Young egyptian activists’ perceptions of the potential of social media for mobilisation

Type Thesis or Dissertation - Doctor of Philosophy
Title Young egyptian activists’ perceptions of the potential of social media for mobilisation
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2013
The 25th January uprising has drawn attention to young Egyptians who were able to
spark off a revolution in the tightly repressed political environment. The time that led to
the uprising was marked by vibrant political mobilisation. It witnessed several
endeavours through which Egyptians have expressed their aspirations for social and
political reform. Empowered by what new information and communication
technologies (ICTs) afford, young Egyptians have arguably managed to mobilise sizable
numbers of people to take to the streets and demand change.
This thesis explores the perceptions of a sample of young Egyptian activists about the
potential of social media (SM) for mobilising collective action. Themes of media usage,
dispositions and actions (online and off-line) that appear to relate to these perceptions
are investigated and analysed.
This study aims to enhance original research in three main ways: one, to contribute to a
growing body of empirical research about new media potential for mobilisation.
Secondly, it deepens academic understanding of young activists’ uses of SM and
practices in the realm of political activism and social movement construction, especially
in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) where the role of social media seems to be
developing constantly. Most importantly, thirdly, this study comprises a scholarly and
proactive approach that explores evolving political changes that have taken place in
Egypt since 2008 from a media perspective and thus provides a qualitative research
basis that is beneficial in comparing and contrasting new media roles prior to the 25th
January 2011 uprising and in its aftermath. This study will be of value to activists,
researchers and social movement organisations (SMOs) in Egypt and the MENA region,
and elsewhere, who are considering the opportunities, challenges and complications of
this rapidly growing study area.
The thesis begins with a critical literature analysis in two parts: the first explores the
socio-political context of the Egyptian polity in the last decade of Mubarak’s presidency,
and the second discusses issues of social movements’ growth and development,
predominantly in how new ICTs, particularly SM, may contribute to the organisation of
social movements, creating opportunities through which to gain experience and
acquire participatory skills, and finally to practise collective action that forms the
skeleton of the second part of the literature review. Empirical data were collected
through a variety of research methods and sources.
This thesis builds a moderate case for SM’s influence on the mobilisation of collective
action. Although young activists purposively use the SM repertoire as instruments
through which to mobilise collective action, they believe that the role these media may
play varies significantly, depending on the media user, i.e., the contribution of SM to
creating favourable dispositions towards the participation and mobilisation of
individuals to move from behind their keyboards and to take to the streets differs
between activists and non-politicised individuals. The findings suggest that SM are not
perceived as a suitable arena for the building of an activist identity, which consequently
raises concerns about the commitment to and sustainability of social movements
organised on social media platforms.
This thesis is organised to allow these arguments to be made clearly in relation to the
data. Findings are discussed and analysed in Chapters Five (young activists’ uses of
social media), Six (young activists’ contextual perceptions and political dispositions)
and Seven (the perceived opportunities to link to off-line space). Each chapter considers
several dimensions that are related to the theme being investigated. Throughout these
chapters, the data are analysed and discussed horizontally in order to delineate the
interconnection and interaction of the research themes. In each chapter, data from
questionnaires and focus group discussions (FGDs) are presented. Quantitative and
qualitative findings around key themes and issues are presented in an integrated
fashion. In most cases, general findings begin by displaying participants’ questionnaire
answers. These findings are subsequently considered within the context of what
respondents said in FGDs. Chapter Eight coherently draws together these three
dimensions based on findings illuminated in the preceding three chapters. It also
presents recommendations for practice and future research.

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