Affinities of Dissent: Cyberspace, Performative Networks and the Iranian Green Movement

Author(s) Babak Rahimi
Contact Babak Rahimi, University of California, 9500 Gilman Dr., La Jolla, CA 92093, USA. E-mail:
Issue CyberOrient, Vol. 5, Iss. 2, 2011, pp. 4-23
Published November 10, 2011
Type Article
Abstract This paper argues that the role of Internet activism in the Green Movement, a social protest movement that emerged after the contested 2009 presidential elections in Iran, lies in the creative configuration of complex networks that primarily interact through meaning-laden performances that carve out spaces of dissent. For social movements, especially under authoritarian rule like the Green Movement, cyberspace presents a kind of social space wherein imaginaries of self and other, resistance and power shape bonds of interactivity. Such bonds are described here as “social affinities” that are about contentious performances, actions that display intense emotions and narratives of protestation against power. Accordingly, the notion of “performative networks” underlines how the Iranian Green Movement, especially since the state repression that followed the elections, has compromised an interactive network organized around dramatic discourses and practices of contestation. In terms of structure, the paper is divided into three sections. (1) The first section shows how an electoral campaign was put together through loosely networked associations that (partly) operated through computer-mediated-communication that facilitated logistical resources for the actors. In the pre-election period, Internet played a prominent role in promoting and mobilizing a decentralized movement through offline and online shifting network connections, a phase of cyberactivism that is identified here as self-promoting networks. (2) The second section looks at what followed after the election results were announced, after which the regime unleashed its security forces to crackdown on the street protests. Cyberspace emerged as a set of other-offensive performative actions, contentious strategies like organization of street-demonstrations, hackactivism and website defacements that identified a more belligerent and aggressive strategy aimed at directly challenging state power, both offline and online. (3) The third and final phase compromises self-maintaining performative actions that largely revolves around memorial and mythical narratives for the maintenance of social affinities in light of state crackdowns in both physical and cyberspaces. The paper finally argues that Internet activism in the context of social movements involves dramatic performances of affective nature that form network associations and vibrant informal public spheres.
Keywords social media, public sphere, Iran, democracy