Panel 8

Panel 8 – Online Activism in the MENA Uprisings: Media and Politics of Representation
Victoria Tahmasebi-Birgani

Title: Women Online Activism: The Case of Iranian Women

Abstract: Despite Iranian regime’s excessive filtering of the internet, censoring and arresting online activists and bloggers, and issuing harsh prison sentences for these individuals, Iranian women’s online activism continues to target the social, political, cultural and economic inequalities and environmental crisis. These activities have brought the political mobilizing force of cyberspace, as well as the role of women in these movements, sharply into focus. They have further succeeded in mobilizing transnational campaigns for women’s rights in Iran, as well as interact and negotiate with other women in the region.

Employing feminist critical content analysis, this research proposes that Iranian women are moving away from one dimensional articulation of the “socio-political,” and are instead adopting a conjunctural approach wherein different forms of inequality are read as “realities-events” that emerge and evolve with one another. Therefore, these virtual platforms have become transient civil societies offering the participants a chance to identify, highlight and examine the intersections of various patterns of inequalities and form virtual conversations around these issues.

Bio: Victoria Tahmasebi-Birgani is an Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies, in the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Toronto Mississauga and in Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto. Dr. Tahmasebi is an interdisciplinary scholar whose areas of specialization encompass feminist theories in relation to continental and transnational contexts; critical theories of women’s movements in the Middle East; digital activism; gender and ethics of non-violence; contemporary history of social and political thought. She holds an Honours B.A. in Sociology and Women’s Studies from the University of Toronto, and M.A. and Ph.D. in Social and Political Thought from York University, Toronto, Canada. Some of her recent publications include:  Emmanuel Levinas and Politics of Non-Violence (University of Toronto Press, 2014); “The Sexed Body of the Woman-(M)Other: Irigaray and Marcuse on the Intersection of Gender and Ethical Intersubjectivity,” Subversive Itinerary (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013); “Does Levinas Justify or Transcend Liberalism?: Levinas on Human liberation,” Philosophy and Social Criticism, Volume 35, June, 2010; “Green Women of Iran: The Role of the Women’s Movement During and After Iran’s Presidential Election of 2009,” Constellations: An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory, (March 2010), 17 (1).

Irfan Chaudhry

Title: #Hashtags for Change: Can Twitter Promote Social Progress in Saudi Arabia

Abstract: Since the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, Twitter has proven to be a useful mobilization tool for citizens. The power of Twitter to mobilize citizens (as seen in the Arab Spring) worries some governments. In response, a number of countries have begun to censor access to Internet technology. The Saudi monarchy, for example, issued a decree banning the reporting of news that contradicts sharia (Islamic) law, undermines national security, promotes foreign interests, or slanders religious leaders. A key question requiring further examination is why the Saudi government issued this decree. Are these controls in place to manage the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s political image on a global level, or are they in place to regulate the morality of its citizens at the local level? Drawing upon the work of Manuel Castells and his discussion of network power, this article asks: Can Twitter usage promote social progress in Saudi Arabia?

Bio: Irfan Chaudhry is currently a criminology instructor at MacEwan University, Department of Sociology and a PhD Candidate with the Department of Sociology, University of Alberta.  Irfan’s research on racist tweets (www.twitterracism.com) in Canada were highlighted in Avenue Magazine’s annual top 40 Edmontonians under the age of 40 list, where he was featured as one of the top 40 recipients in 2013. Irfan received an MA in Criminal Justice at the University of Alberta (Department of Sociology). Prior to returning to University to pursue a PhD in Criminology (focusing on race, racism and crime), Irfan held a number of positions with the City of Edmonton, including a Crime Analyst with the Edmonton Police Service, and more recently, as a Race Relations Specialist for the City of Edmonton, Aboriginal and Multicultural Relations Office.

Luke Struckman

Title: Ancient Hatreds and Contemporary Conflicts?: Ethno-Sectarian Mosaics, the Arab Uprisings, and American Media Geopolitics

Abstract: Preliminary steps have been made into understanding how the Arab Uprisings have been represented in American media discourses. Scholars observe that problematic representations are intertwined with more sympathetic portrayals of these events. Despite somewhat balanced representations, I find that the coverage portrays a number of nation-states in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as being comprised of “ethno-sectarian mosaics”. From this perspective, ethnic and religious groups are organized into clearly-bounded territories. These ethno-sectarian blocs are then pieced together into the heterogenous nation- states of the MENA region. Ethno-sectarian differences within nation-states are seen to be drivers of conflict. This understanding of social organization shares conceptual similarities with how the MENA region was represented in colonial- era social science research. This knowledge formed the conceptual basis of colonial governance systems in most parts of the region. Systems like these have been given a number of terms by scholars, including ‘define and rule’ and ‘the ethnographic state’. Terms like these suggest that colonial social science perspectives were concerned with shoehorning fluid divisions of social organization into rigid and timeless categories. At present, these problematic understandings of ethnic and religious groups play a large part in how the MENA region is represented and events that take place within it are portrayed. My examination of the New York Times and the Washington Post coverage of three prominent Arab Uprisings (Bahrain, Libya, and Syria) shows that narratives of ethno-sectarian fuelled conflict are prominent in explanations of these events. These representations are important because they share conceptual similarities with counterinsurgency doctrine developed for the MENA region by the American military during the past decade.

Bio: Luke Struckman is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. He is a political geographer whose dissertation research focuses on how narratives of “ethno- sectarian mosaics” are used in contemporary American descriptions and explanations of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Specifically, he focuses on American media perspectives of the Arab Uprisings (2011-2013), the Iraq Troop Surge (2007-2008), and a series of American cartographic representations of the MENA region. More broadly, Luke is interested in examining how territory is used in the construction of ethno-sectarian identities in the MENA region.

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