PhD Thesis

Telling stories online in the Gulf : prolegomena to the study of an emerging form of Arabic literary expression.

Online writing in the Arabian Gulf. Short stories, participatory culture, identity, societal change and challenges in distribution.

“Telling Stories Online in the Gulf” is a research project on digital culture. It deals with writing styles, expressions of identity, participatory culture, and censorship. One of the most important aspects of online writing is its interactivity, which includes the remixing and redistribution of literature. Content-wise blog posts and short stories deal with gender representation, globalization, and social norms. Additionally, institutionalized restrictions, societal censorship, and self-censorship affect online publishing in the Gulf. This field of research is relatively unexplored, and a variety of considerations have to be kept in mind when dealing with online literary texts from Arabic-speaking Gulf countries. The goal was to highlight this emerging cultural phenomenon from a variety of perspectives, such as composition and setup, linguistic features, heroes’ portrayal, and ICT use and restrictions. These perspectives were the most striking in the original sources. The results extracted from this research open up a view into new literary expressions and can be applied to literary studies of the Arabic-speaking world. On a visual level, an examination of short stories is illustrated to show similarities of text layout and usage of multi-medial elements, as well as the integration of pictures and audio files. Results showed, on the one hand, that multi-media features underline the message of texts and, on the other hand, exemplify details within stories. In addition to the visual features, a distinct form of composing and reposting short stories is noticeable in forums. Many stories are introduced with a personal introduction by the author, interaction with the audience is apparent, and a retelling of the same story in other virtual locations, such as other forums, is evident. The investigation of composition, redistribution, and rearrangement showed that this form of literary text has some resemblance to traditional oral storytelling. It can be asked whether or not online literature can be seen within the literary canon and whether it is a continuation of earlier literature, or alternatively, if it is not connected at all. The study suggests that online literature may be seen as a continuation and a part of contemporary literature, depending on its composition and style. Additionally, the use of language is examined, which is essential when dealing with new forms of literature posted on the net. An academic discussion on literary quality is presented to stress the variety of perspectives on new literature. However, the literary features do not mark the distinctiveness of online literature; rather, it is found in characteristics of participatory culture. One of the most important aspects of online literature is interactivity. This process is part of cultural production in Web 2.0 and of participatory culture. Authors and audience are both part of the process of creating a cultural product as a whole because commentary from both sides affects both current and future texts. Interaction allows texts to be changed in a variety of remixes and repostings of stories that are distributed in forums, which in turn inspires discussions. Another advantage of distributing literary texts online is independence from institutionalised publishers, which can be beneficial to the audience, since texts can be distributed no matter what their content might be. Furthermore, it allows publication apart from questions of profitability. Political topics of the dissertation include gender representation and globalisation, as well as social norms represented in online literary distributions. These topics are often illustrated in the portrayal of heroes. Hero portrayal either illustrates a striving for societal change (in blogs) or an active engagement to reach personal goals and social change (in forums). Authoritarian pressure appears to affect online publishing in the Gulf. Also, societal censorship or self-censorship may limit writers in their creative process. Online publishing is convenient because it is the least restricted space for distribution. Anonymity serves as a beneficial tool to avoid social censorship. Nevertheless, the risk of abuse of intellectual property is present on the internet. The goal of the dissertation is to emphasize influential impacts on online literature from the Gulf and show what distribution online does to the text.





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