CFP MESA: Online Public Sphere in the Gulf

Middle East Studies Association 2018 San Antonio, TX, November 15–18

Panel: The Online Public Sphere in the Gulf: Disagreement, Dialogue, Creativity, and Change Organizers: Jocelyn Sage Mitchell, Northwestern University in Qatar, and Sean Foley, Middle Tennessee State University
Panel abstract submission deadline: February 5 MESA submission deadline: February 15

Panel abstract and call for papers:

The online public sphere matters. Digital communication technologies and platforms increasingly shape the world’s politics, society, economics, and culture—and the Middle East is no exception (e.g., Howard and Hussain 2013; Zayani 2015). The Gulf region has some of the highest rates of internet penetration in the Middle East (between 93–100% of the national population) and also some of the highest rates of social media use, including Twitter (Dennis, Martin, and Wood 2016). Nonetheless, the online public sphere remains an understudied aspect of politics in the Gulf.

In this panel, we are interested in exploring how online media has changed the region’s politics, economies, and social norms. Building on Marshall McLuhan (1969), who described the Global Village as a place defined by disunity and the inevitable clash of conflicting forces, our panel aims to investigate the Gulf’s online public sphere, which, like the Global Village, arose out of instantaneous communication technologies and is defined as much by conflict as it is by cooperation. How has the online public sphere created new opportunities for nationals and expatriates to form new social movements, spark dialogue on key issues, and to bring about tangible change? How has it influenced policy making and state-society relations? How have national leaders and governments utilized the online public sphere to communicate with their own citizens, neighboring states, and the region’s diverse populations? How have specific groups, such as women or Islamists, used online media to voice their opinions and effect desired change? How has the recent diplomatic crisis further politicized the online sphere and impacted social and political attitudes and behaviors in the region? And what insights can academic work on the Gulf provide to the region, and the world, about the power of the online public sphere?

Our call for papers seeks contributions from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, methodologies, and cases that explore the various actors, agendas, and uses of the online public sphere in the Gulf. We welcome new work that explores the ramifications of the diplomatic crisis, but we also welcome work that looks beyond current events to longer-term trends, such as the use of online space for previously marginalized or underrepresented individuals or groups (e.g., the artist community, women, or non-citizens), as well as other aspects of online communication, politicization, and persuasion.

Our panel will prioritize interaction with the audience, so participants should be willing to limit their presentations to 10 minutes. Please email us your name, email address, academic affiliation, and a 400-word abstract by Monday, February 5, 2018. Contact the organizers with any questions: Jocelyn Sage Mitchell ( and Sean Foley (