This dissertation offers a critical reading of Western academic discussions of the role of new communication technology in the Arab and Iranian movements that started in 2009. It demonstrates that while academic efforts to interpret the role of new technology in the movements display discursive variety, technological utopianism is operative in many of these efforts, generating particular images of the movements in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Critics, James Carey (1989) and Vincent Mosco (2005), understand technological utopianism as an extension of religious ideology (Carey) or ancient mythology (Mosco), concealing unequal economic relations (Mosco, 2005; Carey, 1989). This conceptualization of technological utopianism results in a lack of attention to technological utopianism’s internal complexity and heterogeneity. This study attempts to acknowledge the discursive reality of technological utopianism by heeding its discursive, institutional, and historical nuances, while also tracing its effect on developing perceptions of the contemporary movements in MENA.
Acknowledging the multi-stranded nature of Western discourse of technology and its ramifications, this study employs a mixed-perspective approach. The first part of the dissertation (Chapters 2 and 3) is an historical and philosophical investigation that looks at Western discourse of technology, with special attention given to technological utopianism. Through this exploration, I put forward various models that have informed prevailing visions of technology. The second part (Chapters 5 and 6) relies on these models to critically assess their distribution in academic texts investigating the MENA movements. It detects, through this assessment, ways technological utopianism affords particular images of MENA’s politics and societies.
In order to carry out these two projects, the multi-stranded history and the empirical examination of academic discourse, this dissertation puts two discourse traditions in dialogue (Chapter 4): Foucault’s sense of power and history (1971, 1977a, 1977b, 1988) and Fairclough’s critical discourse analysis (2013). The empirical evidence for this study is provided via two different means of data sampling: systematic and case-based. This work carries out a systematic study of journal publications representing academic research discourse on technology in the MENA movements. It offers further evidence in three case studies chosen from three academic-related domains: public, pedagogic, and policy-setting.