Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Library & Information Science

Supervisor

Ajit Pyati

Abstract

While the 2011 Egyptian Uprising renewed attention to revolutionary news platforms such as Al-Jazeera and Facebook, citizens continued to be understudied as active consumers of information. Yet citizens’ perceptions of their informational milieu and how they responded in consuming, processing, and interpreting facts offer crucial insight into the turbulent transition that followed the initial uprising. This study analyzes Egyptian citizens’ accounts of their information environment and practices amid socio-political change. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 31 politically-engaged citizens from various political and professional backgrounds. Participants were asked to discuss the state of public discourse, the institutions responsible for the circulation of information, and their own practices to become informed, with on-going political controversies used as case studies.

The findings are presented into two parts. The first part compiles responses regarding institutions (the state, broadcast media, and social media) which were found to be functionally interconnected and interdependent, forming Egypt’s information ecosystem. This ecosystem systematically rendered information elusive, equivocal, and unreliable, but also demonstrated the importance of official information, a tolerance for partisan news, and the complementary role of social media. The second part examines citizens’ practices (the characteristics of consumers, the types of sources they relied upon, and the tactics they employed to become informed) which constituted an information culture, the information ecosystem’s counterpart. This culture was characterized by skepticism, mistrust, ingenuity, bias, and elitism, with sources being conceived as individuals and classified according to their proximity and type of knowledge; and consumers employing tactics involving the parsing of subtexts and the juxtaposing of claims from multiple texts. The characteristics, sources, and tactics of consumers reflected an information culture influenced by and responding to socio-political conditions.

Drawing on both the disciplines of media and information studies, this study offers a new approach for exploring the societal dimensions of information through the narratives of citizens on the production, circulation, and consumption of information in the context of dramatically shifting political and media landscapes. Besides advancing information practices research beyond traditional settings, the fieldwork was conducted in the weeks prior to the controversial overthrow of Egypt’s first elected president and therefore provides insights into a dramatic episode in the country’s transition.