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Centre of Governance & Human Rights (CGHR)


New Media|Alternative Politics Working Paper Series

The spread of digital technologies in the Middle East and Africa has generated the view that 'new media' open up political spaces for dissent, activism and emancipation. In October 2010, CGHR and CRASSH convened a conference New Media|Alternative Politics that brought together researchers, academics, activists, journalists and policy makers to discuss whether and how new media empower an alternative politics and mobilises political change. Read the Conference Report by CGHR's Karim Amijee and Emil Graesholm. Convenors: Anne AlexanderSharath Srinivasan.

Many thanks to Dmitriy Myelnikov for the graphic design of the Working Papers.



The NMAP working papers are now available:

4. ‘Public as Politician? The improvised hierarchies of participatory influence of the April 6th Youth Movement Facebook Group': Alexandra Dunn (The Engine Room). Download PDF here.

With the rise of social networking technologies, isolated actors with common aims increasingly use online tools to connect, share, discuss, and organize. The present study seeks to better understand the mechanisms of influence and participatory structures of a single, open, political Facebook group that has successfully organized offline action without relying on a defined hierarchical structure. The April 6th Youth Movement Facebook group has over 80,000 members and no leader, yet is still capable of acting in concert with the intent of reforming the repressive offline political sphere in Egypt. Exploring quantitative data collected in 2009 and 2010, the analysis found a small group of highly active users that directed discussion on the Facebook Wall – the central hub of organizational activity. The volume of participation increased significantly on sample days of heightened offline political activity and, when the top participants were prevented from contributing to the wall on these days (because of demonstration, detention, or arrest), another small subset of users filled the leadership vacuum. These findings indicate that there is potential for Facebook and other SNSs to act not only as complementary spaces of political discussion or campaigning, but as platforms for organizational structures that exist independently of any party and act to successfully secure collectively defined goals.

3. ‘An Undiscovered Archive? Online Video Sharing, Alternative Narratives and the Documentation of History': Fanar Haddad (Queen Mary University of London). Download PDF here.

Insurgent groups relied heavily on the internet to disseminate their messages to an international audience: insurgent propaganda carried images of successful operations, engagement with local communities, the crimes of their enemies and songs and laments glorifying their victories and mourning their chosen traumas. Less formally we have the ‘home videos’ and mobile phone footage that have been instrumental in undermining some narratives and bolstering others. More importantly, the mobile phone camera has supplied us with a distinctly ‘from below’ perspective of events in a most unprecedented way. The opportunities presented by such sources should not obscure the profound challenges they pose to the researcher. How does one go about contextualising and authenticating the data? How representative are the sentiments expressed in raw footage – indeed it is fair to ask just how ‘raw’ raw footage is? Furthermore, if we rely on video sharing sites do we not risk becoming hostages to those sites’ content? Finally how can we moderate the powerful influence that such audio-visual clips exert on our understanding of events?

2. ‘New media in Africa: Tools for Liberation or Means of Subjugation?': Firoze Manji, Alex Free and Cassandra Mark (Pambazuka News & Pambazuka Press, and University of Oxford). Download PDF here.

This paper discusses the varied successes and failures of Fahamu initiatives in seeking to use new media technologies for supporting the struggle for human rights and social justice in Africa. These experiences include the development and running of distance learning course for human rights organisations; the building of what has become the oldest and largest citizen journalism sites on social justice in Africa - Pambazuka News; the use of online, email and mobile-phone technologies for campaigning on women's rights in Africa; and the expansion of interactivity and online organising created by Web 2.0 technologies. While the new technologies have created extraordinary opportunities for activists and scholars alike, the fact remains that social transformation can only occur through the building of mass movement. But with less than 7% of Africa's population having access to the internet, are the potentials of new media technologies over-stated? Technologies have an inherent tendency – especially in class society – to amplify and exaggerate social differentiation unless this tendency is actively counteracted. Technologies – even new media technologies –  are not socially neutral: they are an expression of existing social relations and the distribution of power in society.  There is a need for greater reflection on the political economy of the new technologies if we are to understand how they might effectively be used in social transformation.

1. 'New media, same old regime politics: Resisting the repression of media freedom in Zimbabwe': Amanda Atwood and Bev Clark (Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe). Download PDF here.

Some political scientists and social change activists have viewed new media and information communication technologies (ICTs) as having the power to transform organising, activism and politics. But this paper argues that even with these new tools, activists, political parties and individuals are still faced with many of the challenges of the “same old politics.” Using the work of Kubatana, Zimbabwe’s civic and human rights information service, this paper discusses how the Zimbabwean government views new media through a lens of threat. Whilst more “elitist” new media tools such as the Internet and blogging are tolerated, attempts to develop audio information services accessed by mobile phones have been met with repression.

You can read more about the New Media and Alternative Politics conference here and the project on New communications technologies and citizen-led governance in Africa here.