New Media/Alternative Politics: Communication technologies and political change in the Middle East and Africa

14 October 2010 - 16 October 2010

CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane, Cambridge



Anne Alexander (CRASSH, University of Cambridge)
Sharath Srinivasan (Centre of Governance and Human Rights, University of Cambridge)

Conference themes

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. This conference offers an opportunity to critically reassess these assumptions. “New media, alternative politics” will bring together researchers, academics, activists, journalists and policy makers to discuss whether and how new media empower an alternative politics and mobilise political change.

1. Communicating dissent, mobilising change

How are new media technologies being used in the Middle East and Africa to mobilise for political change? We encourage proposals that report on the use of a wide variety of new media technologies to communicate political dissent and organise for political change using images, voices and text. Potential topics include the use of mobile phone cameras, blogging, text messaging, online social networking and video activism to organise demonstrations, monitor elections, make demands upon government, and connect activists.

 2. What is ‘new’ in new media?

Are there ways in which digital media is qualitatively different to earlier waves of new media in its interactivity, immediacy and connections to global networks? We are interested in examinations of how political actors have used emergent media in the past, such as printing technologies, duplicating machines and audio cassettes, and how this can inform our understanding of political activists’ use of new media today.

 3. New media versus old power

Have those controlling political power been able to restrict the emancipatory potential of new media technologies? How have activists used new media to respond and resist? Why have some of the optimistic predictions equating the spread of new media with political liberalisation not been realised? We encourage empirical and theoretical submissions that examine the relationships of resistance and response between state institutions and citizens or groups using new media.

4. Local new media and global designs on political change       

How is the use of new media by political activists in the Middle East and Africa shaped by global forces? This broad theme addresses topics such as aid and diplomatic support for particular trends in new media by external powers, use of new media for ‘soft power’ diplomacy, how global corporations and international media networks have shaped patterns of new media use, and whether new communication technologies have reconfigured relationships between international and local NGOs.

5. Researching new media

What are the methodological, ethical and practical challenges of researching new media and political change in the Middle East and Africa? We would encourage submissions that look towards a progressive engagement between researchers, practitioners and activists to simultaneously study and support the use of new media in political engagement.

Accommodation Information

Conference delegates can find information about accommodation in Cambridge via:

Visit Cambridge or  Cambridge Rooms.


Administrative assistance: Michelle Maciejewska



Location : CRASSH   Date : 14-16 October 2010

Thursday 14 October



Session 1

Deliberating new media: creating alternative politics in the Middle East and Africa?


Activists and researchers debate the interaction between technology and communication for political change.


Speakers: Amy Saunderson-Meyer (Freedom Fone), Herman Wasserman (Rhodes University), Firoze Manji (Pambazuka News)

Chairs: Sharath Srinivasan and Anne Alexander


Drinks reception at CRASSH

Friday 15 October





Session 2

Mediating conflict and dissent


Herman Wasserman (Rhodes University)
Of glasses half full: exploratory notes towards the role of new media technologies in democratic politics in South Africa

Nduka Otiono (University of Alberta)

From Urban Sphere to Cyber Space: New Media, Citizen Journalism and the Role of ‘Sahara Reporters’ in Nigeria’s Political Struggle


Adi Kuntsman (University of Manchester) and Rebecca Stein (Duke University)

Another War Zone: Digital Media and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict


Chair:  Devon Curtis (University of Cambridge)


 Coffee Break



Session 3

Engaging new audiences, contesting old power


Amy Saunderson-Meyer (Freedom Fone)

Resisting the repression of media freedom in Zimbabwe


Harri Englund (University of Cambridge)

Rethinking audience engagement: lessons from old media


Dombo Sylvester (University of Zimbabwe)

Alternative or subversive? ‘Pirate’ Radio Stations and the Opening of Spaces of Freedom and alternative politics in Zimbabwe, 2000-2010


Chair: Mirca Madianou (University of Cambridge)




Session 4

New media and global designs on local politics


Firoze Manji (Pambazuka News)

All that glistens is not always gold: experiences of new media technologies in Africa


Michael Keating (University of Massachusetts Boston)

Wiring the 2011 Liberian Presidential Elections: New Opportunities for International Collaboration in Media Practice


Peter Brett (School of Oriental and African Studies)

Media (new and old) and the transnational governance of African public spheres

Chair: Helen Yanacopoulos (Open University)


Tea Break


Session 5
Political agency and networked publics

Okoth Fred Mudhai (University of Coventry)
African Civil Society Challeng of Ruling Elite via New Media

Alexandra Dunn (University of Oslo)
Public as Politician? Improvised hierarchies of participatory influence in the April 6th Youth Movement Facebook Group 


Conference dinner at King's College (paying delegates should book when registering for the conference through the online registration link)

Saturday 16 October



Session 6
Researching New Media

Paolo d’Urbano (School of Oriental and African Studies)

Ikhwanweb as a Digital Archive


Fanar Haddad (Independent Researcher)

‘An Undiscovered Archive? Online Video Sharing, Alternative Narratives and the Documentation of History.’


Chair: : Glen Rangwala (University of Cambridge)


Coffee Break


Session 7

New media and citizen-led governance


Sharath Srinivasan and Anne Alexander (University of Cambridge) 


Lunch and close of conference