Since the so-called ‘Arab spring’ in 2011 questions about the relationship between media technol-ogy, political participation, and processes of transformation in the MENA region have increasingly come to the fore within the field of anthropology as well as in the neighboring disciplines of human-computer interaction (HCI) and information system studies. In bringing together scholars working in Arab-majority societies from design studies and socio-informatics with ethnographers from cul-tural and social anthropology we are aiming at opening up new paths and multidisciplinary per-spectives in the collaborative study of media. Moreover, this transdisciplinary collaboration prom-ises to advance both – our study of technology by looking more closely at society, and our study of society by looking more closely at technology.
Since the path-breaking volume Media Worlds (Ginsburg/Abu-Lughod/Larkin 2002) the notion of media has radically changed through the advent of new information and communication technol-ogy and social media. Thinking about media has thus to zoom in on situated media practices and varieties of mediation (cf. Mazzarella 2004). Additionally, the infrastructures, which produce and surround them, must be taken into account. Infrastructures need to be managed and controlled and point to the inseparable connection of media and technology, on the one, and socio-political prac-tice on the other hand (cf. Larkin 2008, 2013). But not only is society – freely adapted from Latour – technology made durable, at the same time, new media technologies restructure existing social orders and institutional arrangements. In recent years, they have triggered new demands for par-ticipation, testing institutions and remaking (b)orders in the MENA region. In this process, new forms of publics and publicness are emerging, raising aspirations and anxieties about scale and scope of media practices and challenging previous assumptions and conceptualizations of the pub-lic sphere – in the Islamic world and beyond (cf. Eickelman/Anderson 2003; Hirschkind/De Abreu/Caduff 2017).
In the HCI domain, a series of studies on social media use during the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ were published during the last 5 Years (Lotan et al. 2011; Starbird/Palen 2012; Al-Ani et al. 2012; Ka-vanaugh et al. 2012). These studies describe aspects of the use of social media, mainly of blogging and micro-blogging sites, such as Twitter, during the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Addressing the interchange between social media use and political practices of civil society activists, Wulf et al. (2013a) investigated how social media use supported political activists ‘on the ground’ in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, and analyzed Facebook communication of Palestine activists fighting against the Israeli wall (Wulf et al. 2013b).
We invite contributions, which explore the materialities and socialities of changing (communities of) practice – revolving around changing media use, (im)possibilities of cooperation and new con-cerns for the publicness and scale of social interaction. We welcome reflections on the methodo-logical challenges of and theoretical implications for media-ethnographies, which focus on new forms of (mediated) cooperation – we propose to understand, in the context of our Collaborative Research Center, as the ‘joint production of means, processes and objectives of interaction’. We aim at bringing together ethnographic explorations of situated media practices, emerging contro-versies, and their (transforming) publics in both, cultural and social anthropology as well as human-computer interaction/information system studies.
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