The power of social media – meet Shaden Kamel

It was during her bachelor studies at the October University for Modern Sciences and Arts in Egypt (in mass communication with a major in journalism) when the Arab Spring started to emerge. Studying in Egypt she was able to witness political participation of her fellow Egyptians. That’s when she decided to focus on social media as a starting point. In conversation with Junior Fellow Shaden Kamel.

In times like these”… how often have we heard this sentence lately and used it ourselves? Covid-19 is interfering with a great deal of research. Travelling is only possible for some tourists. Many African countries remain closed, and there is still no getting in or out in many places. So, what’s there to do when it comes to research where physical interaction is necessary? Shadens research focus lies on social media and participation in the digital environment. In times like these, such research is a step ahead. The Junior Follow can continue working on her dissertation from Bayreuth, despite her terminated field trip to Cairo due to the pandemic. While she focused on youth in her bachelor’s degree, she focused on the news framing of political actors on international websites in 2011 and 2013 in her master’s degree. She received her master’s degree in media and global communication, which she did at the University of Helsinki in Finland, in 2015. Afterwards she went back to Egypt to teach at her BA university for three years. Women’s political participation, agency and usage of social media in these periods (during the revolutions in 2011 and 2013) has inspired her to want to research how women reflect agency and use social media in the everyday life (e.g. show case struggles, connect to find solutions, jobs etc). Since 2019 she has been part of BIGSAS and has been working extensively on the topic of women empowerment.

Facebook groups as a place of empowerment 

“Looking at how people incorporate the media in their everyday life and what possibilities it could give them is worth looking at, because it is impacting many people” 

Facebook has become an indispensable part of many people’s lives. And even if there are some who have already deleted their account or at least paused it, for many users it is still one of the most important digital platforms for their everyday exchange. With an account on Facebook, one inevitably ends up in Facebook groups, which can revolve around any topic. Whether large or small, closed or open, there are hardly any topics that go unnoticed. Shaden Kamel also focuses on Facebook groups that contribute to the empowerment of women in Egypt. In doing so, she examines how exactly support between women takes place, for example by helping each other as entrepreneurs. But not only the exchange about business or career is at the forefront, also normal conversations between women, e.g. about motherhood or alike. There are no taboos here and for many participants such groups offer a safe space to talk freely. However, research online is not as easy as one might think. The Junior Fellow has to get to the bottom of questions whether all profiles are real profiles. In conversations with her interviewees, it often emerges that founders of Facebook groups need to be careful who is approved to the group, by making sure to investigate whether potential members’ profile are fake or not. There are also some challenges in terms of researching content in private Facebook groups, as they are also a platform of public communication once you become a member. Especially when it comes to women’s practices on social media, discourse about gender roles, women’s struggles and rights is becoming more and more prevalent and important. The PhD student is more than passionate about the topic of her dissertation. Her joy is noticeable in the conversation, something she would like to share with more colleagues in Bayreuth. In her bachelor and master studies she found herself among like-minded people. At BIGSAS and the University of Bayreuth, there are fewer people who deal with social media and civic participation. 

Bayreuth – a place for new ideas and perspectives

But the student also enjoys life in Bayreuth. Especially the quiet atmosphere appeals to her. The comparison to Cairo or also Hurghada, where she lived for some time, is of course noticeable. Shaden says that the advantage of BIGSAS is the international exchange. Here, she can develop her own thoughts and gain new perspectives and ideas. At the same time, this is also challenging, as she wants to find resonance with other colleagues for her research. In the end, it is the interdisciplinary approach that distinguishes the research at BIGSAS and to which Shaden also contributes with her work. 

By the way: Shaden is also running as Junior Fellow representative for the upcoming semester. 

Here is why: “I hope to organise more meetups with Junior Fellows to exchange their experience in methodology, and their field work, as well as meetups and workshops with post-docs and alumni. Also, once it becomes safe to arrange, I’d love to plan some fun trips” 


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