This project underscores the importance of de-westernizing theory-building on protest movements and the use of new digital media. The political turmoil and ongoing rebellions across the Middle East present a particular interesting – and urgent – set of cases for doing empirical and conceptual work on how long-existing struggles for justice are variously shaping, and being shaped by new media and political environments. As digital cameras are playing a crucial, yet under-researched role in political struggle in the region today, this project privileges the component of camera-mediated strategies and tactics in the larger practice of activism.
The overall aim is to explore the successes and potentialities as well as limitations and challenges that camera-related practices bring to the objectives of contemporary protest movements across the Arab world. It advances a media-practice based approach, with ethnographic field studies, in order to explore and theorize how variously situated activists creatively and strategically use digitally networked cameras and images in their struggles for rights, and how the need for visibility shapes, informs or constrains the way they conceptualise and enact their resistance.
In thus re-centring the agency of human beings over technologies, a critical purpose of the project is also to explore the meanings that practices of creating, distributing, editing, sharing, viewing and archiving images acquire for differently located participants. We thus attend to political image production also as subjective, embodied and performative practice. Activists not only use cameras to speak truth to power, but to realize or produce themselves as political subjects and negotiate exactly what such a subjectivity may be and can do. A key objective of the project is therefore to examine how different individuals and groups are reflecting on – and struggling with – precisely the kind of subjects they want to cultivate with such practices.
This project is funded by the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences, and is jointly led by researchers based at Stockholm University (Sweden) and at Birmingham City University (UK).
Kari Andén-Papadopoulos is Professor at the Department of Media Studies, Stockholm University. She has published internationally on forms and practices of photojournalism in times of crisis and war, with particular interest in grassroots political image-making and new digital media. Recently completed research examined how mainstream news organisations and their audiences are responding to the growing availability of citizen and activist eyewitness footage from zones of conflict around the world. Current research concerns digital media activism in the Middle East, with a focus on emergent modes of civic expression and engagement connected to digital and networked cameras.
Dima Saber is a Senior Research Fellow at the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research, Birmingham City University. Her current research is focussed on media depictions of conflict in the Middle East and North Africa region, and she is responsible for leading and delivering projects in citizen journalism, particularly exploring the relation between digital media literacy and social change in post-revolution and in conflict settings such as Egypt, Palestine, Yemen and Syria. Her latest publications include work on crowd-sourced Syrian archives as vernacular memories of the Syrian war, on Hezbollah and IS videogame productions, and on Arab mainstream media coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict.