This dissertation seeks to examine the ways in which Twitter users debate Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving, with a broader objective of explicating how gender roles and relations are negotiated in that discursive space. In Saudi Arabia, a social media site such as Twitter offers Saudi women an alternative public space when there is no comparable open-media space in which they can communicate and raise their concerns, including their right to drive. To capture part of the ongoing discussion about women driving, a corpus of Arabic tweets that discuss the ban was compiled during October, November and December 2015. Informed by a corpus-assisted discourse studies approach, which combines the discourse-historical approach (Reisigl & Wodak, 2001) and corpus linguistics (Baker, 2006; 2010), I analyze the views and arguments expressed by Twitter users in debating the Saudi ban on women driving.
The findings reveal that while some tweeters express their support for the ban, noting the social and moral threats posed by allowing women to drive and the symbolic function of women’s roles as markers of commitment to the nation’s traditional and religious identity, the majority of tweets reflect great frustration and a desire for change in women’s situation. These tweets publicize the victimization of women and their disenfranchisement as a consequence of maintaining the ban. The tweets also display a degree of awareness about women’s rights and resistance toward the contradictions that women face by being caught up in the tension between modernizing the country’s policies and different aspects of public life and preserving traditional norms and patriarchal values. It is believed that this study contributes to the growing literature on studying gender in the multi-voiced, loosely structured discursive spaces of social media as sites for discourse construction and dissemination. The study also fills a void in previous literature that failed to theorize the online debates on women driving in relation to gender and critical research, and in situating these efforts within a broader frame of women’s struggle against patriarchy and the social tensions and dynamics of power in Saudi society.