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Accepted Paper:

The Failure to Communicate and the Impermanence of Inclusion in the Digital Age  


Jason Scott (University of Colorado)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines social media activism in Brazil and asks how ethnographers can assess the reliability and consistency of digital communication over time.

Paper long abstract:

Following the 2016 impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Brazil's favela-based activists were left without institutional support for the first time in a decade. Many activists had risen to fame as social media personalities, reporting on the violent reality of the favela. Institutions ranging from Microsoft to Amnesty International provided support while social scientists wrote countless academic articles that praised once marginalized favela voices. However, even the inclusive and democratic promises of the Internet could not guarantee the long-term viability of these activists to communicate their daily reality. Shootouts and violent threats of censorship from police revealed the limits of the favela's digital voice. Evaporating resources from the government and civil society weakened the once promising favela-based civil society. Many young social media personalities abandoned informal activism to become journalists. Others outgrew their local celebrity and traveled to other marginalized communities to train a new generation of activists. The result was a favela without activists, without communicators, and without a digital voice. My paper asks the questions: What does it mean when the designated community representatives fail to communicate?; Can ethnographers rely on digital platforms as a reliable avenue of communication?; And, how can we understand the online relationships between the ethnographer and the designated communicators in our field sites as historically fluid and in conflict with broadly promoted notions of a disruptive digital inclusion?

Panel P097
Staying Tuned - Connections Beyond 'The Field'