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More on Twitter Revolutions

February 10, 2011

I’ve been meaning to post a link to this post by Deen Frelon at the University of Washington.  I think this does a nice job of identifying the different types of claims that are being made about technology and I’ll be interested to read the next posts in the series.

My own position is that digital technology has added to the mobilizational resources available to the protesters.  But social movement theory (not to mention historical studies of revolutions) tell you that the ability to mobilize is not the whole story without paying attention to the political opportunity structure and the strategies open to the two sides.  It’s usually splits in the elites that open the way to movement success and at the moment the regime seems quite solid and is playing a game to defuse the situation with some concessions and a strategy of delay.  Hence by only focusing on the technological dimension we are missing the bigger picture.

Looking at this through the lens of social movements or revolutions several issues come to mind.  There are a lot of unhappy people in Egypt who agree that Mubarak must go.  But beyond this to what extent does the January 25 movement actually have a political programme that can sustain it?  Focusing on Mubarak is an excellent way to maximize the size of the mobilization but what comes after this? The normal lesson of revolutions is that organized minorities trump disorganized masses so the real challenge for the January 25 movement is not whether they can bring people onto the streets but whether they can produce a functioning political organization that can provide leadership beyond the immediate crisis.  Can technology allow the development of a programme and and organization that can defeat the existing political groupings?  While the focus is on Mubarak at the moment the real priority should be to create the political space that will allow the organization of new political parties.

While I’m thinking revolutions I’ll also raise the question of the extent to which wired secular young people (eg Ghonim) are actually going to be able to lead.  To put it in Gramscian terms is this class going to be able to establish a hegemony over Egyptian society?

So to conclude I think that ‘technology’ does make a difference but you can’t abstract it from the broader elements of the situation.

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