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A Comic Rendition:  Comparative Revolutions and Social Media
(Part 1 of this assignment is due in class on Wednesday 16 November.  Part 2 of this assignment is due in class on Monday 21 November).

In our current unit on Comparative Revolutions our learning community is studying the role of social media in the popular uprisings referred to as the Arab Spring. There are pundits and politicians referring to these events as a Twitter Revolution and arguing that social media are making these uprisings possible.  Indeed, across the Middle East, from Tunisia to Iran*, dictators and despots have ruled autocratically for decades.  The democratic yearnings that historically have brought the people of these countries into the streets to protest against their governments and to demand freedom, justice and the rule of law have often been put down, sometimes through the use of lethal military force. At this historical moment, however, there have been some great successes!  Consider Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.  These are very different countries, however each is experiencing revolutionary change.  Yet, the plight of the people in Syria and Iran seems desperate, even tragic.

(*Though Iran is a prominent country in the Middle East, it is not an Arab country).

1. Why suddenly are we witnessing real social and political change in some Middle Eastern Countries and not in others?  
2. In this context, has the role of social media and/or the Internet been fairly represented by traditional news sources and/or politicians?  Why?  Why not?

3. Is the social and political change in some Middle Eastern Countries due to social media such as Twitter and Facebook?
4. Based on your research, what has been the role of social media in the popular uprisings described as the Arab Spring?

Working in groups of four (4): (Sign up right now)

A. Create four (4) political comic strips, one for each query (see above).

B. Each comic is to have at least four (4) panels.

C. Using a standard form (APA, MLS, Chicago, etc.) produce a bibliography for each comic strip. 

Use the Web 2.0 comic tool Pixton to create your comic strips.  Make a user account at the Pixton website.  Point your browser to this address: http://www.pixton.com/. Pixton offers a wealth of information, guidance and tutorials to support you and your group members on this revolutionary graphic adventure.  Before getting started, it’s a great idea to explore and mess around a bit; get to know how Pixton works.


(Please note: there is a strong likelihood that costs will be involved. Though it should not exceed $1.50/group member).

This assignment is weighted as four blogs. For this assignment, you will be evaluated by me using the holistic rubric that I have developed.  Additionally, you are required to anonymously assess the contribution of each member of your group using an interactive version this rubric (which I still need to build).



Readings:  You are welcome to supplement these readings with additional readings of your choosing. 

 Nepstad, S. (2011)  Nonviolent revolutions : civil resistance in the late 20th century. New York : Oxford University Press. Ch. 1: "What are the conditions for revolution?"


 Morozov, E. (2011) The net delusion : the dark side of Internet freedom. New York, NY : Public Affairs.  Introduction, Ch. 1: The Google doctrine, and Ch. 2: Texting like it's 1989.


Morozov, E. (2011) The net delusion : the dark side of Internet freedom. New York, NY : Public Affairs.  Ch. 3: Orwell's favorite lolcat, and Ch. 4: Censors and sensibilities.


Remarks on Internet Freedom

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State

Washington, DC

January 21, 2010


The First Twitter Revolution?  

Ethan Zuckerman, writing for Foreign Policy highlights in this article the overblown credit to Social Media for toppling the Tunisian government.


Why Social Media is Reinventing Activism  

Sara Kessler reports for Mashable, among other outlets as a freelance journalist.  This article, perhaps the most positive take on the success of social media making a difference.  Be sure to following the links she provides to change.org. avaaz.org, and wearevisible.com.


 Gause, Gregory (2011). Why Middle East Studies Missed the Arab Spring. Foreign Affairs, 90(4), 81-90.

This is a short piece in the July/August 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs on the Arab Spring and how academics missed it.  Read this to get a sense of the number of Middle East countries involved in the uprisings of 2011.  For background on each country go to the CIA's World Factbook and the BBC Timelines for each of the countries mentioned here.  Also see the maps of the Middle East at the UT Austin site.


Kinzer, S. (2008). Inside Iran's Fury. Smithsonian, 39(7), 60-70Photo Gallery

This is a nice summary of Iranian history by journalist and student of foreign affairs--Stephen Kinzer.  This brief historical overview here--organized around an explanation of Iranian nationalism--includes a description of the 1953 covert overthrow of the democratically elected government in 1953 by the United States and the 1979 mass protests that led to the overthrow of the Shah. 


Malcom Gladwell on social media and social change

This article in the New Yorker offers a summary explanation of sociological theory (Doug McAdam) on key factor in organizing demonstrations for serious social or political change--need for "strong-tie."  Gladwell's article begins with the example of the lunch-counter demonstration in 1960 Greensboro, North Carolina protesting segregation.   What made that demonstration grow (and become iconic in the Civil Rights Movement)?   The key is not social media.  Gladwell concludes that social media is a useful tool for making the status quo more efficient; it is not a significant factor for bringing about major social change.


James Fallows on Chinese Winter

This recent piece from the Atlantic by James Fallows comments on Chinese government’s response and capacity for suppression of any possible spread of Arab Spring to China. 


Review from London Review of Books   

This is a review essay by James Harkin in the London Review of Books critical of the actual utility of social media for political mobilization. This review was published in December 2010, just before the Arab Spring. It refers to use, or bungled attempts to promote, social media by the U.S. Government as tool of statecraft. The primary case here is the summer 2009 mobilization in Iran sparked by the June 2009 presidential election and apparent fraud. 


NYTimes piece critical of "Facebook Revolutions"   

This March 2011 piece by Simon Montefiore in the New York Times argues the point that “Facebook Revolutions” are mobilizations without organization. The actual accomplishment of regime transformation requires more.


Comments (1)

David Shutkin said

at 12:49 pm on Nov 20, 2011

Reflecting on this assignment it is flawed in several respects. First, the students, in their groups, develop strategies to minimize work. This makes sense on one level, but what is sacrificed is more potential for real learning. To address this, I have two ideas: 1. the cartoons need must be serial. This would require the students to better collaborate; 2. The general queries are two broad and easily misunderstood. Instead, queries could require students to directly address specific articles, the key ideas or theme or a contradiction or a limitation.

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