Takshashila Discussion Document: Networked Protests & State Responses: The Case of Hong Kong 2019-20

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Executive Summary

Digital technologies and Internet connectivity are enabling rapid mobilisation of large groups of individuals around a common cause. The defining feature of such a Radically Networked Society (RNS) is the scale and pace of its operations. Consequently, RNS movements pose a serious challenge for the hierarchically ordered state structures, which tend to lack the dexterity and speed to respond.

In this paper, we apply the RNS framework to the 2019-20 Hong Kong protests. We conclude that the protests were the product of underlying fissures over issues of identity and political autonomy. The region’s thriving Internet ecosystem and hyper-connected society enabled the development and expansion of networked communities around these issues. This fuelled sustained, leaderless mobilisation, resulting in large-scale disruption and electoral advances for pro-democracy activists.

Meanwhile, the state’s response was rooted in a strategy of attrition. This minimised costs and proved somewhat effective in that the movement failed to achieve the broader objective of earning universal suffrage for Hong Kongers. Yet, the protests have managed to fundamentally reshape state-society relations and shift the narrative around the region’s future.

TDD-Networked Protests & State Responses The Case of Hong Kong-2019-20 MN, RS-7 Apr-v1.0

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