Archiving Dissent: Post-2011 Arab Imagery, Memory and Vernacular Representations of Conflict

Beirut, Lebanon (6.-7.9.2019), 15. March 2019.

The American University of Beirut, Lebanon

September 6 & 7, 2019

Abstract deadline March 15, 2019

Organisers: Prof Kari Anden-Papadopoulos (Stockholm University) and Dr Dima Saber (Birmingham City University) in collaboration with Dr May Farah (The American University of Beirut)

This two-day conference entitled ‘Archiving Dissent: Post-2011 Arab imagery, memory and vernacular representations of conflict’ aims at exploring the mounting challenges but also opportunities posed by the ever-expanding collections of crowdsourced digital content documenting eight years of revolution and struggles in the Arab region. It brings together academics, activists, lawyers, archivists and artists from the MENA and beyond, to map out existing documentation of the 2011 revolts in both online and offline forms, and to think critically and strategically about issues such as preservation, use, value, access, ownership and control.

With the democratisation of image production and dissemination, the lack of documentation of pivotal events, including human rights violations and war crimes, is no longera primary issue. Rather, main challenges are capturing and preserving the overwhelming proliferation of digital imagery coming out of the Arab uprisings, along with ensuring the integrity, reliability and accessibility of such records. In a context of increasingly contested narratives, when the revolutionary moment has slipped into civil wars, violence andthe return to emboldened oppression, these vernaculararchives become ever-more valuable as grounds for efforts to bring about ‘truth’and ‘justice’. As such, eyewitness recordings play a critical role not only in documentingadvocacy efforts, but increasingly also in ensuring the preservation of a crowd-sourced historical knowledge and memory of war and revolution, the protection ofrights, and the potential prosecution of atrocity and war crimes.

Another urgent issue is also the over-reliance of grassroot image producers on Facebook, YouTube and other corporate tech platforms to distribute and archive their footage. It is critical to observe that these hyper-commercial platforms are not designed to facilitate activism, and that preservation is neither a purpose nor a practice of theirs. Indeed, tech platforms have increasingly taken on the responsibility of policing their user content and activity, through, for example, systematically removing content and channels deemed ‘offensive’. Alarming figures now reveal that YouTube has removed more than 400 000 Syria-related videos since August 2017, when it started using machine-learning to flag and mass delete so-called ‘extremist’ content, with a total lack of transparency regarding its newly developed content moderation algorithm.

These disputable takedowns, which put at risk the entire audiovisual history of the Syrian war, reinforce existing rising concerns about the precariousness of the digital and the costs of the activists and archivists’ over-reliance on platforms they have little to no agency over. In addition, there are also increasing challenges posed by the corrupt melding of state and commercial forms of surveillance and data exploitation on these platforms, in contexts such as Egypt, Palestine and Turkey more regionally, bringing issues of user privacy and security to the fore.

This conference provides a forum in which scholars and practitioners collaborate to address the challenges - representational, political, ethical, technical, organizational and financial - that preserving the post-2011 Arab image archives present for both present and future representations of conflict and revolt in the region.

Participants are invited to address topics including, but not limited to:

  * (Innovative) strategiesand open-access tools and infrastructures for
    archiving, processing, preserving and disseminatingpost-2011 Arab
    image records
  * Historical precedents for both documentation and archiving practices
    in the MENA region
  * Key challenges and opportunities that crowd-sourced content offer
    for a constitution of a digital memory of post-2011 wars and
    revolutions in the MENA region (we particularly welcome here
    contributions from historians, memory studies and archival studies
    scholars and practitioners)
  * Learnings from regional and international/global protest movements
    such as Gezi Park, #metoo and #Blacklivesmatter campaigns, that
    could benefit activists and archivists in the MENA
  * Ethical considerations regarding the roles and rights of image
    creators themselves, notably in terms of considering issues of
    ownership, consent, harm, vulnerability, subjectivity and
    objectification, security, agency and responsibility.
  * Key challenges in terms of funding, selection, metadata, policy,
    quality, access, and strategic uses entailed in such archiving efforts
  * Strategies for mapping and securing non-governmental and
    regionally-based efforts to build infrastructures that allow for the
    collection,preservation and distribution ofthese materials
  * How to protect image records from being destroyedand insure the
    sustainability of the archives even when they are available in both
    online and offline forms
  * Issues of power, ownership and control

The organisers welcome proposals for 20 minute academic papers and panels, and/or project-based presentations . Please send 250-words abstracts, with a 50-word biography to resistancebyrecording@gmail.com by March 15, 2019.