November 24, 2009
Cultures of Resistance: Technology's Effects On and From the Iranian Election

Over the next couple of weeks, I'm planning to bring to the C3 blog a handful of presentations that have been given recently at MIT and Harvard.

Today's feature is a quick reflection on a talk I attended this afternoon at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. The presentation was titled #iranelection: The digital media response to the 2009 Iranian election, and was delivered by Cameran Ashraf (Adjunct Faculty member in the Department of Geography and Anthropology at California State University, Pomona) and Brett Solomon (recently Campaign Director at and Executive Director at The description from the Berkman Center's website follows:

The ability of social and digital media to play a crucial role in helping mass social movements coordinate and communicate effectively has been highlighted by the recent post-election unrest in Iran. Due to the borderless nature of digital communications, the resources available to many activists can now be global in scale and supported by virtually instantaneous communication. Some governments have taken notice of this borderless nature and the potential threat it poses. To limit communications within and with the outside world they have erected their own border in the form of firewalls, monitoring mechanisms and internet filtering systems.

With Iran as a case study, this presentation will explore the role new communication technologies are playing in the post-election unrest, how people outside of Iran are helping through digital media, and the Iranian government's efforts at maintaining its information border.

Working with existing projects and movements in the field, a new ongoing movement for digital freedom is forming (, rallying digital activists and ordinary online citizens around the world, to assist political freedom movements and civil society who are being shut out from their rights to information, political expression and assembly.

My short reaction and a link to the presentation video follow after the jump.

While I have previously done work in relation to the Iranian election, especially its appeal and response on Twitter (see the work of me and my colleagues at the Web Ecology Project by reading our report, Iran Election on Twitter: The First Eighteen Days), today's presentation hit on many of the cultural issues evolving inside Iran which have occurred pretty recently.

Cameran continuously used the phrase "culture of resistance" when explaining the likely success of the student political movements surrounding the Iranian election. He argued that because political resistance has been ingrained into the culture and practices of (practically) everyday Iranian life, it would be difficult for the movements to crumble. Even given that the Iranian government attempted to censor and block much of the Internet throughout the election period, the students persisted by moving the online portions of the resistance offline, in the form of printable stencils and posters. Online, the use of proxy servers helped continue to spread word of protests and citizen-delivered news.

While the Internet clearly is helping facilitate political agendas, it is not widespread across Iran. Approximately 40% of the country's population uses the Internet, and most of these citizens are young and live in urban areas.

However, Cameran related in his talk that these geographies (specifically rural neighborhoods) and demographics (both older and younger than the college-age students) that have not been penetrated by the Internet are slowly beginning to be influenced by the techno-savvy student populations. In fact, Cameran reported that this November, many of the students had been teaching high school- and middle school-aged kids to better understand the technological components of computers and the online space, and these younger students are now helping out with the resistant movements.

And the same has been happening with older members of Iranian society, especially those who look back on and want to reconcile their mistakes. According to Cameran, in a large number of Iranian families, the younger generation understands and lives in the online world, but even if their parents or grandparents do not utilize the Internet, the online space appears in the offline space. Videos from the movements are making their ways through family networks and neighborhoods, especially by way of strong bootleg community.

There's an intriguing sort of cultural convergence going on currently in Iran: one which is not precipitated by information or interest in the digital, but one that grows because of personal conflict with the government and nation. The digital divide is slowly crumbling as more citizens come to understand digital environments to make change in their physical and social environments.

While the presentation is not yet available online, it should be uploaded to the Berkman Center's website (specifically the Berkman Luncheon page, where you can see a host of interesting videos by excellent speakers) fairly soon. Look out for it!