“I think a lot about social media and how it does or doesn’t facilitate protest and revolution under repressive regimes.”
Name: Emefa Addo Agawu
Birth place: Ithaca, New York
Occupation: Research assistant, Empirical Studies of Conflict Project at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School.
Graduated in May from Yale College with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.
Languages: English, Spanish
Currently reading: Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
What is your most memorable international experience?
This summer I visited Kiyomizu-dera, a stunning Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. At one point you walk down a winding pitch-black path that is meant to represent a womb. You completely lose your sense of space and direction and just have to follow the rope guiding you along.
It was totally surreal, and all I could think about were all the people who’d walked the path before me and how they too had been stripped of orientation, and I wondered what they’d thought about in those lost, blinking moments.
How did you become interested in international affairs?
My parents grew up in Ghana and I lived there for a few years when I was young before we moved to New Jersey.
Knowing that the majority of my extended family didn’t live in the U.S. gave me a sense early on that what I experienced in my daily life was just one possible way of life, and that people I loved — flesh and blood, no less — were half a world away leading totally different lives, worrying about different things, eating different food, listening to different music and so on.
So in a way, as long as I can remember I’ve always been concerned with what’s going on elsewhere.
What international issue is of greatest interest to you today? Why?
I think a lot about Information Communication Technology, namely social media, and how it does or doesn’t facilitate protest and revolution under repressive regimes. The question of what causes revolution isn’t a new one — there are all sorts of academic theories and models that try to pinpoint the necessary conditions for a successful revolution.
But there’s a ton of work to be done to augment that work to reflect the new mechanisms that ICT offers. Do movements need to capitalize on existing offline networks? How do you translate online commitment into offline activity? How can we understand hierarchy within such a movement?
The good news is that there are lots of cases from Hong Kong to Russia to Mexico of people mobilizing that present great opportunities for rigorous analysis.
Obviously the darker sides of these technologies include the fact that savvy repressive governments now have access to a treasure trove of data on budding dissidents, and that it’s easier to radicalize foreign fighters to join groups like ISIL from thousands of miles away.
Information Communication Technology is here to stay, so it’s important to try to understand it as profoundly as we can.