Credit: Associated Press
Credit: Associated Press

Bookbag: LIT320S: Social Movements and Social Media

November 5, 2012

The catalyst: Associate professor of literature Negar Mottahedeh conceived the idea for the course after the 2009 post-election crisis in Iran, when protesters used sites such as Twitter, Balatarin (the Iranianbased social network), and YouTube to instantaneously share information and plan their actions. “Social media doesn’t create movements, but it allows for ease of organization,” she says.

The gist: The seminar compares the role of social media in movements and uprisings, both historical and contemporary. Discussions trace the evolution of social media from newspapers to the radio to Facebook and Twitter and explore the effect the proliferation of social media has on current events and social figures.

The twist: The instability of world politics means there is usually an ongoing crisis for students to evaluate. Whether it is the Arab Spring or Occupy movements of 2011, or this fall’s protests throughout the Middle East against an anti-Islam YouTube video, students get an inside perspective on how social media is playing a critical role in important world events.

Assignment list: Students read social media expert Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody, which discusses the use of social media in organizing crowds, as well as other current analyses. For their semesterlong project, they pick a single movement, historical or current, and track the use of social media, presenting their research to the class at the end of the semester.

What you missed: In a recent class, students watched Handsworth Songs, a documentary film about the 1985 race riots in the Handsworth section of Birmingham, England, providing a launching point for discussing race riots that erupted in the same area in August 2011.