GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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The Role of Social Media as a Decisive Actor in Gulf Governance
Paper Proposal Text :
The paper starts with explanation of impediments in political transition within the Arab Gulf world due to the existence of neo-patrimonial state structures and dogmatic social contracts. It further links how social media, as a decisive factor has played an integral role in confronting the egregious dominations within these rentier state economies in spite of the failure of inter-subjective and cognitive theorizing of its function. Lack of theoretical paradigms and empirical research has created gaps between linking the role of social media with the democratisation of the Arab world, especially within the camouflaged dynamics in the Gulf front. Though indeed, the outburst of uprisings in the Arab world added a new momentum to how the world envisaged the power of people, language and violence. But it also, reduced the power of authenticity and credibility of traditional Arab Media channels that with time, appeared as propaganda tools, very often of the Gulf ruling families. The passive and egregious vision of defining “Arab Street” was now being challenged starting with the downfall of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Initially, this neo-orienatlist stand of defining Arab Street also tried to deprive the Arab World of a more focused term like ‘Arab Public sphere’ or ‘Arab public opinion.’ Instead, the street denoted ‘abnormal mindset.’ Such nomenclature with jaundiced point of view starting from the very embryonic definition of Arab society eventually also involved in the context of democracy in the Gulf region.

Drawing from the understandings of scholars like Klandermans, Shirky,Sudipta Kaviraj, Eisenstadt, Khaled Hroub and Hamid Dabashi, the paper tries to investigate the loopholes that exits in understanding the theories of modernity, resource mobilization, network societies and their relationships with conceptual knowledge of Gulf societies that makes it unable to situate social media in their contextualization. It explains what led to the emergence of social media, its engagement with inter-personal communication and evolution of multi-generational political dialogue. It is also discussed how social media has been nabbed in the dichotomy of techno-realists and digital evangelists thereby reducing its essence into technological determinism and cultural Exceptionalism. In order to defend the arguments made, very specific examples from the context of Bahrain are incorporated. The comparative scenario building process contrasts the situation In Bahrain with the non-Gulf state of Syria to differentiate how same stimulus in social media caused different results.

Eventually, the paper attempts to explain and link the gap in between the role of social media and the democratic transition of the gulf region through the use of Social Theory of International Politics. The Social Theory of International Politics gives importance to identity and interests rather than the structures. It questions from where the identity and interests come from and how political institutions can change behavior but cannot influence the former. It demands complex learning so that re-definition takes place. In this context, the paper deals with role of social media as a process and the Gulf governance as the structure for study. It does not entail the dichotomous privileging of structure over process, ie, governance on Gulf region over the role of social media.

The social theory explains how transformation of identity and interests through process can lead to transformation of structure. In the case of Gulf region, there are several distinct identities which are divided on the lines of sectarian divides, ethnicity, nationality and ideologies. Since, no theoretical paradigm has questioned the very existence and portrayal of these identity and interests, transformation never takes place. Religion and identity have been playing a very integral role in conflicts of the Arab world. Also, victims have a different identity adding to their latent sectarian and ethnic loyalties. The question of interests become more vital when studied through the lens of neo-patrimonial state structure and social contract in rentier states. The interests of various identity groups differ, adding to the economic, political, social and cultural divisions.

Also, identity politics plays an important role in causing the politics of difference. The idea of transformed identities is not dealt with in great detail, especially in the context of Gulf societies. This is the very reason why the uprisings in Bahrain were not understood and nabbed in the dichotomy of sectarianism and ethnic tensions. Thus, the social theory of International Politics when applied to this scenario building, shares a cognitive and inter-subjective understanding of the concept of process in which the identities and interests are endogenous to the vital interactions. The focus on process, in this case, social media, helps in looking at its role through the lens of learning and knowledge. And hence, refrains from being a part of the dichotomy of digital evangelists and techno-realists. It is only through interaction that the ambient and ubiquitous role of news can be understood. The impact of identity and interest in the process of transforming structures is further analysed and how they would influence the balance of power dynamics in this Gulf region.

Hence, the paper stresses that the role of social media leads to the creation and acceptance of identities and interests which can cause political and cultural transformation. The other insights of regime change like neo-conservative democracy export are criticized and explained that why they failed to succeed as they did not take into account the identity and interests of the protesters. Though, as the uprisings still continue to unfold, it is essential to delve deeper into the linking of social media and Gulf governance by working further into the realms of social theory of International Politics.