Victoria Tahmasebi-Birgani

Conference Chair

Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies University of Toronto

The Mobilizing Power of Social Media: The Case of Iranian Women


Despite Middle Eastern governments excessive filtering of the internet, censoring and arresting cyber activists and social media users, and issuing harsh prison sentences for these individuals, women’s online activism continues to target social, political, cultural and economic inequalities and environmental crisis. These activities have brought the political mobilizing force of cyberspace, as well as the role of women in these movements, sharply into focus.  Middle Eastern women are leading the way in creating multiple sites of virtual, and highly mobile “civil societies” where the electronic flow of ideas and information is shaping the radical democratic aspirations of the citizens in this region. My research on selected social networks, created and run by women’s organizations and activists, indicates women appropriate these platforms to imagine new radical, yet non-violent forms of activism as well as to craft a range of social-networking strategies to attain a variety of goals. I propose that women in the Middle East are moving away from one dimensional articulation of the “socio-political,” and are instead adopting a conjunctural approach wherein different forms of inequality are read as “realities-events” that emerge and evolve with one another. Therefore, these networked virtual platforms have become transient civil societies offering participants a chance to identify, highlight and examine the intersections of various patterns of inequalities and form virtual conversations around these issues.

Victoria Tahmasebi-Birgani is an Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies, in the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Toronto Mississauga and in Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto. Dr. Tahmasebi is an interdisciplinary scholar whose areas of specialization encompass feminist theories in relation to continental and transnational contexts; critical theories of women’s movements in the Middle East; digital activism; gender and ethics of non-violence; contemporary history of social and political thought. She holds an Honours B.A. in Sociology and Women’s Studies from the University of Toronto, and M.A. and Ph.D. in Social and Political Thought from York University, Toronto, Canada. Some of her recent and forthcoming publications include:
Manuscript: Emmanuel Levinas and Politics of Non-Violence (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014)
“Women Continue the Unfinished Project of Liberation in the MENA Region through Online Activism,” in The Unfinished Project of Social Movements in the Middle East, edited by Mojtaba Mahdavi (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2017).
“Social Media as a Site of Transformative Politics and Political Dissent: Iranian Women’s Online Contestations,” in Iran’s Struggles for Social Justice: Economics, Agency, Justice, and Activism, edited by Peyman Vahabzadeh (New York/London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2017).
“The Sexed Body of the Woman-(M)Other: Irigaray and Marcuse on the Intersection of Gender and Ethical Intersubjectivity,” in Subversive Itinerary. Eds. Shannon Bell and Peter Kulchyski (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013).
 “Green Women of Iran: The Role of the Women’s Movement During and After Iran’s Presidential Election of 2009,” Constellations: An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory, (March 2010), 17 (1). Reprinted in Civil Society and Democracy in Iran, ed. Ramin Jahanbegloo (New York: Lexington Books, 2012).