2012-05-24 NPCU PhDs presenting at iCS Conference, Leeds

NPCU PhD students Billur Aslan and James Dennis will present at the 6th Annual PhD Conference at the Institute of Communication Studies, University of Leeds, on 24 May. The iCS conference has quickly established a good reputation and features keynotes this year from Natalie Fenton from Goldsmiths and Stephen Coleman, on his home turf. Details of papers below.

Billur Aslan

The Power of The Internet in the Rising Protests: The Case of the Iranian Green Movement

This research aims to illuminate and evaluate assumptions about the political impacts of the Internet by taking into account the relation of online social networks and political protests. For evaluating the influence of those novel technologies, this research offers two case studies from Iran, where members of the Green Movement have organised spontaneous protests via social networks. Although in the first case study, the movement members succeeded in overcoming state barriers and spreading their movement via social networks, in the latter these social networks did not succeed in resisting state restriction. By exploring the filtrations and censorship attempts of the Iranian government, this research draws attention to the novel capacities of governments in their attempts to restrict the media. These Iran cases show that despite the existence of social networks, the Internet alone cannot bring liberty. On the contrary, governments can utilise it for monitoring their citizens or for spreading their manufactured ‘facts’. Thereby, although the current protests in Egypt, Tunisia or Libya have fortified the power of social networks on protests, claims about their transformative effects require careful and comparative scrutiny. In order to understand the real impact of the Internet, today, one should analyse diverse factors that affect the outcomes of the movements. For this reason, alongside its cases studies, this research revises the theories of social movement scholars. It offers a theoretical framework to help explain the elements that affect the emergence, mobilisation and outcome of collective actions with a particular focus on how the Internet influences these processes.

James Dennis

“It’s Better to Light a Candle Than to Fantasise About a Sun”: Exploring Slacktivism and the Utopian / Dystopian Divide 2.0

This paper offers a critique of the artificial utopian / dystopian dichotomy that has re-emerged within academic literature examining the effect of social-networking sites on political engagement, and sets out an alternative approach aiming to capture the nuance of mediated citizenship at varying scales. The prevalence of unsubstantiated generalisations, anecdotal case studies, and a lack of empirical testing is exemplified through the scholarly debate surrounding ‘Slacktivism’; that low-threshold forms of political engagement online are inauthentic, narcissistically motivated, and a distraction replacing more meaningful forms of offline mobilisation (The Substitution Thesis).

This paper proposes a number of deficiencies within this approach. Firstly, the problematic emphasis on the medium itself leads to an arbitrary distinction between online and offline, and subsequently lacks appreciation for the complexity of engagement repertoires and organisational structures. Secondly, conceptual clarity is required in regards to what encompasses participation in relation to social-networking site. Slacktivism offers a narrow perspective of what engagement entails, notably end-product, ‘revolutionary’ activism without an appreciation of the informational and discursive stimulants that form part of this process (Carpentier 2011). The utopian / dystopian dichotomy and Slacktivist approach fundamentally miss the key function of social-networking sites as a commercial and entertainment-based medium, i.e. their role as a facilitator for conversations and networking. Finally, a collection of revisions are proposed to re-frame the Slacktivist critique to construct a viable research agenda aiming to systematically examine the effect of routine social-networking usage on political engagement.