Gamers, Hunters, Provocateurs: Digital Mediations of Violence, Gender, and Race in the Middle East
This book examines the relationship between the creation of the Middle East as both a digital and geographical space, and the gendered politics of technological interventionism in the region by states, global markets, and international organizations. I begin by identifying a shift in thinking within dominant internationalist frameworks about the so-called ‘woman problem’ in the Middle East, where more overtly militaristic discourses following 9/11 have been variably superseded and underscored by a new prescriptive vision situated within rhetorics of techno-utopic change. This vision foregrounds abstract notions of equality, democracy and freedom through religious, social, and political reform enabled by social media and networked communication through the production and sharing of user-generated content. Looking at a number of popular examples including crowdmapping sexual harassment in Egypt, the use of nudity as a form of social media activism in Tunisia and Egypt, and the libidinal economy of selfie taking and sharing among female IDF soldiers and supporters, the book maps the disciplinary effects of digital platforms and devices in the creation of objects, bodies and spaces for intervention, and how devices and platforms shape communication along racialized and gendered lines through, for instance, hashtagging, visual arrangements of data, and content moderation. Thus rather than simply champion new opportunities for women’s participation in politics and public dialogue through technological innovation developed by proprietary networks, or alternatively dismiss digital technologies and platforms as peripheral to ‘real’ politics on the ground, Gamers Hunters Provocateurs emphasizes that spaces of intervention are populated not only by people, but also by algorithms, gaming engines, spambots, and other technical apparatuses. Ultimately the book argues for the importance of engaging the material expressions of computational media alongside considerations of the plurality of feminist, anti-imperial, and class-conscious political experiments happening across the region.
Research Project on the Politics of Gaming in the Middle East
My second major research project was selected for a 2016-2017 Fulbright Award in the Middle East and North Africa Regional Research Program to continue fieldwork on the transnational politics of gaming in the region, and the creative politics of play communities in Lebanon, the UAE, Qatar, Morocco and Jordan. As part of this project, I will be a visiting researcher at Abu Dhabi University and Qatar University in Spring/Summer 2017.
The project currently has three areas of focus: 1) the political economy of gaming in the region, including video and computer game markets, conferences and conventions, local distribution, and how these dynamics are affected by state participation, labor relations, and capital flows; 2) how video games and computer simulations are being incorporated into national institutional agendas, particularly in the areas of security and education. This includes the development of digital game-based learning for police training and public awareness campaigns, and the incorporation of game-based learning in national educational programs; and 3) how players and designers use games as expressive social and cultural forms of mediation in the construction of historical narrative, and in expressions of contemporary political life in and through practices of play.
I recently finished the first stage of field research for this project in Beirut, where I attended the MEGA MENA Games Conference in April.
social media and crowd technologies as modes of non-state violent organizing
My third area of research focuses on how crowdfunding platforms, social networking sites, and other forms of participatory media are changing what it means to 'go off to war' in profound ways. Today sites like GoFundMe, IndiGoGo and Facebook allow former military, private contractors, and citizens with no military training to engage in recruitment efforts for modes of non-state violent organizing, to facilitate the purchase of plane tickets, weapons, and armor through individual small-scale donations, and to solicit monetary support upon their return as payment for these self-crafted missions. As part of this research, I've been considering three examples of this emerging phenomenon: 1) US civilians' use of crowdfunding platforms to travel to Iraq and Syria and engage in combat operations against the Islamic State (ISIS) group outside the purview of US government and military operations and oversight; 2) the use of crowdfunding by Sons of Liberty International, which claims to be the first non-profit security contractor for 'vulnerable populations'; and 3) the People's Project, a volunteer group which allows individual donors to provide financial contributions online to Ukrainian battalions for combat operations against Russian-backed separatists. These activities provide unique insights into contemporary shifts in interpretations of domestic and international laws of war, which I argue can only be partially understood through the literature on the use of private contractors in theaters of combat. Moreover, the use of crowdfunding applications to transcend the ‘collective action’ problem of national security raises important questions about the increasing militarization of so-called ‘citizen’ responses in Europe and the United States to perceived security threats.