“Mobilization for Change: the role of the networked public sphere in advancing civic participation and collective action in the Arab region” seeks to understand the complex relationship between the networked public sphere and collective action in the region, with case studies from Egypt and Tunisia.

The networked public sphere has emerged as an influential medium for sharing news, disseminating information, and mediating collective action. Many have pointed to the impact of digital media on politics and public affairs, particularly in promoting and coordinating popular protests. Digitally mediated collective action continues to play a prominent role in the political landscape in Egypt and Tunisia. Nevertheless, rigorous assessments of the networked public sphere’s impact, modalities, and relationship to collective action offline are still rare. Any future efforts aimed at better governance and political reform will benefit from an improved understanding of the networked public sphere’s impact on civic and political life.

Such insights require advances in theory, data collection, and analysis as well as a concerted effort to leverage and coordinate the activities of researchers studying these processes across a range of disciplines. Given the intricate context of the prevalent cultural and economic realities of the Middle East and North Africa region, a rigorous assessment of the networked public sphere’s impact must tap into offline as well as online networks. This approach facilitates an understanding of how information is mediated through different networks and how subsequently it is consumed and feeds into civic engagement.

The aim of this research effort is to better understand the role of the networked public sphere in political and social life in the Arab region as an alternative platform for information sharing and for mediating collective action. What is the structure of the networked public sphere? How do different segments and platforms interact? What content and topics are introduced and disseminated? What is the role of different offline networks and players including traditional mainstream media in this context?

Our specific objectives are to:

  • Assess the role of the networked public sphere as it relates to civil society engagement in political and social action and compare this to activity in other spheres, including mainstream media, government, and offline civil society, thus advancing the theory, data, methods, and tools for studying these phenomena.
  • Improve the capacity of and contribute to the field of scholars conducting research on the impact of the networked public sphere in the Arab region.
  • Influence policy design for change through the dissemination of knowledge and lessons learned to policy makers as well as to civic society organizations.

Mobilization for Change is a joint project of the Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) at the School of Business at the American University in Cairo and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. The project is supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

Access to Knowledge for Development

Berkman Klein Center