On the Politics of Egalitarian Networks: The Case of “50 Seats for Egalitarian Women” in the 2016 Parliamentary Elections in Iran
This paper looks at the February 2016 Iranian parliamentary elections, and ways in which innovative campaigns built around mediated action can empower women in an authoritarian legal-political context. Organized by a group of women’s rights activists, the campaign known as the “50 Seats for egalitarian women” was launched in early 2016 with the objective to encourage women to run for office and, more importantly, increase participation in the parliamentary elections. With merely 3% female representatives in the parliament, women right activists engaged in a number of social networking campaigns to increase female representation with an “egalitarian” mindset. In terms of platform, therefore, the campaign sought to carve out a new politics of women’s rights, especially in the digital sphere where connections are viewed beyond the confines of social reality. This paper argues that the “50 seats for Egalitarian Women” campaign identifies a distinct form of activism revolving around media convergence that entails complex networked identity practices with implications in shifting gender boundaries between the private and the public. The campaign was successful in mobilizing short-term contentious performances and build affective bonds between activists and non-activists in an attempt to contest the legal-political status of woman in Iranian politics. The study looks at the dynamics between weak and strong ties and shows how social networking through media convergence, in particular mobile apps such as Telegram, can transform activism to what Thérèse F. Tierney describes as “networked publics”. But the study also critically engages with various surveillance practices that paradoxically can undermine the formation of networked publics into what could be described as networked panoptics through which state power undergoes the dynamics of digitization.
Babak Rahimi earned his PhD from the European University Institute, Florence, Italy (2004) and obtained an M.A. in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy (1997). In 2000-2001, he was a Visiting Fellows at the Department of Anthropology, the London School of Economics and Political Science. His monograph, Theater-State and Formation of the Early Modern Public Sphere in Iran: Studies on Safavid Muharram Rituals, 1590-1641 C.E. (Brill 2011), traces the origins of the Iranian public sphere in the early-seventeenth century Safavid Empire with a focus on the relationship between state-building, urban space and ritual culture. Rahimi is also the co-editor (David Faris) of Social Media in Iran (SUNY Press 2015) also (Armando Salvatore and Roberto Tottoli) The Wiley Blackwell History of Islam (Wiley Blackwell). His articles have appeared in Thesis Eleven: Critical Theory and Historical Sociology, International Political Science Review, International Communication Gazette, International Journal of Middle East Studies, The Middle East Journal, The Communication Review, and Journal of the International Society for Iranian Studies. Rahimi has been an expert guest on various media programs like The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, BBC and CNN, in addition to NPR and On the Media. He has also been a visiting scholar at the Internet Institute, University of Oxford (2010) and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania (2012). Rahimi was also a Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, Washington DC (2005-2006). Rahimi’s research interests concern the relationship between culture, religion and technology. The historical and social contexts that inspire his research range from early modern Islamicate societies to contemporary Iran.