Wednesday, October 26, 2011

IRCPPS in the Links: Micro Transitions and the Arab Spring

The Monkey Cage offers a guest post by Ellen Lust:
...The Arab awakening thus raises once again a question at the heart of the study of comparative democratization: Why now? Why has the Arab world, which appeared so resistant to change, seen such widespread unrest and transformation?  Specialists on Africa, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union engaged in the same soul-searching after similar transformations shook those regions. That this question animates discussions today, as it did then, reminds us that we have far to go before we understand the conditions promoting such significant ruptures in seemingly stable authoritarian regimes.

In this essay, I suggest the answer lies in shifting our focus from a search for immediate causal factors to a greater recognition of micro- and meso-level transitions—that is, gradual, interrelated changes in political, economic and social spheres that, like slowly moving tectonic plates, eventually create the conditions conducive to earth-shattering events. The point is not simply to recognize the incrementalism of change or unintended consequences of social, economic and political reforms that have often been implemented in the region, but to urge us to pay greater attention to the “shifting web of conditions that define the terrain on which new institutions and actors arise, old actors activate or change their claims, and all pursue iterative contests.”[iv] Attention to these factors does not pinpoint precisely the emergence of uprisings across the Arab world, but it certainly makes them less surprising....