Over the past decade, innovations in digital communication technology have been celebrated as a major asset in the campaign to destabilize authoritarianism. Mobile phones, the Internet, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter have been lauded for their contribution to mobilizing regime-challenging protest thanks to their capacity to disseminate information, build networks of solidarity, and coordinate collective action. But in Networked Publics and Digital Contention, Mohamed Zayani goes beyond this (by now almost conventional) account of digital media’s political potential. In an extraordinarily rich and empirically anchored account, Zayani explores the way this new technology created a “zone of everyday contention” in Tunisia, a means to citizenship and political agency that extended beyond the mobilization of protest.
The choice of Tunisia as the focal case to explore the destabilizing potential of digital media is apt. Tunisia was the first country to connect to the Internet in Africa (in 1991), and by 2011, it was one of the most connected countries in the region. The Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime was expressly committed to making Tunisia an information communications technology leader, but it was also one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world. The regime embraced a contradiction not rare among developmentally ambitious dictator
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