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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access December 31, 2020

Platforms and Potency: Democracy and Collective Agency in the Age of Social Media

  • Jeremy Gilbert EMAIL logo
From the journal Open Cultural Studies


Attitudes to digital communication technologies since the 1990s have been characterized by waves of optimism and pessimism, as enthusiasts have highlighted their democratic and liberating potentials, while critics have pointed to the socially, politically and psychologically deleterious consequences of unchecked digital capitalism. This paper seeks to develop an analytical framework capable of appreciating and assessing the capacities of such technologies both to genuinely enhance democratic agency, and to become tools through which capitalist power is enhanced with widespread negative consequences. The paper in particular deploys my concept of ‘potent collectivity’ in order to name the type of democratic agency that such media technologies can be seen both to enable and enhance under certain circumstances, and to inhibit under others. It also considers the affective qualities of ‘potent collectivity’, and in particular the utility of a Deleuzo-Spinozan concept of ‘collective joy’ as designating the affective quality typical of ‘potent collectivity’. The paper uses the specific example of left-wing political activism in the UK during the period 2015-17 to illustrate the potential for platform technologies to enable new forms of democratic mobilization, while arguing for an analytical position that eschews any simple celebration of the liberating potential of new technologies; remaining sensitive to the negative features of ‘platform capitalism’.


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Received: 2019-12-30
Accepted: 2020-09-08
Published Online: 2020-12-31

© 2020 Jeremy Gilbert, published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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