Blind Spots, or, the Cultural Logic of the Visbility of the 2011 Uprisings

By Hatim El-Hibri
Submitted to Session P2966 (Tweeting the Revolution: Literature, Media, and the Postcolonial End, Part I, 2011 Annual Meeting
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
In her Critique of Postcolonial Reason, Gayatri Spivak argues that there is a danger in assuming an inherently isomorphic relationship between new technologies or economies, and cultural forms and subjectivities on the other. This skepticism against a technologically determinist understanding is vitally important to understanding what exactly is new about the role of media in the uprisings of 2011. Not only have mass uprisings happened in the Arab world and these countries before, youth have also previously played an important role in their organization and mobilization. While there are crucial differences between Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and other spaces of protest, this paper argues that what they have in common is a relatively new cultural logic of visibility. I situate the role of live broadcasting in shaping the forms the protests took, the use of social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter, and mobile devices. This paper will also seek to trace the political in two very distinct moments of mediation: how the uprisings are experienced outside of Egypt (especially in the Arab and Western media spheres), and the role of media in shaping the uprising. While these two moments are inextricably linked, they often conflated in problematic ways, especially the former being read in terms of the latter. This paper therefore reflects on the political by contextualizing the visibility of the spaces of protest, and the desire of watching and being watched.