception of hegemony by defining it as a “rainforest of shifting relations,” a power structure which can change with every day and every new action.

With the advance of new media technology a range of new methods of communication have unfolded, providing the average citizen with a myriad of options for publishing and distributing independent work (Langlois & Dubois, 2005). This signals an increase in the biodiversity of the media ecosystem, as the media is flooded by an ocean of pluralisms; new stories being added every day, multiplying and reshaping our conceptions of truth (Halleck, 2002: Langlois & Dubois, 2005 ).New technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones are changing how we conceptualize hegemonic media landscapes.These technologies manifest themselves differently according to the hegemonic structure of the country, and the economic power it has to invest and develop new communication networks in these new technologies.While the personal computer has swept across much of North America, Central and Southern American countries have been slower to adapt, having instead adopted cheaper alternatives such as cellular phones and public Internet Cafes.

At the forefront of this new media revolution are youth, the first adapters of technology (Corriero, 2004). Often times, communications technologies end up being used in new ways which companies never dreamt possible, and in many cases it is societies’ youth who are experimenting and creating new systems and ways of organizing. While youth are marginalized in mainstream society, the Internet and cell phones act as a private domain for youth to communicate and organize free of parents’ supervision . As the Internet is a central node for global youth culture, transnational movements emerge out of this online discourse. A series of tools have surfaced allowing people to communicate across borders right from their very living room. These new developments have created a new paradigm shift; dissolving the power of major media networks, record labels are dropping profits, people are turning on to YouTube and turning off their TV (Sanchéz, 2008), and instead of learning about world issues through news papers youth are instead reading blogs written by people their age who is directly experiencing the situation.

New Media Hegemonies

Largely embraced by civil society and the NGO sector, these new types of media democracy have been joined under the term Citizen Media; media which is decentralized, user friendly, and easily sharable for the average citizen. Citizen Media include such new developments as blogs, vlogs, podcasts, SMS messaging, participatory video, digital storytelling, and social networks. Unlike traditional media, Citizen Media is not normally produced by journalists, yet there are many cases of mainstream media, politicians, and corporations are copying these forms of communication and adapting them to serve mainstream interest. While some object to the term Citizen Media as it refers to “citizen” as a member of a nation-state, the terminology still remains widely used and accepted. Yet with the new movement towards fostering Global Citizenship, it can be posited that these new media tools help to further stretch our definitions of what it means to be a citizen, as they cut across borders and amplify transnational discourse. While Citizen Media is a widely accepted umbrella term in the NGO social marketing world, Social Media is more popular across industries, as it more generally captures the nature of these media tools as media for social interaction.

While these types of changes are having a concentrated effect among those with disposable incomes to invest in these technologies, low-income populations around the world are now also experiencing increased access in the form of Internet Cafes and cellular phone networks equipped with Internet capabilities. Multilingual online content is increasing exponentially as cultures from all over the world are tapping in to these new forms of cultural discourse. Media access is arguable stronger than ever before, with cellular coverage reaching 90% of the planet by 2010. New media communications technology melts borders, and as anthropologist Jan Chipchase says “bends space and time.” This creates a Pangaea effect, uniting world cultures and embodying notions of Global Citizenship and a global knowledge commons.


  • Allen Taylor says:

    Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

    Allen Taylor

  • Would you be interested in exchanging blogrolls links with my site? Please email me if you are interested

  • admin says:

    Thanks guys. I tried checking out your website and it wouldn’t load. I have to admit, I’m not very PR for-profit oriented, but I’m more interested in Social Marketing. Good to know that people are reading my blog. I just switched from where my traffic ratings were really high, but I had less autonomy and control over layout. I still use my TIG blog, but I’m planning on making this site more of a portfolio for my academic and professional work. Much more to come!

  • I have just read through your Mobile Revolutions site/blog/hyperlinks, etc (not wanting to call it exactly a “paper”. As a digitally challenged adult, it was a learning experience, but I did finally figure out what served as the table of contents, etc…and tried not to be dominated by a need for a linear approach to the topic(s). I followed many of the hyperlinks, too, viewing videos (Chipchase, protests, etc) and pdfs. So I felt that I was in some kind of postmodern communications web, never quite sure where I was or where I was going.

    On the whole, it is a rich piece, and the discussion is very provocative. IT also reveals your own intimate experience with these tools, i.e. a perspective from the inside. Perhaps some self-reflexivity on this aspect, your own personal trajectory with the technologies, their potentials and pitfalls in your own experience, could be added. (I’m thinking of what you experienced before going to Panama as one reflection of the contradictions).

    I especially liked the comparison of Costa Rica and Panamanian use of cell phones vs. internet, with your analysis about the reasons for this difference. There are some further questions that this comparison raises for me: what is the role of the state in research, access, monitoring the use of mobile technology (the case of China, of course, reveals the dangers of state involvement). Corporate-political links also play into this question. And what does it mean that Nokia has an ethnographic researcher who is also promoting alternative uses of these tools by marginalized communities?

    I find one of the most interesting tensions to be explored is how this technology can be used to promote bottom-up processes responding to local struggles while mobilizing support and gathering ideas from the global connections and immediacy (it reminds me of discussions in the IPEE class about the global as abstract…and the false dichotomy of local/global). Within the realm of global interconnectivity and the ongoing question of access (which I think you could address further), the issue of English hegemony should be more central, I think. I found it interesting that even the Panama Declaration about IT was in English. There is a danger in celebrating the potentials of the technologies without acknowledging both their limits and built-in contradictions, given broader structural and cultural inequities. (I’d like to see more critical analysis, for example, of TIG, in these terms. Not only who uses it, but who’s missing and why?).

    Another question that emerged for me relates to how networks like Facebook involve a certain amount of exhibitionism, and focus on individuals personal lives and self-presentation, while they also can serve to promote dialogue and advocacy around social issues. Your reference to “Brownie-like badges” which are similar logos was interesting, how much are we branding our selves and how much are we promoting our causes?

  • […] Global new media hegemonies: Latin American youth and social change […]

  • Kate J says:

    Awesome Mobile Active post!

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