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Title [en]
New Media and the Dynamics of Civil Society in the New EU Democracies: A Paired Comparison
Abstract [en]
This project is positioned at the intersection of three research traditions with often overlapping objects of inquiry, and yet different in underlying philosophies and epistemologies: the inquiry into the relationship between new media and democracy based in media and communication studies; political science research into civil society organizations and contentious politics; and critical studies of culture, which draw on critical social theory, cultural sociology and textually oriented cultural studies. It will make use of concepts and insights stemming from all three traditions to address the interrelated research questions: Does the growing permeation of social life by “new media”, by which we mean digital media based on the Internet and mobile technology including the latest generation of “social media,” help strengthen civil society in countries where it has a history of weakness? And, if so, in what concrete ways do new media help develop and consolidate civil society in these countries? The area where we focus our attention comprises two new democracies on the fringes of the European Union located in the Baltics and the Balkans. Civil society in this region has been notoriously weak (Howard, 2003), and has failed to provide an adequate environment, oversight and corrective to newly formed political institutions at decisive historical moments. The project will offer a critical review of the existing definitions of civil society, democratic participation and civic culture in order to establish criteria by which the role of new media vis-à-vis these categories can be evaluated. It will involve theoretical work which will push the boundaries of the inherited definitions of these categories with the goal of conceptualizing additional dimensions of civic agency that emerge in light of newly available forms of mediation. Through quantitative surveys and qualitative case studies the project will examine and compare initiatives launched, and outcomes achieved, by civil-society actors in the two countries so as to identify the role of new media in this context. The empirical results are expected to advance the theoretical understanding and practical knowledge of the utility of new media for civic and political participation in topical debates unfolding in media and communication studies, political science and cultural theory, and with respect to the concerns and needs of civic actors seeking to participate in democratic politics.
Publications (2 of 2) Show all publications
Sõmersalu, L. (2022). Civic Cultures in Eastern Europe: Communication spaces and media practices of Estonian civil society organizations. (Licentiate dissertation). Huddinge: Södertörns högskola
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Civic Cultures in Eastern Europe: Communication spaces and media practices of Estonian civil society organizations
2022 (English)Licentiate thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

What kind of routine media and communication practices do Estonian civil society organizations enact in their everyday work? What sort of symbolic and physical spaces are used, created, and accessed by Estonian civil society organizations and informal citizen groups when engaging internally and with their target groups? How do these spaces and practices evolve over time? These are the questions this dissertation addresses, with the aim of understanding the ways in which already-established and evolving civil society organizations navigate the highly-mediated everyday through their routine media practices and the spaces in which these practices are situated.

Theoretically, this study takes a cultural approach to political participation with the concept of ‘civic cultures’ (Dahlgren 2009, p. 103) in the centrum. In this dissertation, the civic cultures framework is concentrated into a focus on the everyday, on media practices, and on communicative spaces. The concepts of ‘everyday’ and ‘spaces’ are empirically accessed through a practice approach. To distill and explore the role of media in the everyday work of civil society organizations, this thesis borrows from “activist media practices” (Mattoni 2012, p. 159) framework.

The empirical study is grounded in the wider geopolitical context of Eastern Europe and in the historical context of post-Soviet Europe, and more specifically in Estonian civil society. Using a multi-methods approach based on media ethnography, this study includes a nationally-representative survey, in-depth interviews with civil society organizations, and a longitudinal study of the Estonian Forest Aid movement.

This study found that parallel to striving towards episodic visibility in physical spaces, in mainstream media, and in decision making, civil society organizations worked on constant visibility in the social media space. The most used social media platform, Facebook, proved to be an important space for developing civic cultures on an everyday level: it was used for campaigns, opinion shaping, for disseminating news, and for civic talk. Everyday communication within the organizations was done using a mix of different media technologies and face-to-face meetings. Each media technology and communicative space had their own role and function in the everyday work of Estonian civil society organizations.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Huddinge: Södertörns högskola, 2022. p. 206
Mediestudier vid Södertörns högskola, ISSN 1650-6162 ; 2022:2
civil society, Estonia, Eastern Europe, space, activist media practices, civic cultures, media
National Category
Media and Communications Media Studies
Research subject
Baltic and East European studies; Critical and Cultural Theory
urn:nbn:se:sh:diva-49483 (URN)978-91-89504-12-7 (ISBN)
2022-06-08, MA648, Södertörn University, Alfred Nobels allé 7, Huddinge, 13:30 (English)
The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies, 33/2014
Available from: 2022-07-04 Created: 2022-07-04 Last updated: 2023-03-31Bibliographically approved
Bakardjieva, M., Bengtsson, S., Bolin, G. & Engelbrekt, K. (2021). Digital Media and the Dynamics of Civil Society: Retooling Citizenship in New EU Democracies. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Digital Media and the Dynamics of Civil Society: Retooling Citizenship in New EU Democracies
2021 (English)Book (Refereed)
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2021. p. 288
Digital media, Civil society, Citizenship, Democracy, Bulgaria, Estonia
National Category
Media and Communications
Research subject
Baltic and East European studies; Critical and Cultural Theory
urn:nbn:se:sh:diva-45592 (URN)9781786616395 (ISBN)9781786616401 (ISBN)
Available from: 2021-06-08 Created: 2021-06-08 Last updated: 2021-11-02Bibliographically approved
Co-InvestigatorBengtsson, Stina
Co-InvestigatorBolin, Göran
Co-InvestigatorEngelbrekt, Kjell
Principal InvestigatorBakardjeva, Maria
Coordinating organisation
Södertörn University
2015-01-01 - 2017-12-31
Keywords [sv]
Östersjö- och Östeuropaforskning
Keywords [en]
Baltic and East European studies
National Category
Media StudiesCommunication Studies
DiVA, id: project:1907Project, id: 33/2014_OSS

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