DIALOGICAL SENSE-MAKING IN THE DIGITAL PUBLIC SPHERE: Citizenship, Care, and Disability
Keywords:Bakhtin, dialogics, disability, Down syndrome, New Zealand
This article explores the contested public discourses of citizenship and care surrounding national media coverage of the news story of ‘Baby Leo’, a New Zealand baby born overseas in 2015. Baby Leo’s diagnosis of Down Syndrome soon after his birth, precipitated the mother’s alleged abandonment of the child, the expat New Zealand father then fundraising for the child’s (and his) rapid return to New Zealand via a virally successfully crowdfunding campaign. The situation attracted significant media attention for several months, with thousands of New Zealanders providing comments, via Facebook, on stories produced and shared by news media outlets. We use a Bakhtinian dialogical analysis of a selection of these Facebook comments to consider the emergent discourses of citizenship – especially in relation to disability – that were mobilised and contested by contributors. Our findings show that although the Facebook comments demonstrate the contingent and fluid meanings of ‘home’ and ‘welcome’, the positive comments on the worthiness of his case and its deservingness of public support that Baby Leo attracted, distinguish this case from other studies of citizenship attribution for people with Down syndrome around the world. Despite this, the treatment of prospective citizens with various forms of disability issues (including Down Syndrome) seeking citizenship in New Zealand remains exclusionary and the New Zealand national identity invoked in these online discussions extended a longstanding utopian humanitarian vision, without critical awareness of this.