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On Media, Social Movements, and Uprisings: Lessons from Afghanistan, Its Neighbors, and Beyond

Wazhmah Osman
Signs
Vol. 39, No. 4 (Summer 2014), pp. 874-887
DOI: 10.1086/675736
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/675736
Page Count: 14
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On Media, Social Movements, and Uprisings: Lessons from Afghanistan, Its Neighbors, and Beyond
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Abstract

AbstractFrom Tehran to Tahrir Square to Gezi Park—to mention only three key sites of protest made prominent in 2013—social media has been lauded as one of the key factors enabling popular uprisings and social movements. This has provided further hype for new or digital media, which were already being touted as a tool for social change, liberation, and the representation of marginalized or oppressed voices. In this essay, I argue not against new media per se but against technological determinism and fetishism. I argue that the transformative or repressive potential of different media changes dramatically across different sites of research and depends on the sociopolitical realities of the region being studied, including factors such as censorship, access, and infrastructure. Drawing on my research in Afghanistan, Iran, and Tajikistan, among other neighboring countries, I show the striking differences in the degree of effectiveness and ineffectiveness of different media in bringing about social change in those respective countries as well as regionally. Comparatively speaking, I focus on television and social media’s catalytic role in stirring popular uprisings and the subsequent backlash and attack on those media. I also examine the gendered dimensions and dangers of media use and activism. In the case of Afghanistan, I consider the impact of international and transnational funding of media and human rights efforts. I conclude that in order for international interventions into local social movements to succeed, international experts in development, human rights, and media must take the lead from local residents and contexts, technologically and culturally, and work collaboratively with them.

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