An analysis of Strategic Political Communication, Sousveillance and Web 2.0 in Convergence Cultures: Iraq, USA & UK 2003-09

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glamorgan
Department Name: Creative and Cultural Industries


Inspired by Cultural Studies, Media Studies and Politics, I will produce a monograph provisionally entitled, Sousveillance, Emergent Participatory Media & Political Communication: Iraq, UK & USA 2003-09.

This inter-disciplinary research focuses on a particular moment of teletechnological change - the emergence of what has been called 'Web 2.0', 'participatory media' and 'user-generated content' - and its impact on strategic political communication. Web 2.0 technologies constitute a revolutionary way of remixing, repurposing and managing information online, in comparison with the early World Wide Web, and as such, have attracted the moniker, the 'Social Web'. Strategic political communication is where leaders craft their public language to create, control, distribute and use mediated messages as a political resource. Normally strategic political communications are conducted in well-established, and therefore understood, media environments. However, the emergence of Web 2.0 in the first decade of the 21st century created a media environment that, for a while, was not well-understood, allowing challenges to strategic political communication from lay-people going about their everyday lives, rather than solely from professional communicators. Steve Mann's concept of sousveillance encapsulates the political aspect of some of Web 2.0's teletechnological changes. In contrast to surveillance, which entails watching from above by a higher authority, sousveillance entails watchful vigilance from underneath, comprising hierarchical sousveillance (with politically disruptive intent) or personal sousveillance (akin to lifesharing).

My monograph focuses on the interplay of user-generated and mainstream media about, and from, Iraq, as received in the UK and the USA, along with the impact of this interplay on strategic political communication across 2003-2009. Two case studies explore different levels of control over strategic political communication during the 2003 Iraq war, contrasting embedded US and UK mainstream television news reports with blogs by an Iraqi civilian. This produces a discussion about the types of authenticity generated from using these two different teletechnologies for bearing witness. Two case studies are then counter-pointed to show how, in different ways, user-generated military torture photographs from Abu Ghraib (2004) and the military spoof music video, Show me the Way to Armadillo (2005), shook the US and UK military edifices from within, with different outcomes for the military's popular image. This raises questions about the extent to which control over image is possible and desirable in Web 2.0. The final two case studies contrast the extremes of totally controlled surveillance (the televised inspection of Saddam Hussein's disheveled body on his capture in December 2003) and uncontrolled sousveillance (the widely disseminated images of his execution (December 2006) where two versions of reality - the official Iraqi government version and an unofficial 'moblog' (mobile phone blog) - stood in stark contrast to each other. This leads to a discussion about the political intent behind sousveillance and its relationship to democratic social responsibility.

Building on these case studies, and incorporating later political and teletechnological developments from 2007-2009, I theorise political communication and control in Web 2.0, focusing on sousveillance. Teasing out the bigger picture from the case studies, I present the implications for further conceptual development of sousveillance, exploring issues of anonymity, trust, instanteneity, and the blurring between sousveillance and surveillance. I assess the implications for strategic political communication in an age of convergence cultures where mainstream media co-exist with, and co-vivify, user-generated content. Finally, I assess the implications for journalism, addressing issues of diversification, trust and investigative journalism.
Description Fusing perspectives from politics, media studies and cultural studies, Sousveillance, Media and Strategic Political Communication offers insights into impacts on strategic political communication of the emergence of web-based participatory media ('Web 2.0') across the first decade of the 21st century. Countering the control engendered in strategic political communication, Steve Mann's concepts of hierarchical sousveillance (politically motivated watching of the institutional watchers) and personal sousveillance (apolitical, human-centred life-sharing) is applied to Web 2.0. Focusing on interplays of user-generated and mainstream media about, and from, Iraq, detailed case studies explore different levels of control over strategic political communication during key moments, including the start of the 2003 Iraq war, the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal, and Saddam Hussein's execution in 2006. These are contextualized by overviews of political and media environments from 2001-09. Broader implications of sousveillant web-based participatory media for strategic political communication are then discussed, exploring issues of agenda-building, control, and the cycle of emergence, resistance and reincorporation of Web 2.0. Sousveillance cultures are explored, delineating issues of anonymity, semi-permanence, instanteneity resistance and social change.
Exploitation Route - Raising awareness of contemporary media situation in relation to politics, diplomacy & international relations, and their ability to control the message.

- Useful to anyone wishing to understand how to manipulate their institution's public image (be this a political administration, a nation, a military etc) in a digital, converged media environment

- Useful to anyone (eg the public) wishing to resist manipulation and propaganda.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Security and Diplomacy

Description Establishing a regime of care: Salam Pax, the Baghdad Blogger. Symposium, Bournemouth University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Symposium paper for Reporting War: Exploring the Way Forward symposium. Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, UK. June (2010).

Taking part of Chapter 2 from my book, Sousveillance, this talk explains how Salam Pax (an Iraqi citizen blogging from Iraq before and during the invasion in 2003), challenged official narratives of the war's progress, gave a voice to the otherwise invisi
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010