Call for Proposals

Archiving Dissent: Post-2011 Arab Imagery, Memory and Vernacular Representations of Conflict

The American University of Beirut, Lebanon
September 6 & 7, 2019

Abstract deadline April 1, 2019

Organisers: Prof Kari Anden-Papadopoulos (Stockholm University) and Dr Dima Saber (Birmingham City University) in collaboration with Dr May Farah (The American University of Beirut).

This two-day conference entitled ‘Archiving Dissent: Post-2011 Arab imagery, memory and vernacular representations of conflict’ aims at exploring the mounting challenges but also opportunities posed by the ever-expanding collections of crowdsourced digital content documenting eight years of revolution and struggles in the Arab region. It brings together academics, activists, lawyers, archivists and artists from the MENA and beyond, to map out existing documentation of the 2011 revolts in both online and offline forms, and to think critically and strategically about issues such as preservation, use, value, access, ownership and control.

With the democratisation of image production and dissemination, the lack of documentation of pivotal events, including human rights violations and war crimes, is no longer a primary issue. Rather, main challenges are capturing and preserving the overwhelming proliferation of digital imagery coming out of the Arab uprisings, along with ensuring the integrity, reliability and accessibility of such records. In a context of increasingly contested narratives, when the revolutionary moment has slipped into civil wars, violence and the return to emboldened oppression, these vernacular archives become ever-more valuable as grounds for efforts to bring about ‘truth’ and ‘justice’. As such, eyewitness recordings play a critical role not only in documenting advocacy efforts, but increasingly also in ensuring the preservation of a crowd-sourced historical knowledge and memory of war and revolution, the protection of rights, and the potential prosecution of atrocity and war crimes.

Another urgent issue is also the over-reliance of grassroot image producers on Facebook, YouTube and other corporate tech platforms to distribute and archive their footage. It is critical to observe that these hyper-commercial platforms are not designed to facilitate activism, and that preservation is neither a purpose nor a practice of theirs. Indeed, tech platforms have increasingly taken on the responsibility of policing their user content and activity, through, for example, systematically removing content and channels deemed ‘offensive’. Alarming figures now reveal that YouTube has removed more than 400 000 Syria-related videos since August 2017, when it started using machine-learning to flag and mass delete so-called ‘extremist’ content, with a total lack of transparency regarding its newly developed content moderation algorithm.

These disputable takedowns, which put at risk the entire audiovisual history of the Syrian war, reinforce existing rising concerns about the precariousness of the digital and the costs of the activists and archivists’ over-reliance on platforms they have little to no agency over. In addition, there are also increasing challenges posed by the corrupt melding of state and commercial forms of surveillance and data exploitation on these platforms, in contexts such as Egypt, Palestine and Turkey more regionally, bringing issues of user privacy and security to the fore.

This conference provides a forum in which scholars and practitioners collaborate to address the challenges – representational, political, ethical, technical, organizational and financial – that preserving the post-2011 Arab image archives present for both present and future representations of conflict and revolt in the region.

Participants are invited to address topics including, but not limited to:

  • (Innovative) strategies and open-access tools and infrastructures for archiving,processing, preserving and disseminating post-2011 Arab image records
  • Historical precedents for both documentation and archiving practices in the MENA region
  • Key challenges and opportunities that crowd-sourced content offer for a constitution of a digital memory of post-2011 wars and revolutions in the MENA region (we particularly welcome here contributions from historians, memory studies and archival studies scholars and practitioners)
  • Learnings from regional and international/global protest movements such as Gezi Park, #metoo and #Blacklivesmatter campaigns, that could benefit activists and archivists in the MENA
  • Ethical considerations regarding the roles and rights of image creators themselves, notably in terms of considering issues of ownership, consent, harm, vulnerability, subjectivity and objectification, security, agency and responsibility.
  • Key challenges in terms of funding, selection, metadata, policy, quality, access, and strategic uses entailed in such archiving efforts
  • Strategies for mapping and securing non-governmental and regionally-based efforts to build infrastructures that allow for the collection, preservation and distribution of these materials
  • How to protect image records from being destroyed and insure the sustainability of the archives even when they are available in both online and offline forms
  • Issues of power, ownership and control

The organisers welcome proposals for 20 minute academic papers and panels, and/or project-based presentations . Please send 250-words abstracts, with a 50-word biography to resistancebyrecording@gmail.com by April 1, 2019.