Beyond Utopias and Dystopias: a comparative approach to studying weblog usage in Lebanon and Syria
The internet and its potential effects on society is a widely debated subject in academic and popular literature. Yet many attempts at studying the internet as a cultural phenomenon have tended to remain within the confines of a virtual world that is perceived as something remote and separate to the offline world. The nature of the impact of this technology will vary according to how government regulations, economic factors and users collectively organize it. Therefore we need to understand the interplay between the offline and online world in order to unfold the way that technology is being appropriated by different societies. Taking into consideration the larger macro-level dynamics of power and access, affecting each community as well as users’ own individual environments and social contexts, provides a richer culturally sensitive approach to studying the internet. Using the above framework, my PhD dissertation explores and compares the process of blogging and the blogosphere in Lebanon and Syria. Through face-to-face ethnographic interviews with bloggers, online participant observation, a semi-structured questionnaire and faceto-face interviews with internet service providers and others involved in providing internet, I am exploring the structural and cultural variables that have allowed actors to understand and use blogs in a way that is particular to Lebanese and Syrian culture. In these societies that are closed and private, the blogosphere has constituted a complex and contradictory experience of modernity. Since the internet and the frames in which users interact allow for a different kind of communication to occur, how do bloggers negotiate social interactions online? How do they choose to articulate their identities? Why do they choose to blog? Are affiliations in the offline world the same online? How is anonymity used and for which reasons? By understanding the complex environments from which these bloggers emerge as a starting point, the research will contribute to the literature on the uses of the internet in the Arab world and the corresponding blogosphere, the digital divide and online methodologies.