Cyber-Activists As Innovators: Online Technologies and the Power Struggle in Iran

PhD Thesis

Anghaei, Arash 2016. Cyber-Activists As Innovators: Online Technologies and the Power Struggle in Iran. PhD Thesis University of East London Social Science
AuthorsAnghaei, Arash
TypePhD Thesis

This thesis analyses key social and technical capabilities and functions in Iran through the
lens of the National Innovation System (NIS) model, focusing on processes influencing
the on-going online encounter between the regime and local and expatriate prodemocracy
cyber-activists in the aftermath of the country's contested presidential
elections in June 2009. Conceptually, it is located in Science and Technology Studies
(STS), with an emphasis on constructivist theory including Social Shaping of Technology
(SST) as its creative backbone.
In the original Nordic conceptualisation of the NIS model, openness is considered a
given. This prevents the model from adequately explaining the dynamics of innovation in
repressive countries. In Iran, nationwide innovation processes are distorted by high level
security officials' ideology-driven approach to the generation and diffusion of scientific
knowledge and the influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) over
Iran's national economy. Bifurcated due to significant political differences, the Iranian
NIS has become dysfunctional in the absence of an integrated, democratic structure,
making the country highly dependent on foreign expertise.
The overreliance of Iran on cross-border technological contributions is reflected in the
state's internet surveillance apparatus. Currently, major European information and
communications technology (ICT) companies aid the core of the censorship infrastructure
employed by the Iranian regime, while a great majority of the anti-filtering software used
by the cyber-activists is developed by North American universities, research centres and
human rights NGOs. This, in turn, highlights a limitation in the EU export policy
regimen, which fails to promote the development of pro-democracy online innovations
and remains relatively weak in terms of its ability to regulate the overseas trade of
telecommunications technologies.
Laying emphasis on the social responsibility of large international telecommunications
companies based on the outcome of a combination of weblog content analysis, semistructured
expert interviews and document reviews, the results of this project are
expected to help improve Western policies on dual-use ICT exports to repressive
countries. A focused attempt at the dynamisation of relevant legislation by the European
Parliament (EP) can help more effectively foster egalitarian values in emerging
economies through supporting legitimate, bottom-up dissent.
The main body of data used by this research was collected through a longitudinal
observation of 65 Persian activist weblogs evaluated against an inductively crafted
checklist. The preliminary findings of the weblog content analysis were later on
examined in relation to the scripts of direct discussions with 17 active scholars and
practitioners sampled largely by snowballing, as well as to an extensive archive of legal
and journalistic documents.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Publication dates
PrintJul 2016
Publication process dates
Deposited21 Nov 2016
Publisher's version
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