Participatory Media and Emerging Landscapes of Security and Surveillance

By Nicole Grove
Submitted to Session P4798 (Rethinking Security Studies in the Arab World: In/Security Beyond the State, 2017 Annual Meeting
Intl Rltns/Aff
All Middle East;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Scholarly and policy work focusing on social media and the Middle East has frequently centered on either its democratizing potential, or on critiques of techno-determinism implicit in these narratives.  This paper presents an alternative reading of how interventionist ethics are integrated into not only discourses on bridging the so-called ‘digital divide,’ but also in the material production and distribution of data generated on participatory platforms. Further, social and participatory media produce ambivalences in how the region continues to function as a laboratory for new techniques and technologies of capital accumulation, security, and gendered and racialized discipline, while also creating novel spaces for participatory politics that resist cultural and religious explanations of agency and change.

Drawing on seven months of field research, qualitative, and digital ethnographic methods at the intersection of critical security studies, media studies, and transnational regional politics, I consider how data and information produced in and about the Middle East through participatory platforms are shaping emerging infrastructures of in/security and surveillance at local and global scales. I also address some of the methodological and ethical challenges of researching and writing about the politics of security for different platforms in an age of ubiquitous surveillance. I read these questions through a number of examples, including crowdsourcing information on sexual violence in Egypt, the use of peer-to-peer funding platforms for supporting non-state violent actors in Iraq and Syria, and in video game play and design for police training and public awareness campaigns in the Gulf. In the final part of the paper, I discuss conducting research at the nexus of fieldwork and digital ethnography for basic issues like privacy and the anonymity of research participants, as well as how social technologies are producing new and complex interrelated global phenomena that often exceed an area studies focus.