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Organized by InterAsia Transregional Virtual Research Institute, “Media, Activism and the New Political”

Workshop Directors

Paula Chakravartty
Associate Professor, Gallatin School, Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University

Zeynep Gambetti
Associate Professor, Political Science and International Relations, Bogaziçi University

Srirupa Roy
Director and Professor, Centre for Modern Indian Studies and Political Science, University of Göttingen

Workshop Participants

Miriyam Aouragh, Leverhulme Fellow, Communication And Media Research Institute, University of Westminster
“Mediating the Makhzan: Counter-revolution & populism in the digital age”

Ergin Bulut, Assistant Professor, Media and Visual Arts, Koç University and Erdem Yörük, Assistant Professor, Sociology, Koç University
“Contentious Politics and Trolling in Turkey’s Social Media”

Murat Es, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Resource Management, The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Rolien Hoyng, Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Cultural Studies, Lingnan University
“Conspiratorial Webs: Media Ecologies and Parallel Realities in Turkey”

Jiyeon Kang, Assistant Professor, Communication Studies, University of Iowa
“Internet Activism Transforming Street Politics: The 2008 ‘Mad Cow’ Candlelight Festivals and New Democratic Sensibilities”

Alison Lamont, PhD Fellow, Sociology, University of Duisburg-Essen
“The Utopian Politics of Disaster in the People’s Republic of China”

Jinee Lokaneeta, Associate Professor, Political Science and International Relations, Drew University
“Policing, Law and the Public: Truth and Justice in a Media Trial”

Duncan McCargo, Professor of Political Science, School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds
“New Media, New Partisanship: Divided Virtual Politics Beyond Thailand”

Ayesha Mulla, PhD candidate, Anthropology, University of Chicago
“Broadcasting the Dharna: Mediating ‘Contained’ Populism in Contemporary Pakistan”

Babak Rahimi, Associate Professor, Literature and Cultural Studies, University of California, San Diego
“History, Context Collapse, and Transnational Internet Activism in Iran”

Catherine Sameh, Assistant Professor, Gender & Sexuality Studies, University of California, Irvine
“Mediating Gender Equality in Iran”

Valerie Soe, Associate Professor, Asian American Studies, San Francisco State University
“Migrating Revolution Across Platforms: Social Media and the Sunflower and Umbrella Movements”

Call for Workshop Papers

Across the globe today, from Thailand to Egypt, India to Spain, we are witnessing the emergence of new political movements passionately advancing the claims of “the people” against the ruling “political classes”. Such populist vocabularies are not just confined to the domain of street or protest politics, but are also harnessed by governing incumbents and aspirants to political office, whose bid to join the political establishment is paradoxically furthered through anti-establishment claims and stances. Media of various kinds, from television and social media to camera-enabled mobile phones and text messages, play a key role—whether as tool, site, or agent—in enabling and extending such a politics. This particular formation of “mediated populism” is the focus of our workshop, which seeks to understand the political historical dynamics and implications of mediated projects of “people-making” that have gained prominence in regions across Asia (from MENA to East Asia) in recent years.

Our workshop has five interrelated objectives. First, we seek papers that consider the distinctive institutional contexts of mediated populism across InterAsian space. In contrast to both the European and Latin American contexts, the mass-mediated spectacle of popular politics is a relatively new phenomenon across much of Asia, the Middle East and Africa, where it was only since the last decade of the 20th century that the government-monopolized propagandist architectures of television were replaced by commercial television news. In the intervening years, media—both old and new—have become privileged domains of politics for the first time. What, if any, difference does this relatively late arrival of mediated politics in these regions make to the logic of mediated populism in particular: to what extent do the institutional dynamics of media commercialization and economic liberalization shape the terrain of populist politics across Asia? How do state-institutional contexts shape the media field, and hence the politics of mediated populism: do media-enabled projects of “people-making” unfold differently in countries where states have more direct control over the media, whether in Egypt, China or Iran, versus those of the seemingly democratic polities of Turkey, Israel and India? By addressing such questions, we hope to unpack and disaggregate the idea of a singular “media logic” of populist politics and examine instead the institutional and political-economic dynamics of mediation, and the variegated structures of media fields, in which contemporary forms of populist politics are embedded.

Second, we seek papers that engage analytically with the very idea of a politics in the name of “the people”. Twenty-first century mediated populism does not emerge out of an historical or political vacuum; there are multiple and contending constructions of “the people” sedimented and circulating within political arenas at any given point in time. As Ernesto Laclau argues, populist reason brings together disparate popular demands in critical historical conjunctures not as an aberration or deviation of democracy but instead as the very stuff of democratic politics: populism is the “royal road to the political” in Laclau’s words. We are interested in the intersections, collusions, and collisions of these different “road-building” projects. And so, to what extent do mediated populisms make and remake “the people” differently from other cognate ideas, whether of the demos, the nation, the masses, the multitude? What are the new lines of agonism and antagonism opened up and elided by the insistence on the division between “the people” and “those in power” that lies at the heart of contemporary political assertions?

Third, we welcome contributions that consider the historical distinctiveness of a mediated production of the people/the popular that twenty-first century technologies and processes of mediation might be seen to enable. For Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt or Manuel Castells, contemporary media and information technologies enable novel, horizontally connected networks to produce new social relations and political subjectivites. For Judith Butler, mediated connectivity between “bodies in action” produces a new sense and visibility of “the people” embodied in public protests and popular demands. These are among the theoretical perspectives that have recently been used to conceptualize populist politics in the twenty-first century, and we are interested in building and innovating upon these approaches.

Fourth, we are interested in the question of how ideologies fare in the contemporary era of mediated populism. A commonly heard refrain of many populist movements today is that of being “beyond ideology” or “post-ideological”. How might we assess this claim, on empirical as well as theoretical grounds? What new visions of politics and society emerge from contemporary popular demands? Can they be classified as New Social Movements (Alain Touraine and Claus Offe); social “non-movements” (Asef Bayat) or “political society” (Partha Chatterjee); or should we develop new frames of analysis to grasp their form and content? In addressing these questions about the nature of the “new” political, we are equally interested in the question of how movements organized around “old”, “left” and “right” ideological affiliations engage the terrain of mediated politics. For instance, how have nationalist and religious extremist parties and movements reformulated their politics in the age of both growing inequality and media spectacle? Similarly, how has the Left reinvented itself in the age of mediated populism?

Finally, and this is where the InterAsia dimension of our project is particularly salient, and useful, we seek papers that explore the supra-national spatial dynamics that shape the politics of mediated populism. The modularity, diffusion and “inter-referencing” of ideas, techniques, and technologies of populist politics across national territorial spaces; the ways in which cross-border media flows and geopolitical dynamics shape and enable the politics of populism in national contexts, are among the issues that interest us here.

Possible Themes:

  • Media and the rise of “new populisms” in InterAsian contexts
  • Institutional dynamics of media liberalization and the reshaping of state-society relations
  • Historical perspectives on mediated politics and “people-making” projects in and across Asian regions; comparisons of “old” and “new” mediated populisms
  • The normative politics of transparency and visibility in InterAsian contexts
  • Remaking “left” and “right” in the era of twenty-first century mediated populism
  • “Inter-referencing” and diffusion of populist ideas, practices, and technologies across InterAsian spaces
  • Geopolitical dynamics (e.g. wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan; “refugee crises” in Asia) and the shaping of national populist politics