The CLR James Journal

Volume 28, Issue 1/2, Fall 2022

Alexander Avila
Pages 181-201

Habermas’ Colonization Thesis in the Digital Network: Pandemic Resistance in Advanced Capitalism

As scholars anticipate the structural reconfigurations arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, resistance to pandemic measures remains a site of rich discussion. While previous researchers have studied anti-mask, anti-vaccine, and anti-lockdown action, here called anti-restriction movements, as a series of actions informed by individual characteristics like psychological profiles, political leanings, or gender, this paper emphasizes how anti-restriction actions evolved into social movements articulating the antagonisms between state and subject. This paper applies Jürgen Habermas’s theory of New Social Movements (NSMs) to theorize anti-restriction movements as reactions to bureaucratic and economic regulation in cultural and private life. Habermas’s original theory assigned NSMs a radical potential in reinvigorating public political discourse and democratic processes which remains to be seen today. By contrasting the discourses of anti-restriction movements in Indigenous communities in Chiapas, Mexico and suburban communities in Orange County, California, this paper describes how profit-driven market algorithms steer social movements away from their radical potential towards sensationalism and misinformation. Not only do social media platforms “colonize” communication on the national level, but western countries’ control of social media platforms “digitally colonizes” peripheral countries by redirecting subaltern social movements with the hybridized discourses of imperial nations.