Dynamics of Contention: Media, Protest and Resistance in Authoritarian Contexts



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Information communication technologies (ICTs) facilitate transnational connection, coordination and collaboration, which are essential for new social movements. At the same time, issues of access and censorship hinder social movement use of social media for mobilization. This dissertation examines how internet technology is used by social movements to discuss issues of identity, dignity and justice and to contest gender-based discriminatory laws. The Middle East has recently witnessed new relations between women and space where women have been empowered with new forms of social and physical mobility. Despite increased mobility, Iranian women continue to fight against the regime’s gender discriminatory laws and protest the government in public squares and in virtual spaces through subversive acts such as sneaking into soccer stadiums disguised as men. Using hashtags and other forms of cultural production, the movement against the gender discrimination highlights women’s voices and presence. Contesting morality laws that exclude women from public space, hashtags such as #bluegirl organize digital content and facilitate public discourse regarding issues of gender. By documenting their unapologetic visibility in public spaces, Iranian women express their strength and resilience and continue a long tradition of media representation through cultural production and dissemination of information and iconic imagery on social media platforms. Through subtle everyday acts of protests, women contest state narratives by documenting their presence in both physical and virtual public spaces. Iranian women practice the art of presence, demonstrating social media activism’s ability to circumvent censorship and facilitate public discourse regarding controversial issues under repressive contexts. This study collects and analyzes original data from Twitter and other social networking platforms to investigate the evolution of digital campaigns and relates these cases to the long-standing tradition of Iranian women’s voices with a focus on the critical role of the camera and user generated content in art and daily life.