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Agency and space : information technology and political reform in the Gulf Arab States

Murphy, Emma



Recent political reforms in the Gulf Arab countries have been variously understood as regime survival strategies, correlates of economic globalisation, and even the end result of US pressure to democratise. This paper examines the possible role played by the introduction of modern information and communication technologies (icts) in stimulating political liberalisation in the Gulf Arab states. Rather than attempting to quantify their democratising impact, this paper utilises the concept of agency, examining how the range of agents of ict production and diffusion in the region have sought to influence the actual impact upon political space. It concludes that modern icts have demonstrated the potential to expand the existing public sphere, and to create new opportunities for liberal political activity. However, the particular configuration of agency in the countries in question has meant that the state and its allies have retained a significant degree of control over the extent and nature of the political space, a process in which local society may have in some instances collaborated. Thus, while the introduction and diffusion of new icts may have contributed to the pressures which led to some of the political reforms in evidence in the Gulf Arab states, one cannot argue that they amount, at least as yet, to a sustained and effective attack on illiberal political structures. The first part of this paper surveys the existing body of literature in an effort to devise a framework for the subsequent study of two principal contemporary icts (satellite television and the internet) in the Gulf Arab states.


Murphy, E. (2006). Agency and space : information technology and political reform in the Gulf Arab States. Third World Quarterly, 27(6), 1059-1083.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date 2006-09
Deposit Date Jan 28, 2008
Journal Third World Quarterly
Print ISSN 0143-6597
Electronic ISSN 1360-2241
Publisher Taylor and Francis Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 27
Issue 6
Pages 1059-1083
Keywords Communication, ICT, Satellite, Internet, Political liberalisation, Liberal political activity,
Publisher URL