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Conference "New Media, Alternative Politics : Communication technologies and political change in the Middle East and Africa", 14 October to 16 October 2010, Cambridge.

The spread of digital technologies in the Middle East and Africa has generated the view that ’new media’ open up political spaces for dissent, activism and emancipation. This conference offers an opportunity to critically reassess these assumptions. “New media, alternative politics” will bring together researchers, academics, activists, journalists and policy makers to discuss whether and how new media empower an alternative politics and mobilise political change.
We welcome proposals for papers or presentations from researchers, activists, practitioners, policymakers and academics from all disciplines. We are happy to consider proposals for presentations in a variety of formats in addition to the traditional format of academic conference papers. These could include presentations via Skype, podcasts, slideshows, short films or posters.
The following list of themes is intended as a guide and is not exclusive :

1. Communicating dissent, mobilising change
How are new media technologies being used in the Middle East and Africa to mobilise for political change ? We encourage proposals that report on the use of a wide variety of new media technologies to communicate political dissent and organise for political change using images, voices and text. Potential topics include the use of mobile phone cameras, blogging, text messaging, online social networking and video activism to organise demonstrations, monitor elections, make demands upon government, and connect activists.

2. What is ‘new’ in new media ?
Are there ways in which digital media is qualitatively different to earlier waves of new media in its interactivity, immediacy and connections to global networks ? We are interested in examinations of how political actors have used emergent media in the past, such as printing technologies, duplicating machines and audio cassettes, and how this can inform our understanding of political activists’ use of new media today.

3. New media versus old power
Have those controlling political power been able to restrict the emancipatory potential of new media technologies ? How have activists used new media to respond and resist ? Why have some of the optimistic predictions equating the spread of new media with political liberalisation not been realised ? We encourage empirical and theoretical submissions that examine the relationships of resistance and response between state institutions and citizens or groups using new media.

4. Local new media and global designs on political change
How is the use of new media by political activists in the Middle East and Africa shaped by global forces ? This broad theme addresses topics such as aid and diplomatic support for particular trends in new media by external powers, use of new media for ‘soft power’ diplomacy, how global corporations and international media networks have shaped patterns of new media use, and whether new communication technologies have reconfigured relationships between international and local NGOs.

5. Researching new media
What are the methodological, ethical and practical challenges of researching new media and political change in the Middle East and Africa ? We would encourage submissions that look towards a progressive engagement between researchers, practitioners and activists to simultaneously study and support the use of new media in political engagement.

We are able to offer a limited amount of funding to support travel and accommodation costs for some presenters. If you wish to apply please include a 150 word statement with your abstract explaining why you need financial assistance. We will prioritise support for presenters who are unable to access other sources of funding, and are low-paid or unwaged. We regret that we do not have resources to fund travel or accommodation for other participants.
Presentations should not exceed 30 minutes and will be followed by 15 minutes of discussion. To apply please send abstracts of not more than 300 words to Anne Alexander (raa43@cam.ac.uk) by 31 July 2010.

Administrative assistance : Anna Malinowska (Conference Programme Manager, CRASSH)

Location : CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane, Cambridge

Conveners
Dr Anne Alexander (CRASSH, University of Cambridge)
Oliver Lewis (Centre of Governance and Human Rights, University of Cambridge)
Sharath Srinivasan (Centre of Governance and Human Rights, University of Cambridge)

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