I should mention, before I go on – this blog looks at digital media’s functional relationship to conflict, and specifically, to political violence in developing countries. It’s meant as a space for rough notes, questions, and conversation for a research project I’m working on at the US Institute for Peace. Broadly, the research considers the relationship between rapidly growing digital media networks and the numerous developing world states with weak or fragile governance, weak states, and contested political contexts.
I’ll also look at media and development, conflict, photography, along with the usual miscellany.
So, quick and dirty explanation:
Why functional? Because examining how digital media affects a particular issue focuses us on its effects.
Why political violence? Because violence, and conflict are what happens when law, persuasion, rhetoric, and other forms of nonphysical coercion stop. Conflict exposes the roots of power and interest, and tears apart the fabric of law and social norms that usually guide interactions and communication in the public sphere.
Why developing countries? Because many of them are weak or fragile states, and have a greater likelihood of tipping into conflict through contested politics, civil conflicts, struggles for autonomy or independence, and disputes over sovereignty. Susan Rice at Brookings has a recent comprehensive mapping of weak states on the Brookings site, here.
Why digital media technologies? They allow for significantly more people around the world to participate in public discussions and produce information. This is true in weak states in the developing world as well as the developed world (more on digital divide later).
While it is extremely difficult to predict how technology will ultimately alter media and information delivery, it is very likely that in the medium to long term, media will become radically more open and participatory. This is already having significant impact on the production and dissemination of information and on the practice of journalism, the scope and extent of dialogue and debate on local, national, and international levels, and on social and political participation.
Digital media technologies and applications have a disruptive, multifaceted impact in how news and information is gathered, produced, and disseminated in and around conflict-prone settings. Yet most research, policy makers, the donor community, and media assistance organizations still remain predominantly focused on the role of traditional media in relation to conflict.