After being launched in 2008, the journal Media, War & Conflict has reached the top quartile of journals in Political Science and International Relations. This is based on its SJR impact factor from Scopus, based on articles' citations over three years from publication date. The journal is ranked 86th of 380 journals. It is also 68/235 among Communication journals. Submissions to the journal more than doubled in 2014. Thank you to all those who carry out reviews or submit your research to the journal. The upward curve is steep and we look forward to publishing more excellent research through 2015 and beyond.
In the journal Global Policy Ben O’Loughlin and Andrew Hoskins introduce the concept of ‘Arrested War’ to describe how mainstream media is re-appropriating the images and stories that describe contemporary conflicts. Comments on this article are very welcome, to Ben.OLoughlin@rhul.ac.uk
In the past two decades we have passed through three phases of media ecology, and each has shaped a different way media have entered into the operations and understandings of war and conflict. The 1990s saw the final stage of broadcast era war. National and satellite television and the press had a lock on what mass audiences witnessed, and governments could exercise relative control of journalists’ access and reporting. By the turn of the millennium, mass internet penetration and the post-9/11 war on terror signaled a second phase, that we called the emergence of Diffused War. Here, the embedding of digital enabled more of war and its consequences to be recorded, archived, searched and shared – war’s mediatization. An unprecedented sense of chaos and flux beset both those conducting war and mainstream media organisations used to having a monopoly on its reporting. Content seemed to emerge from nowhere, effects had no causes, and uncertainty reigned. This was a wild west moment in which much of the media ecology felt ‘out there’, beyond; the centre could not hold.
But today, the centre has adapted and come back stronger than ever before. The mainstream is the media ecology. User-generated content and its chaotic dynamics ‘out there’ have been absorbed and appropriated. In the 2000s Al-Qaeda established a jihadist media culture outside the mainstream, only dipping into mass television and internet spaces to deposit a video or spectacular act of violence. Today, to the extent they can stay one step ahead of the CIA and moderators, IS rely on Twitter, a mainstream US platform whose affordances IS are happy to work within. The mainstream has enveloped the extreme. It has regained its powers of gatekeeping, of verification, of defining agendas. Any content that is acclaimed as alternative, oppositional or outside, only acquires significant value when acknowledged and remediated by the mainstream. Virality and spreadability, key concepts of phase two of the ‘new media ecology’, are not part of a sustainable, user-generated phenomenon, but are ultimately arrested by the mainstream.
What we are describing is the realignment of our media ecology [...] Continued reading here.
The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication has just published a study, authored by Cristian Vaccari (with Augusto Valeriani from the University of Bologna and Pablo Barberá, Rich Bonneau, John T. Jost, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua A. Tucker from the Social Media and Political Participation lab at New York University) that discusses the relationship between political information and expression on social media and other forms of online political participation. The study, titled "Political Expression and Action on Social Media: Exploring the Relationship Between Lower- and Higher-Threshold Political Activities Among Twitter Users in Italy" finds that there is a strong positive correlation between less demanding activities (often dismissed as "slacktivism") such as getting informed about politics and informally expressing one's political viewpoints on social media and more demanding ones, such as campaigning for a party or candidate on social media and attending an offline political event after receiving an online invitation to it. The research employs a novel method to survey Twitter users who talk about politics, which Vaccari has developed as the Principal Investigator of a comparative project on social media and political engagement funded by the Italian Ministry of Education, and is based on online interviews with a sample of 1,493 Twitter users who discussed the Italian 2013 election campaign on this platform. Here is the abstract:
Scholars and commentators have debated whether lower-threshold forms of political engagement on social media should be treated as being conducive to higher-threshold modes of political participation or a diversion from them. Drawing on an original survey of a representative sample of Italians who discussed the 2013 election on Twitter, we demonstrate that the more respondents acquire political information via social media and express themselves politically on these platforms, the more they are likely to contact politicians via e-mail, campaign for parties and candidates using social media, and attend offline events to which they were invited online. These results suggest that lower-threshold forms of political engagement on social media do not distract from higher-threshold activities, but are strongly associated with them.
The authors welcome feedback and comments. Supplementary materials can be found on the project's website.
Akil Awan writes for The National Interest on the Charlie Hebdo attacks, radical religion, and the failed promise of the French Republic's national narrative:
The masked gunmen who assaulted the Charlie Hebdo offices in a hail of automatic gunfire, leaving twelve people dead in their wake, were heard proclaiming, "we have avenged the Prophet Muhammad." Amateur footage also revealed the killers invoking God with the Arabic phrase, “Allahu Akbar”—an otherwise-innocuous, everyday religious utterance, but one that is frequently usurped as the jihadists’ battle cry, in pointed attempts to consecrate their brutal violence.
What should we make of the killers’ sanctimonious declarations that they were in fact acting in defense of their holy figure—a reference to the magazine’s irreverent and controversial depictions of the Muslim prophet?
How might we reconcile their claim that they were exacting vengeance on behalf of all Muslims for these apparent affronts, when at least two of their victims were also Muslims?
Both Ahmed Merabet, the police officer callously executed at point-blank range on the pavement outside the offices, and Mustapha Ourrad, Charlie Hebdo’s copy editor, shared the faith of their killers.
Perhaps most importantly, how should we react to their self-righteous assertions to be the supreme moral arbiters of Muslim religious sensitivities and sanctities?
A good start would be to treat their self-aggrandizing claims with the ridicule that they deserve.
One inescapable and glaring incongruity with the claims of these “religious avengers” is just how religiously illiterate the vast majority of these individuals actually are. This is particularly true of Western Muslims, who have been lured to fight for ISIS, or who have carried out attacks at home. Most are not particularly religious prior to their involvement with violence, being raised in largely secular households, with only a rudimentary grasp of their parental faith.
Nevertheless, one of the stubborn enduring myths surrounding jihadist terrorism has been the preeminence of religion over other motivations, and it is easy to understand why this might be the case. Many of these individuals themselves employ starkly religious language, and invoke religious texts that promise “other-worldly” rewards as compensation for “this-worldly” sacrifice, including the guarantee of eternal Paradise, and most famously, the lascivious offering of seventy-two heavenly virgins.
But, crucially, in many of these instances, we have to be aware of the post-hoc attribution of religious meaning and validation to their acts. To put it differently, religion does not provide the initial motive, but it does provide the motif or stamp of approval. Take the example of a young man who wants to go to Syria to fight for any reason that is not explicitly religious. It is not enough to just fight and even die like a jihadi, but to be accepted by that community (and indeed not to end up beheaded as a member of a rival group), you need to walk, talk and behave like one of them, too. The highly stylized “martyrdom testaments” suicide bombers record prior to their deaths are a very good example of this sort of conformity—it is no accident they all look and sound pretty much the same.
One recent telling example of this sort of religiosity tacked on at the end is the case of Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar, two young British men from Birmingham who were jailed for travelling to Syria to join and fight alongside a jihadist group in 2013, in response to what they saw as their religious duty. But it was the reading material they purchased to accompany them on their trip, the books, Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies, which are most revealing about their lack of religious literacy and motivation.
And this characterization appears to hold equally true for the violent men who attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices. The Kouachi brothers, as orphaned children of Algerian immigrants, were raised in foster care, and certainly not as pious Muslims. Rather, as the French newspaper Libération reported back in 2005, Cherif led a decidedly nondevout and hedonistic lifestyle—smoking marijuana, drinking alcohol, listening to gangster rap and having numerous girlfriends. Indeed, during his trial in 2008 for helping to transport jihadist fighters from France to Iraq, Cherif’s lawyer described his client as an “occasional Muslim.”
Now, this is not to exonerate religion in any sense. Religion has historically been responsible for a great deal of violence, and religious texts and doctrines often appear to condone death and destruction. However, unlike believers, academics tend to understand religion as a product of social, economic, political and other factors that offer solutions to something.
So what does religion offer a solution to, in the case of Europe’s jihadists?
The journal Media, War & Conflict has published a special issue marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. The articles explore the role of media in the war's memorialisation. The issue was guest edited by Sarah Maltby, convenor of the War and Media Network and a new editor on the MWC staff. Read Sarah's brief introduction to the special issue here.
The special issue contains the journal's first video abstract. This is for 'The last post: British press representations of veterans of the Great War' by Nick Webber and Paul Long from the University of Birmingham. Alongside the typical 200 word abstract, the authors have uploaded a video talking us through the ideas behind the article. These video abstracts are likely to become more common, and we would be grateful for any feedback to S.Maltby@sussex.ac.uk. Thanks to Nick and Paul for being willing to put themselves up first.
Akil Awan to speak at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on Jihadist Narratives in a Turbulent Middle East and North Africa
Akil Awan will be speaking next week, 12 December 2014 at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Royal United Services Institute one day conference on Jihadist Narratives in a Turbulent MENA Region at Whitehall. Organised by the FCO's National Security Research Group and Middle East and North Africa Research Group, the conference will look at how jihadist narratives have evolved in recent years in response to events in the MENA region, with leading experts in the field discussing recent trends before suggesting implications for policymakers.
To attend, please RSVP to Simon.Staffell@fco.gov.uk & Marie.Haynesperks@fco.gov.uk
Welcome address: Simon Gass, Director General Political, FCO 9:00
SESSION ONE: Start, 9:15; End 10:45
Chair and discussant: Laurie Bristow, Director National Security, FCO
1. Simon Staffell: Overview: Jihadist Narratives in a Turbulent Middle East
2. Donald Holbrook: AQ Senior Leaders
Iraq, Syria and Jordan
3. Nelly Lahoud: ISIL
4. Joas Wagemakers: Jordanian Narratives
SESSION TWO: North Africa Start, 11:15; End 12:30
Chair and discussant: Cornelia Sorabji, Head of Research Analysts, FCO
5. Omar Ashour: Libya and Egypt
6. Valentina Bartolucci: Maghreb
7. Jonathan Githens-Mazer: Tunisia
SESSION THREE: Other Regions and Responses Start, 13:30; End 15:00
Chair and discussant: Raffaello Pantucci, Director International Security Studies, RUSI
8. Elisabeth Kendall: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
9. Christopher Anzalone: Shia responses to Jihadist narratives in a turbulent MENA
10. Martha Turnball: Responses from jihadists outside MENA
SESSION FOUR: Implications for Policy and at Home Start, 15:00; End: 16:30
Chair and discussant: Raffaello Pantucci, Director International Security Studies, RUSI
11. Akil Awan: Impact on radicalisation
12. Rachel Briggs: Policy implications
Last night Ben O'Loughlin spoke at the launch for Tobias Blanke's new book, Digital Asset Ecosystems: Rethinking Crowds and Clouds. Tobias is Senior Lecturer at the Centre for E-Research at King's College London.
Tobias argues we inhabit ecosystems best understood through the complementary interaction of clouds (digital platforms, ubiquitous and heavily interlinked) and crowds (humans collaborating, knowingly or not). Clouds and crowds are ‘two sides of the same coin’ (p3). Through this division of labour, value is produced – cultural, social, economic but primarily network value. This means rethinking what digital assets are. They are not files, objects or items with content; they are connectors whose value depends on them being circulated and consumed through networks.
The research task that follows, for those of us in political communication as well as in digital humanities and big data research, is to follow the assets. Tobias writes, ‘how digital assets integrate in digital networks in their life cycle, how they move from place to place and from system to system, and how they pass through the hands of ‘dedicated communities’’ (p8, italics added) This is similar to Arjun Appadurai’s approach to cultural economy in tribal societies: follow objects and the meaning they have to their holders/consumers as they pass from person to person. The difference between passing a sacred artifact or gift around then and passing a campaign strategy document around today is that today network effects kick in. The circuit of connectivity around the object is open, unknowable in advance, and difficult to control without harsh rights management techniques. The NPCU has tracked and theorised how these assets become meaningful and valuable, for instance through Chadwick’s work on Obama's campaign videos or O’Loughlin’s work on jihadist videos.
But a conceptual problem becomes apparent in a digital ecosystem. Is meaning – and therefore ascription of value -- only generated by humans? Tobias shows this might not be the case. The semantic web or web 3.0 allows computers to evaluate how an object/asset is valuable qua what it can do and what functions it can help with within digital networks. The result is we find a mix of computers calculating link-ability in big data and use-ability in networks, and humans calculating qualitatively; somehow these join together – clouds and crowds perform ongoing co-evaluation operations. In this way, digital assets are continually valued, assessed, integrated; their value is ongoing-ly produced and affirmed or diminished.
This leads to a conception of rational, strategic action: harness and deploy this interplay of clouds and crowds to generate things of value, i.e. that connect, sell, connect, sell. Tobias discusses the case of Amazon’s Mechanical Turks and other free, voluntary or cheap labour. The book explores the political economy of digital ecosystems and offers a fresh understanding of value, labour, property and other classic concepts in a way that moves on from the open source debates of the 1990s and 2000s. All of this leads naturally to questions of open data. Most clouds are privately owned and owners like Amazon and Apple are strategic about how to open or close them in ways that maximize network value. Most citizens are not so strategic and lack the resources to create their own clouds. Could we have public service clouds? Not when trust in the state is so low, after the actions of the NSA and GCHQ. But what does public even mean anymore? Is it necessarily synonymous with the state? And what prospects are there for public demand for open data to be generated and them realized? Given that our political subjectivities and strategies are formed within these digital ecosystems, surely the loop is closed?
The book is well worth a read and shows the virtue of interdisciplinary thinking. As one of the social scientists present noted after the discussion, who knew that computer science had theory?
Ben O'Loughlin will present in the weekly seminar of the Department of Criminology & Sociology today at 4pm. His title is 'Tweeting the Olympics: The BBC, Engagement and Influence after London 2012'. Ben will present social media research done by the New Political Communication Unit and the Open University with BBC World during the 2012 Olympics and look ahead to how audience engagement can be conceptualised and measured in a hybrid, multilingual media landscape.
Time: 4pm - 5.30pm
Place: Arts Building G24
Refreshments will be available in the Arts Building Foyer from 3.45pm.