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Centre for Media and Film Studies

Mediated Culture in the Middle East: Politics and Communication

Course Code:
15PMSH003
Unit value:
0.5
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2

Anyone who wants to understand the Middle East, particularly the Arab world after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, needs to understand the relationship between the region’s media and culture and between media and politics. For the past 40 years, the communications ecology of the Middle East has been shaped by a mass media regime, a one-to-many model of communication, with a strong structural ‘fit’ with authoritarian, centralised regimes. This model, dominated by representations of state power, authority and symbolic legitimacy, has been important in defining a mass citizenry that has been largely seen as conforming to the views of the state.

This easy fit relationship has been challenged by the proliferation of transnational and new media which are providing new communicative spaces for social action and interaction. Much has been said about the new media’s potential for change, both on the political and social level, because of their potential in providing spaces for marginalised voices, including those of women, and their ostensibly censor-free content. Much has been written about the ways in which new media coupled with rising levels of education are resetting the parameters of citizenship across the different countries in the Middle East. What is not so obvious, however, is how these challenges have been uneven: regulation of and access to information vary considerably depending on the particular nation state, and the short-term influence of new media has been contradictory, not the least when discussing traditionally marginalised groups, such as women. Furthermore, few studies have been carried out on how audiences make use of these media as major sites for ongoing struggles for participation and dissent and for more open communicative spaces vital for the development of civil societies.

Course Structure

The course consists of 10 weekly one-hour lectures plus a one-hour two seminars.
The lectures are not formally structured and are meant to help provide students with the theoretical approaches central to the study of media, culture and politics. The seminars are student-led and demand intelligent, critical and engaged discussions as well as prepared presentations by each student. Each week will have key texts that need to be read by all and that need to be discussed in relation to the topic of the week and the seminar presentation. The themes discussed in the lectures and seminars will provide the basis for essay titles. Presentations may count for 10 per cent of the course grade. Each student must complete the readings and come to the class ready to discuss and engage with them critically and in-depth.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

Aims and Objectives:
  • To provide a detailed and historically grounded understanding of the political and media systems in the Middle East and the relationship between the two, drawing on theoretical contributions from the political science, political communication and Middle Eastern literature.
  • To provide an overview of how globalisation and the politics of development are affecting the Middle East, with specific attention to the effects of (new) media.
  • To problematise the relationship between culture, society, media and religion.
  • To consider the diversity of media and political systems in the Middle East. The course will focus on specific countries.
  • To problematise the relationship between media and democratisation processes in the Middle East and the impact of new media developments on societal interaction and civil society by exploring the meaning and relevance of terms such as civil society, public opinion and the public sphere within the ME.
  • To explore the ways in which youth and women in the ME, traditionally marginalised groups, may use the new media to enhance their participation in public life.
Outcomes:
  • Apply theoretical approaches and critical comparative paradigms to understand the changing media and cultural landscape in the region.
  • Compare case studies and various forms of communication; the visual and the oral.
  • Describe the relevance of a critical approach to understanding media development, role and impact.
  • Identify the interplay of domestic, regional and global factors in the communication landscape in the region.
  • Evaluate the cultural and ideological structures of media.
  • Appreciate the transnational aspects of media.
  • Critically evaluate the relationship between media, politics and culture.

Scope and syllabus

This course takes up the study of the relationship between politics, culture and communication in the Middle East through two inter-related approaches, the first thematic and the second through comparative analyses of case studies. It draws on theoretical approaches central to the study of culture, politics and communication, as well as theoretical frameworks used in other disciplines, to critically assess the continuously changing media and cultural landscape in the Middle East and interrogate the relationship between media, culture and politics. By the end of the course, students will have gained the following skills:

Method of assessment

100% Coursework.

The course will be assessed by one essay of not more than 5,000 words.
Students choose their topic and agree with the course leader how they wish to proceed. The deadline is the first day of the week of the second term. Students are encouraged to use case studies.

Suggested reading

Reading list:

The books and articles listed below are designed to guide students in preparing for the classes and for the coursework as well as for their research, should they wish to focus on the Middle East.  Some of these are available at the SOAS library.

It may, however, be necessary for students to use other libraries for support. The library of the London School of Economics can be used by registered SOAS students. Others specialist libraries with Middle East materials are: The International Institute of Strategic Studies, Temple Place, London, and the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in St. James’ Square.

Students are encouraged to keep up to date with current events and developments in the Middle East, with particular attention to media developments and coverage trends.

Students are highly encouraged to use Blackboard (BLE) for group discussions and ideas.

There are a number of web sites which students would find useful.

  1. BBC. This includes the world service online; Middle East News; BBC Persian Service features and news and BBC Arabic service
  2.  The International Society for Iranian Studies (USA)
  3. Arab media and society
  4. News agencies and other publications
  5. Blogs
  6. CIA Factbook on states of the world
  7. Amnesty International
  8. Middle East Report (Washington)
  9. Gulf 2000 project political analysis of the Gulf area
Journals:

The Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication. See www.brill.nl
The Journal of Media Practice
Media, Culture and Society
The Journal of