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Roundtable ‘Circulating online critical knowledge about the Middle East’

I am organising this roundtable at the GISMOM conference on the 4th of July, 16:30-18:30, Amphithéâtre 1 : 12 place du Panthéon, rez-de-chaussée aile Cujas.


During the last ten years, online news websites, e-zines and other internet outlets have gained a strong visiblity and played an increased role in diffusing critical knowledge about the Middle East and North Africa. Critical here refers to approaches that challenge the mainstream media and governmental storytelling, by offering a multiplicity of angles and discourses, featuring neglegted groups such as youth, women, poor, migrants and above all informed by social sciences and fieldwork. The rise of these new actors lies at the crossroads of several transformations. The democratization of Internet, the relative lowering of technological hurdles (for instance related to the use of several languages), the rise of social networks have coincided with and facilated the rise of the revolts in the region. The platforms have surfed on the enthousiasm these revolts have spurred and allowed for alternative and critical analyses to gain more visibility. However, the rise of authoritarianism, the wars, the increased repression against the workers and the democratic movements, the massive displacements have prevented independent information sources to continue documenting the political transformations. Increasingly polarised social networks have blurred the available information and rendered fact-based analyses less audible. Academic debates seem to have fadded or at least experienced difficulties in reaching wider audience, possibly also because the political stances adopted by many researchers have cast doubts over the soundness of their judgements. Critical platforms have never been so much needed, but they struggle to exist in the face of competing discourses, and struggle to fund their activities and ensure their existence.

Two such online platforms come to mind and illustrate distinct choices. Jadaliyya was launched in 2010 by a team of academics based in American Universities, many of them originating from Arab countries. The platform developed as a decentralized collective of thematic pages. It featured very diverse contents, languages and formats, from text to voice and video, from online to paper. Orient XXI started in 2013 and is led by retired French and France-based Arab journalists with comprehensive experience in the region, and opens its space to academics. It also diversified the languages of publishing. The panel aims to present and assess these different experiences, advance elements of explanations about the convergence or divergence between them, and explore alternative and new approaches to broaden, expand and assert these experiences, for instance through collaboration, new formats, the opening of new debates, etc. Continuer la lecture