Home > Uncategorized > Rewriting the Narrative of “Social Media and the Arab Spring”

Rewriting the Narrative of “Social Media and the Arab Spring”

Did you like the story of “social media and the Arab spring”?  Do you feel silly now?

Why do some ideas “catch on”?  Sherry Turkle’s first book Psychoanalytic Politics documents how psychoanalytic thinking took 1960s France by storm.  Obscure and difficult ideas suddenly became part of popular culture.  Why? Because they were “appropriable”–they resonated with concerns of the time.  Clifford Geertz says that culture is a story we tell ourselves about ourselves.  In 1960s France, that story was about Freud and Lacan. In 2012 America, that story was about “social media and the Arab spring.”  We were happy to tell ourselves:

Social media will set us free!  If only we could hear the people’s voices, then American-style democracy will emerge!  Look–peaceful protests are leading to new freedom. Technology is the answer. Our favorite new personal toys are not only fun, but world transforming.  Everyone wants to be like us, and our new toys will make that happen!

It’s the story we wanted to hear.  But its connection to reality was tenuous. As the situation in Egypt deteriorates into civil war, I hope we all feel humbled and chastised by the truth–the truth that it’s not that simple. I have no doubt that social media played a role in catalyzing change. But out of the frying pan and into the fire–change to what? The story is still being written, and I don’t know what the many endings will be.  But I do know that the pat narratives of 2012 were pretty silly.

How do we make sense of everything that has happened, and will happen?  It’s a hard problem.  A hard problem that will require research.  Research in political science.  So I’m sure in response to this situation, the US Congress has increased funding for political science this year and is asking leading researchers to hold summit meetings on what is happening and how we can influence it for good.  That would make sense, wouldn’t it?

In fact, under pressure from Congress, the NSF has dropped funding for political science for the rest of 2013.  That’s not an auspicious narrative–not one I want to appropriate at all.

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  1. beki70
    August 16, 2013 at 10:56 am

    its one of the few actual decisions Congress made this year. Not only a poor decision on their part, but also in the scope of decisions that they could have made (immigration reform for example). We need political science research to understand why such a carefully and thoughtfully designed political system has completely broken down in this country.

  2. beki70
    August 16, 2013 at 10:58 am

    Sorry, I just think that changing NSF funding priorities is also not a timely or pressing decision that needs made. Well unless small mean decisions is the priority.

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