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Tahrir Squared: Can Communitas Be Digitalized?

June 7, 2011

The community forged in Tahrir Square was vibrant and exciting, filled with promise, creative energy and hope. This is the sense of comradeship anthropologists call communitas created when traditional social structures break down and new structures have not yet been forged to replace them.

Artistic expression flourished and social organization–security, emergency health care, food distribution–was managed not by the state of civic institutions but by sodalities of volunteers who contributed their expertise.

I predicted in an earlier post–based on the work of colleagues of mine who study the postsocialist world–that when the protesters at last left Tahrir we would find two interesting social processes emerge. The first would be a political process of groups seeking to claim the Tahrir Square uprisings as theirs, and the second the emergence of a powerful nostalgia for the 18 day period. The two are linked–the nostalgia gives the symbol of Tahrir Square part of of the force political groups wish to claim.

In Egypt, this antistructural communitas is sometimes called “the Tahrir effect” and pundits discuss its nature and whether the revolution is continuing it or losing it, and whether returns to Tahrir like that of Friday May 27 renew, extend or deplete this “effect.”

One very interesting new effort to claim, and reproduce, the “Tahrir Effect” is a web site called Tahrir Squared.

During the revolution, there was a very united & civilised Egypt in Tahrir square. Protesters from all backgrounds & ages stayed together in Tahrir square which turned to a model town where everyone worked together despite their differences. A group of activists have started a new initiative called Tahrir Squared. It aims to multiply the Tahrir Effect & expand the Tahrir Region. Please visit the website to learn more.

This experiment is not only about communitas and antistructure, of course, it is also about social media. Tahrir Squared suggests that social media has the capacity to not only recapture and maintain the kind of social energy (what Emil Durkheim called effervescence) present in Tahrir Square during the 18 days of protest, but extend it beyond the geographical boundaries of central Cairo.

Can communitas be digitalized? If it is, is it what Turner meant by communitas or has it become something else? And if so, what?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2011 2:04 pm

    You have the moonolpy on useful information—aren’t monopolies illegal? 😉

    • MPeterson permalink
      October 8, 2011 2:12 pm

      I’ll take that as a compliment. I’m glad you like the blog. It’s a lot of work, but always interesting!

  2. October 13, 2011 10:26 pm

    What a frankly good piece

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