Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 01/2011

Civil Society 2.0?: How the Internet Changes State-Society Relations in Authoritarian Regimes: The Case of Cuba

Bert Hoffmann

January 2011

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


In the debate over the role of civil society under authoritarian regimes, the spread of transnational web-based media obliges us to rethink the arenas in which the societal voice can be raised–and heard. Taking the case of state-socialist Cuba, a diachronic comparison analyzes civil society dynamics prior to the Internet–in the early to mid-1990s, and a decade later, after digital and web-based media made their way onto the island. The study finds that in the pre-Internet period, the focus was on behind-the-scenes struggles for associational autonomy within the state-socialist framework. A decade later, web-based communication technologies have supported the emergence of a new type of public sphere in which the civil society debate is marked by autonomous citizen action. While this defies the socialist regime’s design of state-society relations, its effect on democratization depends on the extent to which a web-based voice connects with off-line public debate and social action.