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International Sociology Of The Arab Uprisings

July 4, 2015

The latest issue of the journal International Sociology features three articles on the Egyptian revolution, as well as other articles on the Arab uprisings generally.

The latest issue of the journal International Sociology features three articles on the Egyptian revolution, as well as a couple of other articles on the Arab uprisings generally.

The latest volume of the journal International Sociology offers a special issue on Arab uprisings edited by Mohammed Bamyeh and Sara Hanafi.

Three of the six articles are about Egypt, and two are about the Arab uprisings generally but at least touch on things Egyptian (the remaining article is about the Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE)

The issue opens with an introduction by Mohammed Bamyeh and Sari Hanafi in which they suggest that the most interesting thing “about the Arab uprisings is that they were surprising.”

Sometimes one hears in public discussions voices that reject the notion that the uprisings were surprising, and insist that there were clear signs of them all along. But none of the experts on the region saw such signs, and even local intellectuals who had sincerely wished for revolutions never saw them coming. In fact, whenever they had sought, before 2011, to describe how a revolution would happen, their frame of reference was a variety of Leninism – that is, the model of organization that is least relevant to the study of the Arab uprisings. In any case, there is nothing more common that after-the-fact reconstructions of events, so that they appear to have been destined all along to put us on a revolutionary path.

The uprisings in the Arab World “continue to supply us with a repertoire of surprises, counter plots, setbacks and successes.” Key questions for sociologists of the revolution are:

  • Where did these movements come from?
  • How do they relate to older movements in the region?
  • What do they tell us about how to study social movements and revolutions?
  • What are their distinctive features?
  • What features do they have in common with older movements and revolutions worldwide?

The first article on Egypt is “We ought to be here: Historicizing space and mobilization in Tahrir
Square” by Atef Said. Here is the abstract:

This article explores the role of space in social movements, through an examination of the case of Tahrir Square in the Egyptian revolution of 2011. The author argues that the pre-existing, historically specific understanding of Tahrir Square as a politicized space of protest drew people there in January 2011 and shaped their participation in the revolution. Specifically, the author suggests that earlier mobilizations that took place in Tahrir Square contributed to the events of the revolution in three ways: (1) provided protesters with an idea about Tahrir as a target of protests, (2) provided protesters with the idea of occupation of Tahrir, and (3) provided protesters with an inspiration in the revolution. The article contributes to the literature in sociology of space and social movements by proposing that the history of space in social movements and previous mobilization matters, but also these may shape the new movement and the role of space in protest. This article is part of the author’s research about the Egyptian revolution of 2011. It is based on two phases of historical and ethnographic research in Egypt conducted in 2011 and 2012.

The second article is Zaynab El Bernoussi’s “The postcolonial politics of dignity: From the 1956 Suez nationalization
to the 2011 Revolution in Egypt.” Here’s the abstract:

This article is a study on dignity and the politics of dignity in postcolonial Egypt, and focuses on the historicity and socioeconomic background of two events: the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis during the rise of post-independence nationalism and the 2011 Egyptian Revolution during the Arab Spring. This study reviews the importance of the concept of dignity in philosophy and the social sciences, specifically pertaining to the development and postcolonial need for dignity and recognition, which the author terms ‘dignition.’ The central question here is how the conception of dignity has evolved between the two events and what the implications are for the consequent understanding of dignity.

The third article of Egypt is “Extraordinary politics of ordinary people: Explaining the microdynamics of popular committees in revolutionary Cairo” by Hatem M Hassan. The abstract:

On 28 January 2011 – as police abandoned the streets and reports of theft spread – Egyptians went down to the streets to protect their families and property, closing down intersections and setting up checkpoints. These neighborhood groups – known as popular committees (PCs) – filled the security vacuum and were one of the deciding factors of Mubarak’s downfall. This article explores how ordinary Egyptians collectively acted in order to restore stability during the regime’s moment of crisis. The author briefly introduces Egyptian PCs by discussing other instances of community organizing that occurred under extraordinary circumstances. Next, the author focuses on the microdynamics of PCs during the 2011 revolution by describing their mobilization, social networks, practices, communication methods, and dissolution. The PC narrative reminds us that, even during a revolution, the actions of ordinary individuals are often ignored by scholars and observers. Only after moving our attention away from the main squares do we begin to understand the full complexity of such exceptional moments.

In “Who frames the debate on the Arab uprisings? Analysis of Arabic, English, and French academic scholarship, the four authors examined a database of more than 500 articles about the Arab uprisings to see how the events are defined, framed and explained. The abstract is here:

Since 2010, there has been a proliferation of literature (newspaper articles and scholarly publications) on the recent uprisings in some Arab countries. This article focuses on the way the academic articles have perceived the Arab uprisings and the ways in which we portray them in scientific discourse, taking into account the social forces that come into play in the production of knowledge. In line with Bruno Latour, this study analyzes (1) what knowledge on the Arab uprisings is made of; (2) who produces and who frames the debate (network of authors); (3) semiotic analysis; and (4) quantitative measures of ‘sociological markers,’ such as discipline, language, and institutional affiliation. The study is based on a database of around 519 articles (from Web of Science, Scopus, E-Marefa, Cairn) dealing with the Arab uprisings from January 2011 up to now.


Al-Maghlouth, Nada, Riga Arvanitis, Jean-Philippe Cointent, and Sara Hanafi. 2015. Who frames the debate on the Arab uprisings? Analysis of Arabic, English, and French academic scholarship. International Sociology 30(4): 418-441.

Bamyeh, Mohammed and Sari Hanafi. 2015. Introduction to the Special Issue on the Arab Uprisings. International Sociology 30(4): 343-347.

El Bernoussi, Zeynab. 2015. The Postcolonial Politics of Dignity: From the 1956 Nationalization of the Suez to the 2011 Revolution in Egypt. International Sociology 30(4): 367-382.

Hassan, Hatem M. 2015. Extraordinary politics of ordinary people: Explaining the microdynamics
of popular committees in revolutionary Cairo. International Sociology 30: 383-400.

Said, Atef. 2015. We ought to be here: Historicizing space and mobilization in Tahrir Square. International Sociology 2015; 30(4): 348-366.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 11, 2015 3:40 pm

    Thank you!

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