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University News

Egypt GISP examines impact of social media

Staff Writer
Friday, February 25, 2011


Inspired by the recent popular unrest in Egypt, Claudia Norton ’13 and Raillan Brooks ’14 created a last-minute Group Independent Study Project Feb. 7 to examine social media and its impact on the recent Arab revolutions. Because the deadline to apply for a  GISP passed Nov. 5, Norton and Brooks reclassified their project as a Department GISP to enable them to study the protests as they happened.

The jumping-off point for the GISP was a class both students are taking — SOC 1871R: “Knowledge Networks and Global Transformation,” taught by Michael Kennedy, director of the Watson Institute. 

“The protests in Cairo happened. We were talking about them in class, and I woke up one morning and was like, ‘Well, got to create a GISP.’ What is the University for if not this?” Norton said.

Norton said she was inspired to investigate the issue further based on her previous experiences in Egypt.

“I lived in Cairo over the summer between my junior and senior year of high school,” she said, “I was part of a community there that I am still a part of.”

“What fascinated me about the project was how, for the first time really in my experience, social media was touted as the method or channel for revolution,” Brooks said, “I thought that the argument was compelling,” Brooks said.

“We wanted to understand exactly what role social media played, instead of relying on the broad brush strokes that were provided to us in the English media,” Brooks said.

The two said they hope that the project will expand beyond its current class form. Norton and Brooks plan on applying for an AT&T New Media fellowship to provide funding for a documentary they hope to complete by the planned September elections in Egypt, Norton said. 

Norton and Brooks both said the less stringent requirements of a Departmental GISP suit the unique needs of the course — its syllabus can change as the political situation in Egypt evolves.

“Right now, the way we have conceived it, it would kind of be a bit presumptuous to create a thematic approach from the get-go. What we’re trying to do is move with the demonstrations as they occur across the region,” Brooks said.

The two have expanded their original plan of study to include protests in other Arab states including Tunisia and Bahrain, Norton said.

“We’re not just going at this cold with just a media studies perspective,” Norton said. “We’re also studying in-depth history of political context in Egypt.”

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