World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th – 24th 2010

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Peripheries become Centers: New Media Borderlands in the Middle East (173) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 9.00-11.00 am

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Catholic University of America (USA)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Jon W. Anderson

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: The shapes that new media take throughout the Middle East dramatically confirm how globalization has blurred distinctions between center and periphery. This first occurred in the religious sphere, where new interpreters and new interpretations opened the scope of public discussion. New media have spread into other domains, but analysis of these trends rarely extends beyond assessments of impacts, numbers, access and particularly government controls. Looking beyond gross impacts, this panel explores how new media proliferate through practical networking and cultural performances in more intimate levels of public space, similar to Habermas’s original concept, display more modest civic engagement than oppositional politics, intersect commercial developments, and grow ‘soft infrastructures’ of communicative skills and multiple smaller public spheres. These new infrastructures develop as communities of practice or informal learning and knowledge creation along global-local frontiers. These new media infrastructures emerge in liminal spaces and in their return facilitate ‘social thickening.’ Focusing on borders of commerce and art, religion and ethnicity, and the ever labile public and private, this panel explores sites of civic participation, crossovers between on- and off-line networks, and development of not just the technologies or means of new media production, but practical masteries that may be more significant in the long run for objectifying - ultimately institutionalizing - the conditions of their own possibilities.

Chair: Dale F. Eickelman, Dartmouth College (USA)

Discussant: Yves Gonzalez-Quijano, Université Lumière, Lyon (France)

Paper presenter: Tsuyoshi Saito (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Japan), “Homelands and Home Pages: Contemporary Amazigh Identity in Southern Morocco”
Since the 1980s, two Berber cultural movements have appeared in Morocco. The Amazigh movement has been led mostly by intellectuals, officials, students, and other youth. Participants in this movement prefer to identify themselves not as Berbers but as Imazighen, and they have developed both on-line and off-line transnational networks to spread their influence. The other movement is the Madrasa, or traditional Islamic school, revival movement. It has been conducted mostly by 'ulama, tolba, intellectuals, and local people who have relationships and interest in various local madrasas. Even though both movements grew out of the Amazighi / Berber experience of emigration from their homeland, their respective ways of imagining homelands show significant differences. My presentation analyzes how these movements are sustained by the use of on-line and off-line networks, and how these alternatives formulate their identity and their consciousness toward homeland.

Paper presenter: Heather Browne (American University of Cairo & Northeastern University, USA), “Facebook as a Channel of Civic Engagement in Egypt, a Quiet Revolution”
In his seminal work, Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson argued that the expansion of print media allowed the development of a new sense of community. Likewise, expansion of the Internet has enabled the development of new forms of community consciousness in “virtual public spheres” that Langman and Morris have claimed “engage in democratic practices… outside the existing political structures.” In Egypt, where laws prohibit NGO’s from any form of political activity, and there are very strict limits on meeting, fundraising, and organizing, Facebook has become a site for engaging in democratic practices outside the restrictive political structure. It is reported to be the third most visited website from Egyptian computers and considered such a risk that at one point in 2008 the Egyptian government was reportedly considering blocking access. Facebook’s design provides a virtual Habermasian public sphere where informal political networks engage and create social capital through a multiplicity of ‘weak ties’, which have been shown to be more effective in mobilizing others than strong ties. By keeping the requirements of membership minimal, and focusing on networking and local issues, Facebook acts as a gate into the public sphere for the inexperienced or insecure. This paper presents data that take issue with recent dismissals of Facebook's potential as a channel of political mobilization.