- The Politics of/in Blogging in Iran
One of the well-recognized paradoxes of Iranian society is that while the "fat government" of the Islamic Republic filters Internet access, Persian bloggers number in the hundreds of thousands, making Persian among the top five most popular languages of the global blogosphere. It is yet another paradox of Iran that while formal politics is constrained and configured by specifically Islamic sentiments and government sensibilities, Iranian youth—among other social categories—are developing powerful and poetic political voices, analyzing national and international issues and public and private concerns in their blogs.
These issues are not simply a function of the sudden availability of new technologies or the existence of a large youthful population under thirty years old (estimated at 70 percent of the total population), although these are both contextual realities. Rather, these issues speak to a fundamental problem of the definition of the "political." There exists a widespread perception of the Islamic Republic as a highly repressive state in which there is little or no "politics," this view itself being based on an overly crude distinction between repressive, undemocratic states and democratic states. However, we would argue that what is meant by the sphere of the political is always contentious and contingent. Even within liberal democracies, the demarcation between the public and the private as the cornerstone of the limits of state intervention has been revealed by feminist and critical theory as a powerful and enduring myth. Thus while the social might be defined as the realm of sedimented social practices, not all of which are put into question at the same time, the realm of the political is both where agonistic debate about social practices takes place and where hegemony functions to frame and limit that debate and to redefine the social at any one point in time.
Chantal Mouffe expresses this idea very clearly:
The frontier between the social and the political is essentially unstable and requires constant displacements and negotiations between social agents. Things could always be otherwise and therefore every order is predicated on the exclusion of other possibilities. It is in this sense that it can be called "political" since it is the expression of a particular structure of power relations. Power is constitutive of the social because the social could not exist without the power relations through which it is given shape.1
For students of Iran, it is difficult to look beyond the long and heavy hand of the state to see (i.e., to define) and to analyze (i.e., to determine the forms of) emergent political practices; of course, "emergent" begs the question of how and through what criteria and when these are fully "emerged."
For students of politics, it is difficult to let go of the illusory distinction between repressive and hegemonic states, since behind all hegemonic power lies physical force and a crude modeling of Southern states as autocratic or "failed." But a loosening of these categories is necessary [End Page 563] in order to better define the actually existing structures and practices of politics. Indeed, one of the conceptual dangers is that in a desire to "de-Westernize" media theory, we simply fall into equally crude and ill-defined nominalisms of political categorization that themselves derive from Western political theory.2 We do not advocate the abandonment of either Western media or political theorizations, but merely point out that abandoning one for the other is not necessarily an improvement.
For students of communication, especially of political communication, it is difficult not to fall into techno-idealism and to see all uses of new technologies as having liberatory potential, indeed as all being intensely political, while at the same time not ignoring—again—actually emerging political voices, arguments, and antagonisms. Pace Mouffe, we argue that "it is impossible to determine a priori what is social and what is political independently of any contextual reference," and our point of reference is the Persian blogosphere under the Islamic Republic.3 Mindful of these conceptual minefields, but not able to resolve all of them, this article explores the Iranian blogosphere as a vital site of political discourse...