A Movement Co-opted: A Critical Discourse Analysis of The Iranian Green Resistance Movement of 2009

By Maral Karimi
Submitted to Session P5026 (Media: Circulation and Censorship, 2017 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
Iranian Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;

In 2009 Iran witnessed the Green Movement, a popular uprising that challenged the status quo of the socio-political structures of the Islamic Republic. This movement which pre-dates the Arab Spring uprisings in the region, drove large numbers of Iranian citizens to the streets, reminiscent of the 1979 revolution, protesting the presidential election results. This study examines the impact of the political communications of the leaders of the uprising, namely Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Zahra Rahnavard and Mehdi Karoubi, on the movement. Although the Green Movement was ultimately unsuccessful, it produced valuable data for studying political uprisings and the role of social media in facilitating articulations of dissent, especially in the context of the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.

Specifically, this paper examines the discourse of the leaders to understand weather their communications with the citizenry were meant to win an election or to follow through on their election promises such as more personal freedoms, economic prosperity and women’s rights reforms. In other words, this study asks was the discourse of the leaders of the Green Movement oriented towards building mutual understanding or systematically distorted communication oriented to success?

This research is grounded in a constellation of critical and cultural theories; more specifically Habermas’ conception of the Public Sphere and the Theory of Communicative Action provide the theoretical foundations for this work. According to Habermas, political communications are shaped by the conditions of the public sphere in any given society and fall within either Communicative Action oriented towards reaching understanding or Strategic Action which is goal oriented and seeks success. This project seeks to tests those theories in the Iranian Green Movement context.

The corpus of data for this research comes from official campaign releases, state TV interviews, and speeches of the three leading figures of the movement. The data was drawn from YouTube videos, for the counter hegemonic role played by this social media platform as well its broadcast capabilities in authoritarian regimes where mass media are in the service of the ruling class. This study takes a Critical Discourse Analysis approach to analyze the data.

The investigation uncovers evidence of systematic communication distortion in the public discourse of the leaders of the movement and discusses the impact of said distortions on the direction and shaping of the movement.