Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Blogs as a Space for Local Community?

Skimming through the Online Journalism Review website (trying to catch up on all my old links as I upload them to my new home) I revistited the question of blogging as a space for discourse on local social/political/cultural topics. How effective is blogging for this? One of OJR's recent articles looks at the effectiveness of local "grassroots" journalism- which I think of as a form of blogging. Can blogs carve out a niche in this space? It's a question that is similar to the one constantly asked about blogging communities such as the Iranian blogosphere. How much do they really seep into the fabric of the local community? I don't know the answer, although I would suggest that one shouldn't compare blogging (or the internet) to other types of communal space. Clearly however it does have some (specialized?) impact on local discourse.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Two Bad Eggs in a Pod

Forgive me for mixing metphors, but I thought it was an apt description of the recent
meeting between Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Iran's Mahmood Ahmadinejad.
Apparently the two politically isolated leaders are reaching out to each other in an attempt build some sort of unity in the face of Western criticism. Personally, this only delegitimizes Ahmadinejad's position in my mind. Despite his populist rhetoric, Mugabe typifies the corrupt leadership that so much of Africa has suffered under since decolonization.

It's amazing (and terrifying) to see the chaotic currents of the modern colonial project continue to swirl around us today. The words of Mugabe, Ahmadinejad, and other products of the backlash to Western imperialism continue to rely heavily on the anger of colonization. Despite their despotism, these leaders' words garner them with some small sense of legitimacy simply because those who they rail against have devalued their own rhetoric. Africans, Persians, Arabs, Indians all simply yearn for a justice and equality that seems suspiciously absent in their lives. Yet in frustration they often turn to ideologues- and their impostors- who promise to hold the answer to Western dominance. Hyperbole becomes truth as the complexity of modernity is paved over with sound bites and simple answers.

And who says this confusion merely arises in Harare, Mumbai and the West Bank? What about the millions of Americans who would rather blame Islam for terrorism, or who think the conflict between Shi'ites and Sunis (or Hutus and Tutsis or Serbs and Croats) is an immutable conflict between perpetual enemies? We glaze over the complexities of the modern world and fall for the same generalities that create misunderstanding, mistrust and animosity between people all over the world.

I guess what I am getting at (if there is any point to my ramblings) is that we need a more comprehensive understanding of the factors at work in the societies we find ourselves in. Culprits like Mugabe and Ahmadinejad use frustration and misunderstanding to fuel their ambitions. Their solutions ring hollow, but as long as their claims of injustice are substantiated by the actions of our world leaders, they will continue to wield legitimacy. The responsibility is with us to hold our leaders and ourselves accountable to our actions. We have a chance at fixing injustice only by understanding its dimensions.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Among the articles I’ve read about in the past few months is one on Paris Marashi, a student at NYU who is working to promote Iranian vlogs (video weblogs). I visited one of her sites and found myself watching a number of her vlog posts from this summer. I am intrigued by this project, which was essentially an exercise in ethnographic participatory cinema. It is amazing how images serve as such a striking means of conveying information and ideas. The crossing of geographic and socio-cultural boundaries that comes through so powerfully in blogs (and specifically bridgeblogs) feels even starker with video.

Among her other projects is an attempt to promote vlogging in Iran. Her site, sets out to instruct Iranians on how to create a vlog, much as Hoder originally did with blogging. Ultimately, a project such as this might have a harder time catching on because 1) of the cost and availability of the necessary technology and 2) because of the issue government censorship. It is nonetheless an exciting prospect.

Marashi’s projects prompted me to view vlogs from a more anthropological perspective. That her summer project follows the now classic ethnographic genres of cinema verite and participatory cinema (genres blazed by the likes of Jean Rouch, John Adair and others) reminded me of the potency of these types of visual documentary study, as well as their pitfalls. The question of objectivity, one that anthropology has wrestled with for so long, is being reintroduced in the new context of globalized interactive communication. Just as the handheld video camera revolutionized visual anthroplogy during the second half of the 20th century, the internet brings a whole new level of access to the portrayal (read manipulation) of culture. What does this mean in terms of the study and interpretation of ethnic/geographic/socio-economic others? What are the implications in the fetish-ization of the image, especially in the context of Euro-American consumer culture? I don’t have the background to speak with authority on the subject, although I have studied it some and am intrigued by these questions. Take for instance this quote by Marashi from her interview with GVO’s Farid Pouya:

Vlogging immediately opened up the things I wanted to share about my life in Iran to the rest of the world. Today I do something; tonight I post it online; tomorrow someone watches it. It is fascinating how it opens up what you are doing to a global audience. Once something is uploaded on the Internet, or on your videoblog, it is at the hands of the world and available for them to see.

Susan Sontag would have a field-day.

Note to self: keep an eye on this one:

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

In the Beginning…

I would like to begin my inaugural post by stating that this weblog is in fact a continuation of a previous blog I authored up until recently. For over a year I wrote about my academic investigation of the Iranian blogosphere in the context of the history of modernization in Iran. I did this as an unofficial part of my undergraduate thesis on Iranian modernization and Weblogestan, which I completed in May of 2006. After completing my project I decided to continue my blog, entitled Thought Process, as a space for me to explore the dynamics of technology, culture and politics. (Un)fortunately, my blogging service provider, Modblog, died recently and is rumored to be unexpectedly and indefinitely terminated. I have thus been forced to move to a new location, where I hope to continue and expand my academic interest in these topics.

While I hope that the original intent of my “thesis-blog” will continue to play a large role in the form and subject matter of this new space, I also hope to broaden its scope to include more discussion both on communications technology and the larger global blogosphere. However, I cannot rightly predict how events will come to pass. All I can say is that I hope to continue to cultivate what I began over a year ago. While this space is meant to serve primarily as a personal sounding board for my ideas, I do hope others will occasionally include their input. RIP.