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Digital Spheres

Panel VI-28, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 4:00 pm

Panel Description
  • Yasemin Celikkol -- Presenter
  • Mr. Jaouad El Bakili -- Presenter, Co-Author
  • Ms. Faegheh Hajhosseini -- Presenter
  • Mr. Sashreek Garg -- Presenter
  • Dr. Hamdi Echkaou -- Presenter
  • Corina Lozovan -- Presenter
  • Jehan Mohamed -- Chair
  • Dr. Hamdi Echkaou
    Co-Authors: Jaouad El Bakili
    This qualitative study investigates how online newspapers in the southern provinces of Morocco (ONSPM) represent and shape the cultural norms of the Hassani community and to what extent ONSPM affect the perception of their audiences towards the Hassani culture. The study aims to gain an in-depth understanding of the role that electronic newspapers play in shaping cultural realities in the region. The study finds that the use of audiovisual media is an essential tool for representing and amplifying Hassani culture. However, media outlets need to be more objective in their representation of culture and avoid perpetuating stereotypes. The study uses multiple research methods, including interviews with local online news journalists and civil society members, as well as an analysis of opinion/editorials and lifestyle sections of selected electronic newspapers. While ONSPM are effective in representing and amplifying Hassani culture through their use of multimedia tools, they tend to reinforce cultural stereotypes and frame the Sahraoui culture only in folklore, tea gatherings, music, ceremonies, marriage celebrations, clothes, food, tents, and camels. In the meantime, ONSPM minimize the cultural richness of collective rituals such as camping structures, poetry gatherings, tribal systems, nomadic movements, immaterial heritage, shared common memory, and organizational leadership. All of these principles that the Hassani community discovered or developed while coping with life and solving their problems for external adaptation and internal integration. As a result, this can propagate stereotypes and dilute the value of the Hassani culture. The study reveals that several ONSPM select certain cultural norms and promote lifestyles and editorials that do not fully represent the language and cultural identity of the Hassani community. The study concludes that media outlets should focus on presenting the culture fully and accurately instead of just focusing on the aspects that are popular or common. Additionally, the study recommends conducting further research to investigate the impact of ONSPM on the younger generation's perception of their culture and its effects on the overall societal structure in the Hassani community. This study highlights the importance of using audiovisual media as a tool for cultural preservation, representation, and education, but also stresses the need for media outlets to be ethical, responsible, and objective in their representation of cultures that are in the margin.
  • Corina Lozovan
    Last year, at Venice Biennale, in the Omani Pavillion, the artist Radhika Khimji had an installation called “Under, Inner, Under.” She focused on exploring agency by questioning to what extent people are a result of their environments or in which ways people shape their environment. The artist’s installation can represent the virtual sphere that has gradually emerged in Oman in the last few years, an underground space of the society where citizens have shared their inner thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. In this online Agora, they have found more freedom to express opinions and contest the narratives of the official authorities. The idea of the environment shaping people’s behavior is a starting point in this research to grasp how individuals’ everyday practices, in reality, are interwoven with digital, where they also shape and challenge the political status quo. This paper aims to concentrate on the vibrant young layer of the population to examine the role of the virtual sphere in their everyday life to understand the sociopolitical changes occurring in contemporary Oman. Supported by fieldwork methodology, I intend to understand how they demark themselves from the older generations as they navigate a landscape of challenges and leadership transition with Sultan Haitham. The first part of the paper analyzes how the virtual sphere exposes individuals to new circles of knowledge and authority, defying official political discourses and shaping new political subjectivities. In this process, the virtual produces a citizen that refracts from the neutrality that is displayed publicly, contributing to a more acute political awareness. The second part of the paper explores the virtual sphere as a digital souk of ideas where authorities compete for power. It looks at how the government, the religious elite, and other institutions behaviors in framing discourses to legitimize and maintain their control. The final part examines whether the virtual sphere is paving the way for an empowered young citizen community by reflecting on how young Omanis redefine the values that drive politics, becoming an engine for potential sociopolitical changes.
  • Ms. Faegheh Hajhosseini
    My paper focuses on the concept of the secret in medieval Iranian Shi’i philosophy based on Henry Corbin’s interpretation. In Corbin's view, Shi'i philosophy is a viewpoint rather than a religious sect that follows a spiritual hermeneutic approach (ta'awil). Based on this articulation, in my paper, I will argue that the existence of this hermeneutic approach (ta’awil) suggests we confront texts (specifically religious texts) as the secret. As a result, the text as the secret can put forward the possibility of plural meanings and future interpretations, which will end in a more democratic and tolerant world that can open the possibility of diverse and multiple meanings. Iranian medieval sages wrote about the secret, but unfortunately, their contributions have been forgotten over the years because of many reasons, chiefly due to political constraints. It is not surprising that even during their own times, these philosophers were not accepted: many have been executed, punished, or sent to exile since their contemporary religious or political authorities rejected their idea of a dynamic secret of texts, including significantly, of religious texts. The story of Avicina's exile and Hallaj's and Suhrewardi's execution are just a few examples. Although the authorities could not follow the deeper meanings of these philosophers, they could sense the unsettling power of their words. That said, my focus will be on Corbin’s reading of Suhrewardi’s book “Occidental Exile,” to show how in this story, the protagonistic is in search of meaning and how through his search, he is constantly getting too close and too far from the true meaning. I wish to show that this is the structure of the secret. It might be revealed to us, but at the same time, it will remain still hidden, enigmatic, and yet-to-come. More than confusing, this structure is opening and lightning that can show us the dynamic nature of texts and literature. This reconsideration of medieval Iranian philosophy is now both timely and urgent: as Iranian dissenters are being suppressed for their varied interpretations of religious scripture, it is important to be reminded that Iranian philosophy itself has already promoted openness through its thinking of the secret. Suhrewardi once told us, “read scripture in a way that it is a secret written only for you.” This study of the secret in medieval Iranian philosophy can open up vistas of thinking about the possibility of democracy in Iran.
  • Mr. Sashreek Garg
    A result of the worldwide increase of right-wing populist movements has been the apparent normalization of public information that assigns gender stereotypes, portraying women in public positions as unreliable, irrational, libidinous, and unintelligent. Social media has facilitated the spread of this biased and false information, which is used to target and harass women, aiming to intimidate and humiliate them by means of psychological violence, ultimately diminishing their public presence. Nevertheless, there is a lack of detailed research on hate speech towards Muslim minorities on social media in India, specifically regarding the prevalent harassment of women in public positions, despite numerous documented examples of such incidents. Since the Bhartiya Janata Party's (BJP) rise in 2014, women journalists critical of regional governments have been subjected to increased attacks online. In 2022, Neo Nazi-inspired alt-right groups created Bulli Bai, an app for fake online auctions of Muslim women in India, intending to denigrate and harass minorities (Ghazi & Farrukh, 2022). In particular, Rana Ayyub, the Washington Post journalist, has been a target of these harassments and attacks in recent years (Menon, 2019). The paper also analyses the hate crime generated by the secret app Tek Fog used by BJP supporters to spread right-wing propaganda online. By utilizing techniques such as network analysis, keyword analysis, and open-source intelligence, this paper aims to draw attention to a specific attack and demonstrate the growing use of misinformation and disinformation to silence journalists. This type of research can be helpful in illustrating the frequency, volume, and discourse of attacks that seek to limit the visibility of women online. The study also examines a possible method for these attacks, which involves 1) releasing information through anonymous accounts. 2) use of loyalist influencers or those who have been co-opted to spread the attacks. 3) the participation of uncritical local media outlets that amplify the attacks. From a transformative perspective, it is crucial to document, expose, and analyze these attacks in order to provide evidence of the abuse. Additionally, this research highlights the challenges posed by such abuse in authoritarian regimes, which stifle online discourse unless it aligns with state propaganda.
  • Turkey and Japan have enjoyed friendly relations for over 125 years, with comprehensive cultural, economic, and diplomatic ties. There have been numerous state-led initiatives since diplomatic relations between the two countries began in 1924. While robust formal diplomatic relations have been ongoing for more than a century and well-documented, several Japanese expats in Turkey have also recently initiated bottom-up efforts toward the promotion of Japanese-Turkish intercultural communication. These are entirely unexplored in scholarship. In a similar vein, there are hardly any studies of individual-driven applications of citizen diplomacy (Samuel-Azran, 2019), let alone through digital means. To mitigate this lack of scholarship and adequate theory, in this paper, I analyze Japanese expat in Turkey, Yoshi Enomoto’s YouTube channel (@YoshiEnomoto). Adopting a digital discourse analysis for online videos (Bhatia, 2022), this study, at the intersection of digital diplomacy and citizen diplomacy, asks: How does Enomoto self-brand himself as a representative of Japan and Japanese culture in Turkey? Do his videos debunk or reinforce Japanese stereotypes in Turkey? More broadly, what is the potential of digital citizen diplomacy in furthering national goals? Preliminary findings show that although Enomoto invokes Japanese stereotypes that circulate in Turkey to attract viewers, paradoxically, some of his videos also perform a corrective function to debunk stereotypes. Significantly, all of his videos elicit interest in and dialogue about Japan and Japanese culture, highlighting the importance of digital citizen diplomacy toward intercultural communication and nation branding. This study complements and broadens the scope of the mostly state-centered scholarship of digital diplomacy and public diplomacy, by theorizing digital citizen diplomacy through the fusing of digital diplomacy with the Japanese concept of 民間外交 [citizen diplomacy] (Kinhide, 1975). References: Bhatia, A. (2022). Analyzing online videos. In Vásquez, C. (Ed.). Research Methods for Digital Discourse Analysis, 177-196. Kinhide, M. (1975). Transnationalize citizens’ diplomacy. Japan Quarterly, 22(3), 214. Samuel-Azran, T., Ilovici, B., Zari, I., & Geduild, O. (2019). Practicing citizen diplomacy 2.0:“The Hot Dudes and Hummus—Israel’s Yummiest” campaign for Israel’s branding. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, 15, 38-49.