Sounds Iranian

December 21, 2006

Connecting Persian Blogs To The World

Filed under: Uncategorized — soundsiranian @ 12:42 am

Kamangir is speaking. I have been recently thinking how to facilitate the connection between Persian blogs and the English-speaking audience. Besides the fantastic job Farid is doing in GVO, I thought I will try to translate outstanding Persian posts that I find. Until now, that would be two posts about the recent elections; “Iranian Elections, Or ‘King Akbar returns’” and “What’s Next for Ahmadinejad? More Populism, Or More Fundamentalism“. Any idea or suggestion?

December 17, 2006

The Significance of Perspective and the Criticality of Common Experience

Filed under: Uncategorized — calexander @ 10:27 pm

A few thoughts and responses to both the GV questions and to Jordan’s comments:

How can we use the Internet to build a more democratic, participatory global discourse?

First of all, I think that Jordan brings up an excellent point about the role of “democratic” rhetoric in discussions about the internet. I share his sentiment that Western-oriented thinkers must be wary of falling into a Euro-centric worldview. I too shall leave alone the question of whether democracy is the ideal form of governance and instead assume that at this time democracy is the most beneficial outcome for our current geopolitical situation. While democracy itself is a worthy goal, its global success depends on expanding its meaning to include a more malleable model. Successful democracies share commonalities, but this does not mean (as we have seen) that we can merely make cookie-cutter versions of Western democracies for the rest of the world. Indeed, even within the “Western” experience- forgive me for using this term so repeatedly- there are numerous different types of “successful” democracies, each with their own unique twist.

I believe that in order to utilize the internet in a populist sense we are going to have to cut through the common Western rhetoric and instead appeal to a more fundamental sense of community. We need to avoid falling into the frames of reference created by governments with investments in certain geo-political climates. I go into this later, but in short this means focusing on what brings us together, instead of starting at what differentiates various blogospheres from each other. This strategy takes creativity, and it takes a willingness to reach out to those who may have significant differences of opinion on many fronts. Talking to, and not just beyond other blogging communities must start with those of us who wish to use the internet as a tool for dialogue and, ultimately, understanding.

How can we create a more inclusive conversation about what is happening on our planet, and how human beings in different parts of the world are impacting each other in countless ways we don’t realize every day?

Again, responding to Jordan’s post, I think his suggestion regarding the idea of “mapping interconnectivity”is an interesting one. I personally don’t believe that the blogosphere as it is now will ever be able to compete with more professionalized news coverage. The incentives simply aren’t strong enough for either blogger or reader to replace their traditional news with blogger news. Having said this, I do think that blogs have the potential to- indeed already do- play an incredibly influential role in the filtering, framing, and publicizing professional news. The openness of the internet often forces the traditional news media to address issues that they would not normally have the incentive to cover. Blogs can be used effectively to evaluate and criticize the bias of media coverage. I find this one of the most important strengths especially of bridgeblogs, since the perspective of a country’s or region’s news coverage (nationalized or not) can often be dramatically different from a different news outlet’s take on the same event/process/situation. We need to work to increase this potential of the blogosphere.

How do we bring more unheard, ignored, or disadvantaged voices into the global online conversation? How do we help people speak and be heard – even when powerful people try to stop them from doing so?

I like that fact that Jordan once again brings up the question of perspective. What specific voices are we actually looking to enfranchise? However, while acknowledging the politicized nature of our questions is important, I do think that inherent in projects such as Global Voices Online is a basic vision that is universally agreeable. I think that while we can argue about the benefits of this or that political ideology, we can agree to such fundamental ideals, such as peace and justice, which we should work to further. I see a problem with incorporating more and more voices into a (cyber)community if, as we have mentioned in this blog previously, these voices merely talk past each other and not to each other. I find however, that there are things, many things actually, that a great many of us can agree upon. I think that the key to utilizing the internet effectively is by strengthening global connections through things that bring us together, rather than by focusing on what separates us. This is a critical step towards real dialogue, and one that I think is important to cultivate.

Beyond this I think that keeping the internet “neutral” and increasing the access to it are the two most important factors to increasing its reach. Current attempts to “corporatize” the internet in the US could ultimately have much the same affect that current efforts by authoritarian regimes to control internet usage. The control of internet access is a real threat to the ideal of “democratizing” internet. Access will increase as a result of economic incentive, both as a means of doing business and as a means of consuming. As long as we can control the manipulation of the internet as an economic tool, we can experience the benefits of increased internet access with the negative manipulation that this will obviously invite.

Thanks to Jordan for his very insightful comments, I enjoyed reading them very much. As always, feel free to add input or criticize.

December 14, 2006

Some preliminary thoughts…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jordan @ 3:50 am

Hamid recently posted a series of questions that have been posed to the participants of the upcoming Global Voices summit in India. I found the q’s both interesting and highly pertinent, so as follows are my crudely formulated responses. Feel free to criticize or deconstruct at will:

How can we use the Internet to build a more democratic, participatory global discourse?

While I share this ideal, I can’t help but notice that it’s a slightly loaded question, insomuch as it makes sense only within the context of a worldview that assumes the global spread and permeation of ‘democracy’ (presumably as it defined and practiced in the ‘liberal west’) is an inherently good thing. Therefore, although I don’t want to over-problematize what I agree is an admirable goal, I think it’s worthwhile being careful not to potentially isolate or exclude elements of global society by using terms that only have positive meaning to those of us coming from a particular academic, cultural or intellectual background.

For instance, if someone’s aim were to spread global goodwill, but they articulated this task through the vocabulary of ‘faith’, ‘God’, ‘belief’, etc., someone like me would be immediately turned off, due to my secular bias. This would likely alienate me and drive me to create a separate irreconcilable ‘counter’ discourse (much like we have seen throughout human history, even before the Internet 😉 ).

In other words, one of the major challenges to making global discourse more inclusive, will probably be figuring out how to effectively talk *to* each other, despite different lexicons and ideological filters – not to mention actual languages – rather than talk *past* each other (which amounts to merely catering to pockets of like-minded thinkers in other regions, rather than building new bridges).

An increase in the *volume* of opinions expressed across geographical boundaries does not necessarily equate to an increase in the amount of *dialogue* across those same boundaries. In dealing with this fact, sensitivity to the subjective nature of our vocabularies and worldviews is crucial. I don’t think we should expect, or force, a ‘consensus’ on what global society is, or how it should communicate, but rather aim simply to allow new syntheses to form. It’s a humble goal, but one that is probably worthwhile.

How can we create a more inclusive conversation about what is happening on our planet, and how human beings in different parts of the world are impacting each other in countless ways we don’t realize every day?

This is a fascinating idea. I guess we could call it ‘mapping interconnectivity’. I’m sure everyone has their own view on how this could, should, or will occur. That being said, I think the following idea is worth some thought:

I think we can promote – and that we will ultimately see – a merging of insights from the scientific study of complexity, systems-theory, and ‘emergence’ with rapidly-adapting internet technology, in an ongoing series of experiments to develop more efficient ways of sharing real-time information, and tracking the causal links between events, policies, and ideas. As a simplified example, one could start with a blogger in China reporting on the material details of a given manufacturing plant (materials used, living conditions of workers, location, environmental effects, etc.), and then encourage other bloggers in neighbouring regions, and around the world, to search for local connections to the items and processes originally described by the source-blogger. Eventually, you could create a map of causal and material interconnectivity that could help illuminate connections and feedback-mechanisms, on a global scale, that would otherwise go unnoticed, or at least unreported. This is a very crude way of explaining the idea, but I think it roughly sketches-out a direction things can, and probably will, take. The technical aspects of the answer to this question are just as important as the ideas; the form and content are, increasingly, one.

How do we bring more unheard, ignored, or disadvantaged voices into the global online conversation? How do we help people speak and be heard – even when powerful people try to stop them from doing so?

These are two interesting and important questions, especially since they are loaded with a major problem that I think we often prefer to ignore. Of course, we all want ‘important’ marginalized voices to be heard. That’s what makes blogging, and technologically-empowered citizen journalism in general, so exciting. However – as I am repeatedly reminded while traipsing around the Internet – there are plenty of voices out there that even those of us who are interested in expanding global discourse for its own sake may simply not want to hear, let alone lend credence to.

For instance, there are plenty of bloggers out there who promote ethnic hatred. They may be marginalized from the mainstream discourse, but the Internet affords them a platform for the dissemination of their views. I doubt most Global Voices editors would be interested in bringing such ‘disadvantaged voices’ into the nexus of the ‘global online conversation’. (This blindness to our own biases is an amusing, but also crucially important, phenomenon in understanding social interaction. One topical example, for instance, is the ironic fact that, although the West promotes ‘democracy’ in the Muslim world, it then becomes squeamish in dealing with Islamist governments that have resulted from actual free elections. “No, no, we meant a democracy that produces the results *we* want, not the results *you* want.” This is a very human folly, with very real repercussions vis-à-vis a movement’s credibility, and not one any of us should consider ourselves immune to.)

In this way, we should remember that promoting the empowerment of someone’s narrative is always a political act. Furthermore, working towards the espoused goal of actively promoting *everyone’s* narrative ‘blindly’, may well not produce the ‘desired result’ at all (whatever you imagine that result to be)! I.e. Bloggers are people too – subject to all the prejudices of non-blogging humanity. Not everyone’s opinions will necessarily be constructive merely because they have been empowered to express them over the Internet.

All that being said, so long as we are (trying to be) conscious of what we are doing, there certainly are ways to bring previously marginalized voices into the ‘global online conversation’, and GV is already doing a remarkable and admirable job of accomplishing this. As all GV editors are surely aware, initiatives that can further this goal involve everything from the dissemination of blogging instructions in other languages, to the diffusion of information technology itself, to the loosening of censorship laws that affect large swaths of the Earth’s population, such as the citizens of China, Iran, and other strong, centralized states.

To sum up, I think a crucial challenge to the very admirable goals of the people at GV (as well as to us like-minded researchers) is to avoid the pitfall of conflating the globalization of communication technologies with the spread of what may be construed by some as a specifically *Western* vision for global ‘democratization’ (whatever that term may mean, and however appealing it may sound).

Moreover, while freedom of information is obviously more desirable than the restriction of information, we simply cannot foresee all the consequences of undermining central governments’ information policies. While spreading free speech is, in principle, wonderful, we should remain conscious that doing so can and will cause serious political dislocations, and may provoke all sorts of unforeseeable reactions on the part of both states and sub-state groups. In other words, those of us interested in actively bringing more voices into the ‘global online conversation’ would be wise to avoid shooting ourselves in the foot with well-intentioned zealotry.

With this in mind, I think it’s most helpful to focus, first and foremost, on creating the conditions for cross-border and inter-border dialogue, rather than just wantonly promoting ‘freedom of this-or-that’ for its own sake (a la you-know-who). I’m all for concerted action; however, it will be most helpful when coupled with a certain basic patience.

December 11, 2006

Questions to Ask, Do U want to Answer?

Filed under: Uncategorized — soundsiranian @ 8:58 pm

Global Voices will hold its conference in India this week. There are questions to answer:
question: How can we use the Internet to build a more democratic, participatory global discourse? How can we create a more inclusive conversation about what is happening on our planet, and how human beings in different parts of the world are impacting each other in countless ways we don’t realize every day?

This year we also hope to address two further questions:
· How do we bring more unheard, ignored, or disadvantaged voices into the global online conversation?
· How do we help people speak and be heard – even when powerful people try to stop them from doing so?

December 9, 2006

A New Participant in This Forum

Filed under: General — Jonathan @ 2:32 pm

I’m Jonathan Lundqvist – and I’m honored to have been invited to participate in this forum. First let me introduce myself!

Currently I’m finishing up my masters thesis on Iranian blogs and their relationship to the civil society in general and democratization in particular. I was given the opportunity to fund a research trip, by a generous grant from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, to Iran where I spent six weeks around April 2006. My material is mainly lengthy interviews with bloggers that I met during my stay, and I’ve spent most of my time since analyzing them and working on completing the thesis.

I’m particularly interested in what Jordan touched in his previous post about blogging for political mobilization, and a preliminary result of my findings support his theory that bloggers are more likely to change the information landscape rather than create a revolution over night. This more realistic view is – to me – perhaps even preferable to revolutionary change, since it would give democracy a chance of developing within the community itself and thus, hopefully, create institutions that are able to maintain a more solid version of democracy. Well, I’m getting ahead of myself – I look forward to giving you more solid results as they progress.

Normally, I blog on j|turn where I’ve written some posts on Iran and other things on the global public sphere. Again, I’m happy to take part in this attempt to bring some people with similar interests together, and I hope I can contribute to the community.

(To the admin: I took the liberty to create an author for myself in the WordPress-system, to avoid over using the admin-account.)

December 7, 2006

The catalyst of a new ‘information culture’?

Filed under: Uncategorized — soundsiranian @ 7:08 am

Jordan here. In his recent post, Christian aptly noted the following:

Better understanding the makeup of Weblogestan is key to determining the extent and nature of its impact on Iranian politics and society. For instance, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Iranian bloggers represent a small, specific demographic. What role does this group play, what sort of influence does it have?

I think it’s an excellent point. This is something I attempted to (very modestly) investigate via my recent research survey.

Although the sample was small, and thus statistically not generalizable, over 90% of Iranian blog-readers that responded to the survey claimed to be between 18-32 years of age. Most of them were also highly educated, and the vast majority (although not all) claimed to have good standards of living and to reside in major urban centres (as opposed to the poorer or more rural periphery).

Such findings hint at what I think we all know already – at this point in time, bloggers represent a very restricted demographic within *any* society, Iran included. Moreover, within that limited demographic there are, unsurprisingly, a vast array of opinions and viewpoints, each presenting its own narrative which may, or may not, reflect a larger socio-political sentiment. Furthermore, as Kamangir noted with his island/mainland analogy, what remains absent is a centralized platform whereby the views of bloggers are consolidated into a cohesive, politically mobile voice.

However, this fact seems, at the moment in any case, to be part-and-parcel with the very nature of the blogging medium itself. It’s the ease of access and anonymity afforded by blog-technology that has both produced such a vociferous new ‘public-space’, and has also prevented the numerous, disparate voices from coalescing into something unified. In other words, the ‘fragmentation of information-monopoly’ that blogging produces, if you will, can result both in mass empowerment, but also is mass cynicism and dischord.

(Slavonian philosopher Slavoj Zizek has actually already described this state of affairs as the product of ‘post-modernity’ itself, the blogosphere, then, being merely a ‘hyperexample’)

Nonetheless, I think we can all sense that there is a sort of elusive, qualitative change taking place, whereby the ubiquity of counter-narratives (which are not, and of course do not have to be, consistent with one another) are altering the way in which people of our generation – at the very least – go about gathering information, and forming their views, political and otherwise.

Perhaps the crucial effect of blogging, therefore, will not be a direct political mobilization, but the new ‘information-culture’ it helps to create; one that simply makes it harder (although not impossible) for dominant state-ideologies to maintain their mass currency.

That being said, something that seems to very effectively rain on this parade, and reinforce a political system’s ‘Grand Narrative’ at the expense of critical opinion, is the perception or imposition of a serious external threat. (Those with a stake in the status-quo are doubtlessly aware of this fact.) This, for instance, could help account for why Iran’s inclusion in the ‘axis-of-evil’, as well as the so-called ‘nuclear showdown’ with the US and its allies, has served to mute the reformist agenda(s), and, rather, bolster support for characters such as Ahmadinejad (and, conversely, anti-Iranian sentiment in the USA).

Ideas?

December 6, 2006

Complicating the Iranian Cybercommunity

Filed under: Uncategorized — soundsiranian @ 7:01 pm

I thought I’d start a topic based on a couple ofrecent comments about the role of cybercommunities in greater socio-political discourse. The internet has certainly played a significant, if complicated role in the reinterpretation of Iranian society. Opportunities for all sorts of dialogue, both within Iranian society and between Iranians and the rest of the world, have increased dramatically with the introduction of the internet. Blogs and online profiles have had an especially important part in this process, providing a key social outlet to a society starved of such mediums. One of the results of this sudden, unauthorized expansion of pseudo-public space is an intensification of political tension between ideologies in Iran. Where before the Islamic regime was able to maintain an iron grip on information and public discussion, they now are being challenged through a resourse they have much less control over. While the Iranian government is making great strides in reigning in the internet (satellite television provided an important lesson for them), they still haven’t been able to fully quell the threat.

However, I am perhaps most interested in the dynamics of these cybercommunities that seem to pose such a threat to more traditional dominant “narratives” (to borrow Jordan’s apt term). Better understanding the makeup of Weblogestan is key to determining the extent and nature of its impact on Iranian politics and society. For instance, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Iranian bloggers represent a small, specific demographic. What role does this group play, what sort of influence does it have? The discourse of Weblogestan is neccesarily skewed because its constituents select specific topics and perspectives. Even within this group, there are clear hierarchies and divisons. I have not yet seen very much research (in English) of the differences between cybercommunities “inside” and “outside” of Iran (i.e. the diaspora), nor between progressive Iranian bloggers and smaller- but rapidly expanding- conservative online groups (Farid Pouya is the only person I know to have blogged about it). Do these segments actually engage in discussion, or do they talk past one another?

I think that these are very interesting issues in themselves, but I also believe that we should study them in a more proactive context. What can be done to create more understanding, more discussion, and more inclusion within these cybercommunities? To what extent can we maximize the unique potential of the web? Study of this area seems, to me, to also be an opportunity for activism.

New Look

Filed under: General — soundsiranian @ 6:31 pm

Hi Folks! Kamangir is speaking. I just tried to make here look a bit nicer. Please feel free to change the template, but please, do not return to the default one! 🙂

December 3, 2006

Glad to be Here

Filed under: General — soundsiranian @ 6:11 pm

Hello, my name is Christian and I am interested in the interplay between technology, identity and modernization as an ideological project. This past year I completed an undergraduate thesis on Iranian weblogs entitled “‘We Are Not This Free’: Weblogs, Reform and Modernization in Iran.” This project introduced me to Iranian society and the phenomenon of blogging. I have continued my interest in Iranian blogs since then, renewing my original thesisblog at clalexander.blogspot.com. I am excited to be a part of Sounds Iranian and look forward to collaborating with others interested in investigating these topics.

December 2, 2006

Just the beginning

Filed under: General — soundsiranian @ 9:50 pm

Hi bacheha. My name’s Jordan – I’m the Canadian guy who did some recent online research on Iranian weblog readers (you can still view my now-defunct survey here). Since this is a fairly new area of research – floating somewhere between sociology, political science, international relations and media studies – I think any of us who are interested in the Iranian blogging-world can benefit from this new forum Hamid has been so kind to set up for us. Hopefully, we can use this space to define terms, pool findings, discuss trends, and even delve into a bit of theory. The fact that this is such uncharted territory makes it, in my humble opinion, all the more exciting (at least for a bookwormy cerebral type like me).

Anyway, I look forward to talking with all of you and beginning to trade ideas. Also, big thanks again to Hamid for putting this blog together. Without him, this simply would not have happened. ‘Mokhlessim’, Hamid! ; )

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.