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Diasporic Communication, Vol. 9 - 2002, No. 1

Networking Islam: The Democratising Potential of New Technologies in Relation to Muslim Communities

, pages: 51-64[open access]

This article critically examines existing theory on the uses of new technologies by minority communities to make connections, transforming identities and challenging traditional notions of community. As with the debate about new technologies in general, a utopian and dystopian position has prevailed. Has the development of new technologies, as the optimists predict, opened up access and liberated minority groups from established structural constraints? Has the Internet been a tool for mobilisation both socially and politically? Or as theorists such as Robins and Webster (1999) argue does the development and use of new technologies reinforce and maintain traditional hierarchies both within and without minority communities. What are the consequences of global and technological processes on already excluded groups? After examining these theories, the article applies them to Muslim communities in Britain by situating them within the worldwide community of Muslims (the Umma). Suggesting that there has been perhaps too much emphasis on theorising about the potential of new technologies with few empirical studies to support arguments that new technology provides for greater connectivity between dispersed groups, the article argues that an empirical approach will reveal how far minority communities are able to access new technologies for these purposes or whether these are limited to a privileged educated elite. Such questions are important for identifying the barriers to access and suggesting ways of enabling and empowering people in a new media environment.

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