The notion of a nascent Arabic public sphere vis-à-vis the region s transnational news networks has been at the centre of much debate. However, this debate is met with little empirical grounding as well as a conceptual limitation to discussing political publics. This thesis seeks to contribute to and inform current debates by means of an empirical exploration of Arabic public spheres across the mediated-political realm of news media as well as the performative-cultural sphere of interactive theatre. The Jordanian parliamentary elections of November 2007 offer a framework for the research which is made up of two case studies. The first case study examines the portrayal and representation of Jordanian citizens in the news coverage of the parliamentary elections. Four transnational broadcasters (al-Jazeera, al-Arabiya, al-Hurra and JTV) were monitored during the lead up to and post the elections (over a month s duration) and different modes of participation were identified in the coverage. The second case study explores the ways in which Jordanian citizens participated in interactive theatre performances about the elections across Jordan. The performances were specifically developed to ellicit responses from audiences in the form of discussion as well as role playing (in which the audiences assume the roles of citizens in a town hall meeting). Results from the two case studies revealed significant differences in the ways in which citizens participated, or were portrayed as participating, across the political and cultural spheres. The transnational media portrayed citizens largely as observers of the political process and, less frequently, as commentators on issues of public concern. The mediated public sphere was also found to be gendered and afforded Jordanian women less presence and access to participate. On the other hand, the cultural public sphere afforded citizens spaces to discuss issues of public concern as well as contest dominant and exclusionary narratives within their societies. Jordanian women were also found to negotiate change through the reinterpretation of the symbolic. These findings demonstrate that confining our understanding of Arabic public spheres to the political-mediated marginalises the diverse ways in which citizens do participate, particularly so in the case of women.
A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.