Virtual Edition on Digital Politics

This virtual edition focuses on digital politics. Curated by PoLAR Digital Editorial Fellow Mei-chun Lee, the virtual edition begins with an introduction that probes the problem-space of digital politics. It features seven articles published in PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review since 1995, one Ethnographic Explainer post from PoLAR Online, five postscripts, one author interview, and one Emergent Conversation. This collection revisits some key areas of digital politics, such as networked movements and digital governance, while also giving insights to emergent issues like disinformation and populism.

The seven original articles published in PoLAR are free to access until May 31, 2020.


Digital Politics: Opportunities and Perils of a Technological Future

Mei-chun Lee
Lee invites readers to reflect on how power is reconstituted in the digital age, how technologies give birth to new political subjects and new forms of politics, and what actions are possible to fight back the exploitation of surveillance capitalism.


Fake News and Anthropology: A Conversation on Technology, Trust, and Publics in an Age of Mass Disinformation. Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Andrew Graan, Adam Hodges, Meg Stalcup
PoLAR Online
Emergent Conversations: Part 9
Discussion of fake news, disinformation, and political propaganda. Moderated by PoLAR Digital Editorial Fellow Mei-chun Lee. 


Local Tea Party Groups and the Vibrancy of the Movement

William H. Westermeyer
Volume 39, Issue S1. September 2016
Westermeyer considers how personal and Internet-based social networks, media, and elite organizations co-produced new political subjects–the Tea Party movement. In the postscript, Westermeyer compares the Tea Party movement with the rise of “the Trumpist movement” and further demonstrates that broadcast and social media function as a cultural world within which movements and identities are fashioned.


On Digital Populism in Brazil

Letícia Cesarino
PoLAR Online Ethnographic Explainers. April 2019
Analyzing the WhatsApp use of pro-Bolsonaro supporter networks, Cesarino discusses how widespread use of smartphones and WhatsApp has assisted the formation of fractal political worlds and fueled digital populism in Brazil.


The Facebook President: Oil, Citizenship, and the Social Mediation of Politics in Nigeria

Omolade Adunbi
Volume 40, Issue 2. November 2017
Adunbi examines how Nigeria’s president Goodluck Ebele Jonathon used social media sites to produce “the Facebook president” and social media citizens. Adunbi argues that Facebook as both public and political space in Nigeria was elevated to a national forum where citizens, especially youth, asserted their ownership of natural resources such as oil and further mediated political belonging in Nigeria. Facebook not only enabled citizens to experience an intimate relationship with the president, but also opened a space for Nigerian citizens to engage the state on public issues.


Restoration Doctrine Rebooted: Codifying Continuity in the Estonian Data Embassy Initiative

Lorraine Kaljund
Volume 41, Issue 1. May 2018
Kaljund considers Estonian’s “data embassies”—computer servers located outside of Estonian territory, storing the state’s data remotely—and its attempt to “back up” an Estonian statehood and sovereignty not as a newly independent state, but as a restored version of the original republic that was founded in 1918. Kaljund shows how “restoration doctrine” is codified and materialized in software, code, and policy planning, thereby ensuring that the termination of any future occupation brings not independence but (re-)independence, and not only liberation but also restoration.


“Pure Fabrication”: Information Policy, Media Rights, and the Postcolonial Public 

Niklas Hultin
Volume 30, Issue 1. January 2008
Hultin argues that the debate over freedom of speech and the regulation of the media in The Gambia is not simply about human rights, but a neoliberal process of the creation of a public sphere and an informed citizenry in a developmental state. In the postscript, Hultin reviews political and media changes in recent years—the exile of autocrat Yahya Jammeh and the rapid development of digital media—and contends that the political and media democratization in The Gambia still follows a developmental vision infused with economic liberalization, deregulation, and other neoliberal shibboleths.


Digital Access amongst the Marginalized: Democracy and Internet Governance in Rio de Janeiro

Jeffrey Omari
Volume 41, Issue 2. December 2018

Omari shows that violence and informal governance in Rio’s urban favelas create a disjunction in the country’s pledge of Internet access as a civil right. He points out that the virtues of increased digital access in disadvantaged communities are often co-opted within the complex social dynamics. Even more unfortunately, the open principles of the MCI, as Omari argues in the postscript, appear to further digital populism and disinformation in current Brazilian politics.

Wild Eavesdropping: Observations on Surveillance, Conspiracy, and Truth in East Central Europe

Jonathan L. Larson
Volume 40, Issue 2. November 2017
Larson considers eavesdropping surveillance scandals in East Central Europe in comparison with public debates about surveillance in the North Atlantic. The ethnography shows that a widespread distrust in sources of information, political institutions, and representatives leads the public to anticipate what truths “wild eavesdropping” may reveal, rather than fear or condemn the privacy violations it may inflict. In the postscript, Larson argues that wild eavesdropping is becoming a common political drama as leaks and eavesdropping scandals take place regularly.


 “Fakeness: Digital Inauthenticity and Emergent Political Tactics in Armenia”

Tamar Shirinian
Volume 42, Issue 2. December 2019.
Shirinian shows how the politics of fakeness play out among Armenian LGBT activists and right-wing nationalists on social networking sites. Fakeness is not only a condemnation used to discredit one’s opposition, but also a tactic to obtain “authentic” information, thereby enabling the (involuntary) sharing of information and ideas when channels of direct conversations are blocked.


Free the Data from the Birdcage: Opening Up Data and Crowdsourcing Activism in Taiwan

Mei-chun Lee
Volume 43, Issue 2. November 2020
This article examines Campaign Finance Digitization (CFD), a data initiative launched by the civic hacker community g0v (pronounced gov zero) in Taiwan. How do data trigger activism even before “facts” are known? This initiative crowdsourced xiangmin (netizens) to transcribe campaign finance reports from physical documents to digital datasets so as to bring transparency to the bribery and corruption in politics in postauthoritarian Taiwan.


Real News about Fake News: Select Bibliography of Journalism on Digital Politics and Disinformation

List of recent reporting and analysis, updated monthly during 2020.




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