Beyond Structure and Contingency: Towards an Interactionist and Sequential Approach to the 2011 Uprisings

By Mounia Bennani-Chraibi
Submitted to Session P4795 (Protest in the Contemporary Middle East and North Africa: strategic interaction perspectives, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
All Middle East;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Taking as its starting point the mental earthquake produced by the 2011 uprisings, this programmatic and exploratory paper tackles the epistemological questions of causality and contingency (Ermakoff, 2015), and hopes to foster dialogue between comparative political regimes studies, the sociology of revolutions, and social movement literature (e.g. Allal & Pierret, 2013; Beinin & Vairel, 2013). Based on a comparative analysis of some ‘positive cases’ (Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria), and a ‘negative case’ (Morocco), the main objective of this paper is to expand the scope of the attempts aimed at reconciling structure and contingency, by focusing on the formation of large coalitions and the spread of mobilizations, on division or defection from within the repressive apparatus, and on the impacts of crisis management by the incumbents.
This comparative analysis draws upon the author’s fieldwork in Morocco, and theoretical analysis on social movements and uprisings in the Middle East.
On the theoretical level, the paper argues that an interactionist and sequential approach (Fillieule, 2015; Duyvendak, 2015) can be helpful in further exploring how to deal with the ‘messiness’ of causation during an open-ended conjuncture (Beissinger, 2011). It should allow us: 1) to bring the actor back in—an actor inscribed in historicity, but also subject to emotion, uncertainty, an actor acted upon, acting and interacting; 2) to examine—sequence by sequence—the connections between the macro level of the environment, the meso level of relations among collective actors, and the micro level of individuals; 3) to grasp the contingency effects produced by the absence of ‘pre-established script,’ and 4) to explore in which way ‘time matters’ (Abbott, 2001).
More specifically, the paper highlights that uncertainty affects all the actors present: the challengers as much as the incumbents and their international allies, the ordinary citizen as well as the officers and the recruits. Regarding the incumbents, for instance, how national and regional events are interpreted, the nature and timing of reactions, and the degree of disorganization manifested seem to have played a fundamental role, including in the maintenance or loss of external support for regimes.