GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Virtual Space and Transformation in Oman
Paper Proposal Text :
The rise of social media has confronted conservative societies in the Gulf with a number of challenges. Whereas in the past, issues such as the spread of news, demands for participation, regime support, and gender segregation, could all be controlled by a centralized government and its affiliated media system, the emergence of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has severely disrupted the information monopoly of the Gulf monarchies. Social media have created a new, virtual space, where young people can connect and exchange ideas without the direct interference of the authorities.

In the Sultanate of Oman, the Gulf State with the largest population after Saudi Arabia, this new space has led to an accelerated transformation of society, especially in the aftermath of the protest wave of 2011. Young activists have used it to test the limits that the strict laws impose on public space. In reaction, authorities have tried to counter this development from within, both by putting a cyber-crime law into place, and by using the virtual space to spread their own normative messages. Moreover, virtual interaction has led to a transformation of social norms within the traditional space as well. Not only awareness of political developments and the call for more participation rights have gained momentum, also the traditional interaction between genders is changing. The virtual space of social media has hence turned into a unique platform for the struggle between innovation and restauration, and between progressive and normative values.

The proposed paper examines the main actors in the world of virtual communication, and their purpose in using social media. It further looks at the major social and political implications which they have triggered. The research focuses on how social media have turned into a new platform of dialogue and debate, opening channels of participation and creating new challenges to conventional social patterns. Based on this premise, it investigates how “virtual space” impacts “public space” in a conservative society, and how it affects social patterns and political awareness of the young generation.