The mobile internet is increasingly transforming into a ‘social media internet’ as a result of zero-rated or subsidised data packages. The ‘social’ affordances of social media have been both celebrated and vilified but the mobile nature of social media access has received much less attention. Smartphones are rapidly becoming the primary devices through which the internet is accessed in the Global South. Drawing on fieldwork during highly contested elections in Zambia in 2011 and 2016, this paper examines the political implications of two key aspects of the changing nature of the internet: 1) the spatial shift in internet access; and 2) the emergence of a ‘social media internet’. It proposes an analytical approach that situates civic engagement on mobile social media within a wider physical urban context. Examining elections talk in physical spaces and on social media, the paper aims to forge connections between conventionally detached arguments on the public sphere (which have primarily focused on political deliberation and debate) with arguments on public space (which have situated urban sociability within the physical space and built environment of the city).

About the speakers

  • Dr Wendy Willems

    LSE

    Dr Wendy Willems is Assistant Professor and Director of Admissions in the LSE Department of Media and Communications. She is Programme Director of the double MSc degree in Global Media and Communications (with University of Cape Town) which commences in September 2017. Her research interests include global digital culture and social change; postcolonial/decolonial approaches to media and communications; media culture and neoliberalism in the Global South; and popular culture, performance and politics in Africa. She holds a PhD in Media and Film Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, a BSc/MSc in Economics (‘International Economic Studies’) and a BA/MA in Cultural Studies (‘Cultuur- en Wetenschapsstudies’) from the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands.

    Wendy joined the LSE Department of Media and Communications in January 2013. Prior to that, she was Head of Department and Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa (2010-2012). She remains affiliated to the University of the Witwatersrand as an Honorary Research Fellow. Previously, she was also a Visiting Lecturer in the School of Media, Arts and Design at the University of Westminster in London (2006, 2008) and the Department of Media and Society Studies at Midlands State University in Gweru, Zimbabwe (2012). In 2006, she co-founded the Journal of African Media Studies (JAMS) with Dr Winston Mano from the University of Westminster. The main motivation was to create a peer-reviewed international journal that would adopt a broad definition of media and would contribute to the on-going re-positioning of media and cultural studies outside the Anglo-American axis.