Anshul Jain – Boston University, Political Science
Standoff in Iran: New Media, Transnational Civil Society and the Prospects for Political Reform
A prominent feature of the tense narrative of Iran’s election crisis of 2009 was the role of new media, social networking media in particular. Social media immediately transmitted glaring images of resistance, determination, and disturbing repression for the world to see. For the first time in decades, the global community had a first-person view inside Iran from a popular, oppositional perspective. In the longer term, the dynamics of the progress of events in Tehran, as well as their broadcasting and framing in the local and global public spheres raises compelling questions about the role of new media in Iran. More critically, it raises important questions about the potential for new media to serve as an impetus for political reform inside Iran. Analysis of the possibility for political reform rests on some preliminary examination of civil society in Iran, new media in Iran, and the capabilities and limitations of new media to transform civil society and, ultimately, political processes. The crisis following the 2009 Presidential election allows for a coordinated examination of these questions. This paper argues that while the prospects for reform can be enhanced by the growth of new media, its transformative abilities are seriously limited by the regime. The likelihood of success can be enhanced by the very careful calibration of transnational efforts to assist Iranians’ in sustaining their own domestic movements for political reform. Ultimately, examination of the 2009 election crisis and its aftermath indicates that new media and emergent transnational civil society cannot substitute for physical human organization within the nation that is centralized around a mission of resistance to—and reconfiguration of–the existing regime.