Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Affordances of New Media for Social Change

Both Communications studies and Rhetoric and Composition studies have explored the power of new media, internet networking and their affordances for social movements. The work of Cynthia Selfe explores how new media creates an environment where students compose for audiences both inside and outside the classroom. But with the recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the world bore witness to an event where social media, news media, and multimodal rhetoric are applied within a specific context—and with nation changing results. In light of this I will pursue the question: What can the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt teach us about the affordances of new media?

My analysis begins with Mouhammed Izzari, who set himself on fire to protest his perceived unfair treatment at the hands of Tunisian law enforcement. This image was propagated through both blogs and articles composed by news media groups such as Al Jeezera and the BBC, as well as social media sites Facebook and Twitter. These media outlets afforded people a network to share rhetoric that combined text and image as well as help rally support and coordinate their protesting efforts. I will provide examples of digital news media coverage as well as rhetoric composed by the people of Tunisia and Egypt, which I obtained from Facebook groups supporting the movement. By grounding theory within this event, and exploring the relationship between affordances of new media and civic engagement in particular, we can recognize that the Arab world may have taught us a valuable lesson in composing with new media for social change.

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