Parallel poleis

Towards a theoretical framework of the modern public sphere, civic engagement and the structural advantages of the internet to foster and maintain parallel socio-political institutions

Article appearing in New Media and Society 16:3

  • Co-Author:
  • Taso Lagos with Ted Coopman and Jonathan Tomhave
  • Date: May, 2014

The role of the internet in large-scale demonstrations, as witnessed in the Arab Spring, has been debated and reflects continued interest in the intermingling of social movements and digital technology. Yet behind these large photogenic events stand other less obvious social activities that may be equally profound, particularly in the form of alternative institutional frameworks that better meet the social needs of individuals than current models. We categorize these “dissident” frameworks as “parallel poleis” as developed by Czech philosopher and activist Vaclav Benda and offer two case studies to support this contention. At the heart of parallel poleis lies the notion that digital technologies are uniquely positioned to reflect and facilitate the political expressions of individuals due to low-cost transactions, ease of use and large social network reach possibilities. The sociopolitical ramifications of a parallel polis as conceptualizing the social–technical interaction warrants further discussion.