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Investigating the online public sphere for the Arabic world

Investigating the online public sphere for the Arabic world
Investigating the online public sphere for the Arabic world
The role of social media in the revolutionary wave of protests in Arab countries, the socalled ‘Arab Spring’, remains a highly debated subject; some emphasized it while others minimised it. One of the claims about this role is that digitization of the public sphere has the power to enable political change in any non-democratic country by enabling new voices. The concept of public sphere identifies historical formation of democratic societies and it also posits a model of what an ideal society should be. However, no work has been carried out investigating the online Arab public sphere using data retrieved from social media. The characteristics of the emergent public sphere and their implications for estimating the significance of this medium as an enabler of Arab socio-political transformation, was purely anecdotal. This work contributes to this debate by addressing the potential role of the new media in shaping politics using the public spaces provided by Facebook as a new public sphere. Using the public sphere concept and its feminist critics as a theoretical framework, this research described the sphere formed from the acquired dataset of Facebook pages. A snowball sample approach was undertaken, which created a network of 1105 pages and 3331 edges (representing Facebook ‘likes’ between pages). The nodes of this network were classified according to actors’ groups, the geographical boundaries they associate themselves with, and their ideology. Social network metrics and tools were used to analyse the resulting three views of the network. The structure of the sample exposed two distinct sets of Arabic pages, linked by only 86 edges. These were activism, that is effectively the women’s sections of Islamist movements, and Muslim women’s struggle for their rights. With the exception of Yemen, the countries where ‘Arab Spring’ upheavals took place, constituted the biggest divisions of the nodes. Countries most represented in the network had pages which are the most active in the particular social movement studied, and these pages were created first. The existence of women’s contributions to the sphere formed by these pages is presented as empirical evidence of enabled voices. The results supported the assumption of an association between the new public sphere and the ‘Arab Spring’ by showing that feminist activism was more popular in countries where the ‘Arab Spring took place.
University of Southampton
Al Bunni, Nada
5e3c54af-8612-44b7-a741-b03b4d9731b0
Al Bunni, Nada
5e3c54af-8612-44b7-a741-b03b4d9731b0
Millard, David
4f19bca5-80dc-4533-a101-89a5a0e3b372

Al Bunni, Nada (2020) Investigating the online public sphere for the Arabic world. University of Southampton, Doctoral Thesis, 161pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

The role of social media in the revolutionary wave of protests in Arab countries, the socalled ‘Arab Spring’, remains a highly debated subject; some emphasized it while others minimised it. One of the claims about this role is that digitization of the public sphere has the power to enable political change in any non-democratic country by enabling new voices. The concept of public sphere identifies historical formation of democratic societies and it also posits a model of what an ideal society should be. However, no work has been carried out investigating the online Arab public sphere using data retrieved from social media. The characteristics of the emergent public sphere and their implications for estimating the significance of this medium as an enabler of Arab socio-political transformation, was purely anecdotal. This work contributes to this debate by addressing the potential role of the new media in shaping politics using the public spaces provided by Facebook as a new public sphere. Using the public sphere concept and its feminist critics as a theoretical framework, this research described the sphere formed from the acquired dataset of Facebook pages. A snowball sample approach was undertaken, which created a network of 1105 pages and 3331 edges (representing Facebook ‘likes’ between pages). The nodes of this network were classified according to actors’ groups, the geographical boundaries they associate themselves with, and their ideology. Social network metrics and tools were used to analyse the resulting three views of the network. The structure of the sample exposed two distinct sets of Arabic pages, linked by only 86 edges. These were activism, that is effectively the women’s sections of Islamist movements, and Muslim women’s struggle for their rights. With the exception of Yemen, the countries where ‘Arab Spring’ upheavals took place, constituted the biggest divisions of the nodes. Countries most represented in the network had pages which are the most active in the particular social movement studied, and these pages were created first. The existence of women’s contributions to the sphere formed by these pages is presented as empirical evidence of enabled voices. The results supported the assumption of an association between the new public sphere and the ‘Arab Spring’ by showing that feminist activism was more popular in countries where the ‘Arab Spring took place.

Text
Nada Al BUNNI 224410586
Restricted to Repository staff only until 21 November 2021.
Available under License University of Southampton Thesis Licence.
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PTD_BUNNI-SIGNED
Restricted to Repository staff only

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Published date: November 2020

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 448054
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/448054
PURE UUID: c9db7690-f900-49f0-b136-ad697f9a4be1
ORCID for David Millard: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-7512-2710

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 01 Apr 2021 15:40
Last modified: 13 Apr 2021 01:37

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