by Peter Marolt
Conceptualizing Cyber-urban Connections in Asia and the Middle East
ARI Conference, 23-24 January 2014
Convenors: Asha Rathina Pandi and Peter Marolt
The surge of protests and mass movements we witness across the globe are intricately connected and facilitated by the Internet, but often also occupy politically potent spaces in the city where they gain political leverage for pursuing reform. Connecting these two elements remains inadequately studied. The many conferences aimed at understanding the role of new and social media as tools of protest tend to remain in networks of cyberspace, and urban studies have also lagged in linking urban space with cyberspace.
Our conference theme thus emerged to conceptualize the connection between the cyber and the urban. As individuals live in a networked society, with one foot in the virtual and the other in the material world, an understanding of the changes and transformations in society ought to include an interrogation of the interdependencies between online and offline domains. How does cyber-activism translate into the production of urban spaces, and, conversely, how does (lack of) access to urban spaces reflect back to online mobilizations?
We have brought together young scholars and leading experts from inter- and multidisciplinary backgrounds to better understand and re-theorize the ways in which the ‘cyber-urban’ connections in urban Asia and the Middle East affect people, networks, and social and built environments (click here for full description and programme). Vibrant discussions have yielded many insights, on the specificities and commonalities of case studies in various countries in Asia (including but not limited to China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines and Singapore) and the Middle East (including Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Morocco and Tunisia), but also on how to better conceptualize cyber-urban connections.
Keynote speaker Merlyna Lim (currently a Visiting Research Scholar at Princeton University) opened the conference by mapping out the spatial dynamics of contemporary social movements. The first day of the conference was loosely based on paper presentations that speak to the social movement literature, while the second day focused on other cyber-urban connections. The two morning sessions were opening up conceptual avenues of thought, and the afternoon sessions would then provide empirical profusions. It turned out that this made for vibrant participation and discussions throughout the two days. Each session comprised three speakers (except for one session comprising four), and would address in turn new ways of seeing digital materialities; protest sites; movement narratives & interdependencies; grounding the cyber and augmenting space; protest forms; and other forms of mediated resistances.
Together, we have gone far beyond the questions posited at the outset, and have come away with a strong desire to further deepen our understandings of both the origins (roots) and processes (routes) that precede or lead to highly visible urban protests. These issues remain understudied yet highly important conceptually. Together with Merlyna Lim, whom we involved in selecting the papers for this conference, we thus decided to pursue an edited book with a renowned university publisher. Addressing the reflexivity of cyber and urban spaces, both empirically and theoretically, the volume’s general focus will be on investigating the origins (roots) and processes (routes) that undergird contemporary social movements in particular and the cyber-urban in general.
Thank you all for your interest and participation!