Al-Ghazzi, Kraidy, Mourad and Sastre Present at “Inverting Globalisation” conference at the University of Amsterdam

Annenberg doctoral students Omar Al-Ghazzi, Sara Mourad and Alexandra Sastre and Professor Marwan M. Kraidy, Director of the Project for Advanced Research in Global Communication and The Anthony Shadid Chair in Global Media, Politics & Culture, recently presented their research at “Inverting Globalisation,” the first international conference organized by the Amsterdam Centre for Globalisation Studies (ACGS) at the University of Amsterdam.

The conference, which took place from October 9-10, 2014, was designed to analyze “the tensions and interactions between mobility and immobility, between sustainability and precarity, between glossy and dirty aesthetics, and between connection and disconnection—not to arrive at yet another set of binaries, but to show how these intense processes are also intrinsic to globalisation." Click here for more information.

Presentation titles and abstracts:

Arab Remembrance of Al-Andalus: The Clashing Memories of a TV Program and a Social Media Campaign

Presented by Omar Al-Ghazzi

This paper interrogates the contentious Arab–Muslim collective memory of Al-Andalus, the name of Muslim-ruled Spain from the 8th to the 15th centuries. It analyses one social media campaign and one online television program that are framed as Islamic efforts of reviving the memory of the Muslim-ruled Al-Andalus—as an originary and inspiring point in time. The social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter, launched by a Palestinian woman, seeks to reclaim Al-Andalus from Arab secular hegemonic history and to articulate new positions vis-à-vis current events such as the Arab uprisings and the Palestinian question. The campaign becomes most active early January to commemorate the fall of Muslim Spain. The television program of thirty episodes, The Story of Al-Andalus, which starred Egyptian television Islamic preacher Amr Khaled and was broadcast via Arab satellite and online in Ramadan 2013, narrates the history of Al-Andalus on site in Spain. Its themes seem to soften tensions between political conceptions of Islamic belonging and allegiances to the nation-state by highlighting national coexistence and pacifistic values within Islam. To the backdrop of Al-Andalus, each nostalgic presentation seeks to mobilise a particular formation of collective identity and action orientation. Part of a larger project, the paper addresses the imagination and invocation of history in Arab discourse during and in the aftermath of the 2011 uprisings. Through analysing two different and competing portrayals of the Arab-Muslim past in Al-Andalus, I ask what is the difference between collective memory and history in an Arab context? What configurations of community are construed as objects of imagination and analysis within temporal narratives? And what does the struggle over meaning of the past reveal about the search for collective identity and home-grown modernity in the Arab world?

These questions about historical consciousness, temporal restructuring and strategic anachronisms, I argue, not only reflect the structure of feeling during times of uncertain and anxious political change, but also indicate how the presently remembered past becomes the battleground for the dialectic between a past-oriented sense of belonging and future-projected collective action

The Hybrid Aesthetics of Beirut Graffiti at the Nexus of Globalisation and Revolution

Presented by Marwan M. Kraidy

Contemporary Beirut is awash with graffiti, encompassing a wide gamut of aesthetic registers, social causes, languages, fonts, colours and messages existing cheek-by-jowl. Some graffitiwriters imitate Banksy; others develop fiercely local styles. Latin and Arabic fonts mix; so do murals and stencils. Elements of hip-hop graffiti, Qur’anic inscriptions, pixelated portraiture, and corporate iconography, clash and mix on the city’s rough and glossy surfaces, its downtrodden areas and posh neighbourhoods, its pedestrian spaces and large thoroughfares. A variety of aesthetic mixtures and palimpsests showcase a blend of global icons and local styles, invoking Arab, European and North American influences, and creating a hybrid aesthetic. Graffiti from Syria, Egypt and Bahrain point to Beirut as a proxy space in the Arab uprisings.

This paper is from the book project Creative Insurgency: Arab Dissent in an Age of Revolution which I will complete at NIAS in Wassenaar in 2014–15. Based on extensive fieldwork, it grapples with the aesthetics and politics of Beirut graffiti at the local-global nexus. Specifically, it focuses on two graffiti artists at opposing ends of the commercial-political-aesthetic spectrum: Semaan Khawwam and Ashekman. The former is an artist-poet-activist who developed a hyper-local, rough and minimalist stencil aesthetic and opposes commercial and curatorial co-optation. The second is the graffiti and hip-hop crew Ashekman, who embrace global pop and its local resonances, sell branded graffiti merchandise in a Hamra store, and who take commissions for thousands of dollars. My analysis is grounded in interviews with Khawwam and Ashekman, and in a corpus of their graffiti.

Using Rancière’s notion of the “aesthetic regime” and Deleuze and Guattari’s comparison of “striated” and “smooth” spaces, I consider the works of Khawwam and Ashekman to understand the interplay along three vectors. The first focuses on the local-global nexus of styles and modes of address. The second is concerned with the commercial and curatorial co-optation of street art. The third grapples with the aesthetics and politics of graffiti between physical and digital space. Questions include: What is the state of play between global influence and local expression in Beirut graffiti? Can we map the myriad Arab, French, American aesthetic influences? How have the Arab uprisings affected the local scene, and what do the Arab uprisings reveal about the domestication of revolutionary expressive culture? More broadly, at which point does insurgent expressive culture become disembodied, detached from the harshness of its inception? What aesthetic is spawned at the nexus of globalization and revolution?

Global Intimacies: Queer Identities and Digital Storytelling in Lebanese Public Culture

Presented by Sara Mourad

This paper examines the representations of Lebanese non-normative sexualities online. Looking at the digital cultural production and circulation of personal stories about sexual difference, I explore how queer individuals and collectives weave “private” matters into the public cultural fabric, redrawing a more democratised and emancipating map of intimate life. I do so through a discourse analysis of English and Arabic queer blogs and e-zines that have proliferated in Lebanon since 2005, as well as personal interviews with bloggers and activists. The paper asks three related questions: What role did digital media play in the emergence of a local discourse on queer sexualities? How do queer subjects make themselves visible online? And how can the prevalence of English in online discourse inform our understanding of the ways in which globalisation shapes local cultural expression, particularly around sexuality?

The paper is organised around three central themes that characterize queer storytelling: digitality, anonymity, and hybridity. New media technologies have opened up spaces for socially-marginalised and stigmatised subjects to participate in public discourse on their own terms. In Lebanon, digital media played a galvanizing role in the emergence and proliferation of an alternative discourse on sexual difference. One of the key affordances it provided was the ability to remain anonymous while going public. Anonymity, as an essential technique of stigma management, lowered the stakes for queer subjects and allowed them to publish personal and sexually-explicit stories that they would otherwise not share. Finally, the influence of global sexual discourses on local cultural production is manifested in the prevalent use of English in otherwise hyper-local expressions of sexual identities. Drawing on the work of others about the role of intimacy and sexuality in public life, the paper ends with a theoretical discussion that explores digital, anonymous, and culturally hybrid storytelling as an alternative mode of citizenship that redraws the boundaries of the nation and its public sphere.

Blogging in Style: Negotiating Authenticity, Labour and Community in the Professionalisation of Style Blogging

Presented by Alexandra Sastre

In 2010, Forbes magazine declared “the rise of the style blogger” (Bourne 2010). Since then, style bloggers have been invited to sit in the front row at New York Fashion Week (Tavi Gevinson of Stylerookie), serves as judges on reality-television hits like America’s Next Top Model, (Bryan Grey Yambao of bryanboy) (Stewart, 2012), and penned books put out by publication giant Random House (Jessica Quirk of whatIwore) (Boog, 2010). Not only are style bloggers becoming a more visible presence in mainstream media, but also the practice of style blogging is itself rapidly gaining recognition as a potential avenue towards material success. The style blogger’s growing success is credited largely to his or her ability to provide access to an intimacy and informality the fashion industry has historically lacked. Given its innovation in an industry that has long been inaccessible, style blogging is an increasingly meaningful case study through which to understand how the professionalisation of online activity brings forth new questions about what it means to be a producer, professional and brand.

While recent work has explored style blogging in light of constructing gendered and raced identities online, this work deals with identity questions of a different sort through specifically addressing the narratives surrounding the professionalization of this practice. The relatively uncharted territory of this new blogging landscape has brought forth emergent anxieties around cultivating an “authentic voice,” balancing local and global community ties and accessing what continues to be the legitimating space of the traditional fashion industry. Through interviews with a community of Canadian style bloggers and a textual analysis of content from two dozen style blogs, this project explores how these discourses of community, authenticity and labour are shaping the turn from passion project to job, and chronicling how its practitioners are actively grappling with the potentialities of the new economy of creativity.