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New Book Chapter On Mediated Experience Of The Uprisings

May 19, 2018

517YadAfv6L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_This just in: I have a new book chapter out on the Egyptian uprisings.

The title is “Mediated Experience in the Egyptian Revolution” and it appears in Digital Middle East: State and Society in the Information Age, edited by Mohamed Zayani and published by Oxford University Press.

What I try to do in the chapter is reconcile large scale political and social change — the Egyptian uprisings of 2011 — with everyday lived experience by looking at the extent to which experiences of the revolution were mediated.

My starting point is that most people in Egypt were not protesting at Tahrir or in Alexandria or anywhere else. Their experience of the revolution involved traffic delays and excited conversations around the dinner table, text messages and television programs, radio broadcasts and e-mails.

This chapter offers my first effort at a conceptual framework that recognizes the intricacy of interaction between mediation and revolutionary social change by looking at the lived experience of Egyptians during the Egyptian uprisings and their aftermath.

My point is not just that the experience of collective events is mediated through information and communication technologies, though. I am also arguing that these mediated experiences are both collective, in that people are connected by media uses and practices and by common activities and spaces, and yet they are also deeply personal and individualized, in that specific sets of technologies, interpersonal relationships and embodied practices that comprise one person’s unfolding experience will be different from that of someone else.

By way of illustrating this, I offer three three very different case studies about media use and the ways it framed experiences of the revolution. Tamer , an unmarried middle-aged man caring for his mother and sisters, Gehan, a young female English professor who supported the regime, and Bishoy, a tourist guide in Luxur.

My use of the term “experience” is not intended to be passive, but active. In laying claim to being part of the revolution, Gehan, Tamar, Bishoy and other Egyptians used different forms of media to participate as citizens in the ongoing political change by passing moral judgment on activities and creating sites where citizens can exchange views on issues involving the common good, whether in the home, in the classroom, in the taxi, in the streets, through email, correspondence in micro-blogging platforms like Twitter and social media spaces like Facebook.

My stories are themselves based on mediated data–e-mails, and Facebook posts, mostly–from 2011, that allowed me to describe different experiences of using cell phones, computers, newspapers, television news, and face-to-face interactions in managing their lives and ascribing meaning to the events of the revolution.

I try to theorize this using the concepts of network, assemblage and field.

I use the term network in what I think is Latour’s (2005) sense of collectivities of people connected by common experiences, utterances, technologies, practices, and interactions. An actor network consists of and links together technical elements such as television, computer, and cell phones, but also their knowledge of and experience of these technologies, and the social networks through which that knowledge and experience is mediated, including those millions watching state television in simultaneity, the networks of people of similar background in spatial proximity, kin networks, social networks of friends, neighbors and colleagues, the production of state television in Egypt and of Al Jazeera in Qatar, and a networks of international partners (including, in all three cases, me).

By assemblage I mean heterogeneous elements or objects, ranging from physical objects and events to signs and utterances, that enter into relations with one another within some context (DeLanda 2006, Deleuze and Guattari 2007 [1987], Marcus and Saka 2006). Lacking organization, an assemblage can include any number of disparate elements. Individuals experience the revolution as assemblages of technologies, bodily sensations, activities, texts, and social interactions within the context of their own unfolding social lives.  Egyptians experienced the revolution in very different ways as they engaged with different technologies, understand media messages through locally inflected interpretive frames, and interact with others.

On a broader scale, I argue that we can understand the relationship between mediated experiences of events and agent-driven uses of media technologies by turning to processual analysis of the sort called field theory, which allows us to see the revolution as a series of struggles over the symbolic meaning of revolutionary activities, in which media practices play a crucial part.

Here I’m drawing not only on Bourdieu but Victor Turner and others to define fields as organized but heterogeneous zones of action in which unequally positioned social agents compete and cooperate over public stakes. The most significant of the stakes over which groups struggle may be the definition of the field itself—what constitutes “the revolution,” for example, and thus who is and who is not a legitimate revolutionary (Gluckman 1965, Turner 1975, Bourdieu 1993, Gledhill 2000, Martin 2003, Postill 2015).

Its been several busy years since I originally wrote it for a conference in Qatar, so reading it now that the book is out interesting. It reads better than I remember it, but still not as analytically persuasive as I’d hoped.

References

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1993. The Field of Cultural Production (Cambridge: Polity Press).

DeLanda, Manuel. 2006. A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity (New York: Continuum).

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. 2007 [1987]. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).

Gledhill, John. 2000. Power and Its Disguises: Anthropological Perspectives on Politics (London: Pluto).

Gluckman, Max. 1965. Politics, Law and Ritual in Tribal Society (Chicago: Aldine).

Latour, Bruno. 2005. Reassembling the Social. New York: Oxford University Press.

Marcus, George and Erkan Saka. 2006. “Assemblage,” Theory, Culture & Society 23: 101-106.

Martin, J.L. 2003. “What is field theory?” American Journal of Sociology 109 (1): 1-49.

Peterson, Mark Allen. 2017.  “Mediated Experience in the Egyptian Revolution” In Digital Middle East: State and Society in the Information Age. Mohamed Zayani, ed. Pp.  85-108. Oxford University Press.

Posthill, John. 2015. “Fields as dynamic clusters of practices, games and socialities.” In Vered Amit, ed. Sociality: An Anthropological Interrogation. Pp. 47-68. Oxford and New York: Berghahn.

Turner, Victor. 1975 Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (Cornell University Press.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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