Protestation and Mobilization in the Middle East and North Africa: A Foucauldian Model

  • Navid Pourmokhtari University of Alberta
Keywords: Foucault, Social Movement Theories, Arab Spring, MENA, Political Spirituality, Iran’s Green Movement, 1979 Iranian revolution, Middle East, North Africa, Bahrain’s Uprising of Dignity, Social Movements, Counter-conduct

Abstract

Michel Foucault has inspired a rich body of work in the field of critical social theory and the social sciences in general. Few scholars working in the area of social movement studies, however, have applied a Foucauldian perspective to examining the twin phenomena of social mobilization and collective action. This may stem, in large part, from the commonly held assumption that Foucault had far more to say about ‘regimes of power’ than ever about mobilization and collective action or contention politics in general. Be that as it may, a close interrogation of his work reveals the broad contours of a theoretical framework for analyzing social movements whose chief merit lies in a sensitivity to the sociopolitical context within which oppositional movements form, develop and conduct their operations.     This paper aims at delineating what a Foucauldian model of social movements would entail, with specific reference to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), a region traditionally consigned to the margins of social movement studies. An enquiry of this kind is important because, as I argue, the leading mainstream social movement theories that have been applied to contemporary MENA cases invariably fall short of fully elucidating the phenomenon of mass mobilization. Specifically, leading mainstream theories are prone to certain universalistic assumptions and ‘West-centric’ orientations that render them incapable of accounting for the specificities of MENA cases. I shall demonstrate how a Foucauldian perspective on social movements can bypass the problem of applicability to the MENA region by mapping out a theoretical framework whose chief merit lies in a sensitivity to the sociopolitical context within which oppositional movements form, develop and conduct their operations. At the same time, I argue that a Foucauldian model transcends social movement theories with their linear conception of social and political progress, their exclusivist understanding of sociopolitical ‘development’ and ‘modernist’ assumptions by advancing an account of ‘multiple modernities.’

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Published
2017-01-06