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HOW ECONOMICS MATTER?
Year 5 of the Revolutions, a social and economic lens
Call for papers for an international workshop in Beirut
12-14 October 2016
The study of the political mobilizations that took place in North Africa and the Middle-East since the watershed of 2010 reveals the limits of purely economic analyses. Poverty and deteriorating living conditions – which were, in this case, most notably due to the structural adjustments of the 1990s, and of the economic crisis of the 2000s – do not automatically produce uprisings or collective protests, in this region as elsewhere. On the one hand, the “bread and butter” nature characterizing the demands of some political movements does not reduce the latter to spasmodic and immature forms of political expression. Quite the contrary, they reveal the shaping of political and collective consciousness. On the other hand, the sociology of mobilization proves itself to be particularly complex. It implies taking into serious consideration the narrative and practices of actors hitherto considered as marginal and seldom heard nor seen, as well as the unequal resources at stake in the collective demands made. The comparative observations of contemporary public spaces in the region can be interesting precisely because these spaces are the political scene on which appear coalitions of actors coming from various socio-economic backgrounds, in spite of the unified slogans they use. In fact, these slogans were often only unified after necessary readjustments; they also varied in other cases along local or sectorial lines, thus highlighting the diversity within the ranks of those producing them. To understand these public spaces, one must discuss their social topography, the dynamics of social downgrading and mobility underlying them, the expectations they nurture, and the inequalities they crystallize.
This colloquium, organized in Beirut as part of the WAFAW (ERC) program, aims to critically take part in a debate over the socio-economic undergrounds of the “political crises” in the region, a scarcely explored angle when dealing with this issue. It will base its contribution on investigations and original corpuses. Its purpose is to better understand how the Arab, Iranian, Turkish and other political societies observed are worked by highly singular processes (such as the importance of oil, of migration economy, or of war economies) but also amenable to an unequal globalization of exchanges. How (and not why) does the economy play into these political dynamics? How do mobilizations and counter-mobilizations fit into distribution devices and in exchanges, which were historically constructed by public policies and/or localized, or clientelist interdependencies? How do the languages of identity, politics, and injustice or of economic and social domination interrelate? How can the economy of mobilization be understood, whether these mobilizations are peaceful or armed, apparently “material” or “immaterial”, protesting, loyalist or “counter-revolutionary”?
We intend to put forward this interrogation by bringing together three fields of research rarely associated with one another: a history of the ideas and the grammar of economic and social justice; an economic sociology of commandeering and redistribution; a political sociology of the moral economies of protestation (or of… “Counter-revolution”). The object of focus in the region essentially remained the hampering effects of so-called rentier or clientelist economies on the politicization of their societies. On the contrary, our wish is to analyze how the political field can be, in these contexts, both the product and the producer of antagonisms over resources, antagonisms raised through the protests as injustices and vehicles for collective identifications.
How economics matter? Participants should use this problematic framework, following their respective fields and corpus, and tackling most notably the following questions:
Panel 1: New forms of accumulation, new political resources? Tycoons, refugees and fighters in the economy of revolutions.
To what extent did the recent mobilizations affect the processes and forms of economic accumulation as well as its modes of representation, or even its social prestige? To what extent do they mirror it? What are the “new” faces of accumulation, from the industrial tycoon to the warlord, the exiled entrepreneur, the businessman in “market islam” or the foreign investor? As we privilege contributions based on local studies and portraits of specific actors, these contributions could address the following questions:
- Have the processes and structures of accumulation – and the moral economies, which structure them – been transformed? How do the rules of the market, of exchange and distribution evolve in their institutional features but also in their practical dimensions? How is the economic activity concretely maintained, negotiated and developed in a period of crisis? What specific logics of accumulation and distribution emerge in situations of uprisings, war, and human displacement?
- How were the modes of representation of economic interests affected? How do economic actors position themselves and “enter the political arena”? How are the capitals of the political and economic fields converted from one to the other?
- How do the forms and methods of the movement of capital transform themselves? Two interdependent forms of movement seem relevant: the movement of capital (especially originating from the Gulf) and the movement of persons (such as refugees and expatriates). How were the trajectories of movement modified? To what stakes of economical and geopolitical competition do these movements pertain?
Panel 2 : Voicing claims in unequal relationships: the clientelist redistribution as a factor of inhibition or protest?
This issue calls for an update of existing works on clientelism in the region. For a long period, these works were more assertive than documented, and were based on the premise of the weak politicization of these societies. Clientelism was studied either to explain the apparent weakness of resistance against authoritarian regimes, or to justify the subscription to islamist movements. The charity works and clientelist networks of the latter were presented as their principal resources for mobilization (rather than their ideological corpus, for example). Stimulating paths were recently opened by a series of works dealing with the moral economy of clientelist relations. We call upon our contributors to discuss how the daily interdependencies, which shape our clientelist relations do not exclusively act as devices of subjugation but can on the contrary establish claims and demands and accompany collective narratives relating to social justice and politics.
Panel 3: The mutations of the work field, precariousness and productivity: an observatory for new resistances and protests?
A third category of contributions will concentrate on the movements within the work field, which is currently under pressure and subjected to deep evolutions. These movements often went unnoticed because their reach remained limited and restricted to fields of production, and because they received little media attention in comparison with “more noble” and “less material” causes. This was the case, for example, before the revolutions, with the mobilizations of 2006/2008 in the coal mining area of Gafsa of Tunisia, in south Jordan or in the Nile Delta in Egypt. We would like to question the value and the limits of the works on the “voiceless” or the “rightless”. Should the claims of the working, industrial, professional classes, which are making themselves heard mezzo voce since the crisis of 2008, be compared to “plebeian” or “insurrectional appeals”? How can we account for the inflation on the ground of grammars of protest articulated around the notions of justice and injustice? How are different modes of protests, which cannot be reduced to their materiality or immateriality combined within and without the workspace? Which can neither be reduced to an alternative between socio-economic claims or identity claims? Nor to the exploitation of the lumpenproletariat by competing political groups (yesterday nationalist movements, using the imperative of unity, and today islamist movements waving the mantra of anti-imperialism)?
Our issue is not only to replace these often local or sectorial struggles in the “workplace” at the heart of our analysis, but also to interrogate their articulation with other ways of acting and struggling in politics.
Panel 4 : What vote economies? Exchanges and politicizations
A fourth series of contributions could explore the “socioeconomic undergrounds” of recent electoral mobilizations (or of older ones, when sources are available). They would do so by deconstructing the oppositions between a vote out of conviction / a vote out of clientelism, relations of loyalty / material transaction, but also competitive and democratic elections / non-competitive and authoritarian elections. On the one hand, clientelist practices are accompanied by forms of politicization and moral assessment, which deeply condition the social acceptability of these exchanges. On the other hand, beyond the transparency of the electoral process, one of the powerful factors of electoral competitiveness or lack thereof is unequal economic competition. The different papers could more specifically address the following questions:
- How can should one analyze the practices describes and more importantly denounced as “buying votes”? It is important to show the variability of what is or is not labelled and understood as “buying votes” by actors. How can different moral assessments be made for similar material transactions? How does the voting economy fit into larger local economies? Are “clients” always as deprived and vulnerable as they appear to be?
- What are the relations put into place during the elections between the different “redistributors” of the local space, but also between the “receptors” and “spectators” (those who watch these transactions without directly taking part in them)? How were these relations modified by the recompositions of the political scenes after 2010?
- What global economic dynamics enfold the electoral processes? How do the voting economies interlink with the national political economies? As for voting entrepreneurs, what are the resources they mobilize in electoral campaigns, upon what financing networks / public platforms of redistribution do they rely, and to what constraints (notably legal) are they confronted?
Panel 5: Welfare/Warfare State: what (re)allocations of resources?
Several countries are in situations of war since 2011, for different reasons and following different temporalities. Some of the regimes heading them displayed programs of redistribution, socialist or non-socialist. Other non-protective or not highly protective regimes, such as Yemen, met the same fate and partially collapsed. Nonetheless, the destruction of infrastructure and the radical transformation of the daily conditions of living did not prevent local populations from providing constant efforts in order to (re)construct their countries. One must now take into account the emergence of hitherto unseen or ignored systems, and the blossoming of a war economy largely based on contraband and internationalized financial devices. How were social institutions, which were once a source of legitimation for authoritarian regimes, transformed in these contexts? What (re)conversions and (re)allocations of resources, both material and symbolic, can we thus observe? How do economic practices coincide with, or even foster, the war effort and vice versa? What social and geographic economies emanate in these conflict-ridden societies? Finally, what should one make of the role of the “international” economy on these local economies and these splintering states, on both the military level and that of humanitarian assistance?
Panel 6: Islam, capitalism and alter-globalization: what new readings ?
The object of this panel would be to analyze the role and content of economic ideologies before, during, and after the Arab uprisings of 2011. To what extent did ideologized economic visions contribute in formulating hopes and projections, which in turn encouraged political mobilizations within the various opposition movements as well as the regimes in place? The expected contributions will strive to understand how and how much the contestation movements appropriated doctrinal economic paradigms in order to feed and devise an economic program allying both conviction and responsibility. Or, on the contrary, they may raise the issue of the reproduction of old economic orientations by actors yet claiming to offer an alternative economic model, may it be in the “socialist” or developmentalist fashion, or the “Islamic economy” one. This will be the opportunity to draw an assessment of the economic projects and programs put forward. In order to do so, participants will try to understand why economic doctrines formulated as alternatives to the mainstream liberal approach eventually remain marginal throughout the Arab uprisings, in spite of the numerous economic and social demands brought forward by the original protestation movements. Observations made in the field could usefully be analyzed in the light of the history of ideas. Just as a comparative approach between different intellectual schools (Muslim Brotherhood, leftist movements, others…) involved in various fields of study (Arab and non-Arab countries) will enable analogies or distinctions to be made. The latter will themselves improve the economic reading of the uprisings. In this framework, the study of alternative economic models, supported by political as well as associative and trade-union forces, must question the way in which these models answer or not more global economic debates (alter-globalization, solidarity economy, local development, micro-credit, etc.).
- Amin Allal (CERAPS/WAFAW) : firstname.lastname@example.org
- Myriam Catusse (Ifpo/WAFAW) : email@example.com
Scientific committee of the colloquium:
Amin Allal (CERAPS/WAFAW), Myriam Catusse (Ifpo/WAFAW), Nicolas Dot-Pouillard (Ifpo/WAFAW), Julien Pélissier (IREMAM/WAFAW), Laura Ruiz De Elvira (IREMAM/WAFAW), Marie Vannetzel (CERI/WAFAW), Dilek Yankaya (IREMAM/WAFAW).
The propositions will be sent as a Word document to the two organizers and will comprise a title and a summary, which will not exceed 6000 signs, bibliography included. They will be attached to an email clearly stating the surnames, first names, scientific or institutional affiliations of the author(s), the title of the presentation as well as the panel in which the author wishes to intervene.
- Deadline to submit the propositions: 15 May 2016
- Answer of the scientific committee: end of May 2016
- Delivery of the texts (maximum 40 000 signs): 5 September 2016
- Colloquium: 12-14 October 2016, Beirut.