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Contesting Narratives, Locating Power (Lund Conference)

Unlearning while Teaching on the Arab Media

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The recent protests and revolutionary movements in the region of 2011 constitute a cataclysm not only in the way in which we understand the relation between states and publics in each respective country, but are a tectonic shift in the manner in which Arabism and social movements are articulated. While significant attention is being drawn to the role and impact of media discourses in these uprisings, the examinations of the convergence and divergence between states and publics remain cursory at best.

For instance, media institutions, ideologies, discourses, and audiences have all been subjects of discussion as the line between media production and consumption became increasingly blurred. From the role of state broadcasting and transnational satellite television to citizen journalism and cyberdissidence, the demarcation between sites of construction and consumption have been radically altered, thereby making novel theorization inevitable.

Quite simply, the uprisings in the region highlight some of the integral and yet unresolved questions in communication studies concerning the traction and salience of media effects. They also demand a new terrain in media scholarship which revisits the role of reception, reasserts the fallibility of passive audiences, and revisits the mechanisms of media mobilization.

While the uprisings may have a significant role to play in reshaping the way we teach the Middle East in many disciplines, it has in effect solidified and confirmed the utility and vitality of the novel and once-underestimated sub-discipline of Arab media studies. From the dichotomies of state and social media to television spectacles and audience-generated content, the uprisings have produced an urgency to analyze the Arab media as agents of both stagnation and change, thereby confirming the need for more succinct, rigorous and nuanced media research on the region.

There are some fundamental new territories in need of investigation and examination in Arab studies. The virtual simultaneity of the uprisings and the permeability of dissidence discourses from Tunisia to Bahrain and from Egypt to Syria have made it imperative that public expressions of regional allegiance and solidarity and identification with pan-Arab sentiments be discussed from a mediated standpoint. Since the early 2000s, debates surrounding the pan-Arab discourses of satellite television led to a reworking of the region’s media classification and taxonomy, but these have since been overlooked and undervalued largely due to the absence of any efficacious way of asserting these observations. However, with the explosion of activism across the Arab world and the contiguity of protestation from one locale to the next, has made it crucial for the mediated interplay of geography and political expression to be interrogated.

Pedagogically, not only are the Arab uprisings and revolutions a significant unsettling of curricula on regional history, politics, economic, society and culture, they possess the ontological capacity to unsettle much of the theoretical premises upon which media studies has been anchored as a discipline. This means that canonical texts in media and communication studies must bebe interrogated on their fundamental assumptions about the relationship between the triad of state, public and media. At this time, the Arab revolutions are forcing their way into virtually every discussion of media research irrespective of regional emphasis. No analysis of the political role of social media can speak to the influence of social networks at organizing and mobilizing publics can proceed without an recognizing the new chiasm with the Arab uprisings.

At a time when the Arab world has the largest concentration of broadcasters and media production sites of any area with its population, the region is pushing the boundaries of media research and instruction. Today more manuscripts, academic and popular, are published about Arab media than any other comparable region. And as the uprisings continue, not only are the margins of media and communication studies being reevaluated, the centers are also being shaken to their epistemological core. 

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