Gendering Social Contact

By: Karem Said  

This paper draws upon fifteen months of ethnographic dissertation research in Tunis, Tunisia to ask how a recent spike in internet use contributes to gendered sociality along the urban periphery. In Tunis, phone- and home-based internet use took off following the revolutionary uprising of 2010-2011. This was due to a combination of lowering prices and a lifting of online censorship. My research focused on the largest low-income area of the city, Hay Ettadhamon (Solidarity District), where social media – particularly Facebook and Messenger – dominated local internet use. Internet access is significant for women residents, since they do not patronize local coffeeshops, where men regularly gather to socialize. Trends in media archeology have explored the long-term mediation of the built environment. This paper takes seriously the idea that cities are places defined by communicative intensity and that differences in urban form offer different conditions of possibility for how residents socialize. Rather than treat the internet as a strictly new medium woven into older urban form, the paper explores both urban form and digital media from the perspective of social contact. This is of particular interest along the outer periphery of Hay Ettadhamon, where many residents are new arrivals who do not know their neighbors and where women residents report feeling unsafe. The research was conducted with over 135 adults, adolescents, and children at over two dozen internet cafes, in 40 preparatory computer science classes, at a local NGO with a computer club, in homes and with a Facebook account.

Social Contact, Digital Media, Urban Form
Media Cultures
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Karem Said

Doctoral Candidate, Anthropology, Stanford University, United States
United States