Lange 2014 Term Paper Political Ethnography and the Study of Democracy

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<ul><li><p>An exploration of how political ethnography can contribute to the study of democracy in </p><p>the Middle East </p><p> One-Week Home Assignment </p><p> By: Sarah A. Lange </p><p>Course: </p><p>History of Research in the Middle East </p><p>Semester: </p><p>3rd- Fall 2014 </p></li><li><p> Sarah A. Lange </p><p>1 </p><p>Table of Contents </p><p>1. Introduction ........................................................................... 2 </p><p>2. Summaries of Anderson and Valbjrn ........................................ 2 </p><p>3. Political Ethnography ............................................................... 5 </p><p>4. Contribution of Political Ethnography to studying democracy in the </p><p>Middle East .................................................................................... 7 </p><p>5. Conclusion ........................................................................... 10 </p><p>Reference List .............................................................................. 11 </p></li><li><p> Sarah A. Lange </p><p>2 </p><p>1. Introduction </p><p>For the one-week home assignment I have chosen to answer question num-</p><p>ber three which reads as follows: With a point of departure in the texts </p><p>Searching Where the Light Shines and Upgrading Post-Democratization </p><p>Studies summarize the arguments presented by Anderson and Valbjrn. In </p><p>what way can political ethnography (as discussed by the likes of Tilly (2006) </p><p>and Wedeen (2010)) contribute to such an approach to studying democracy </p><p>in the Middle East. The analysis consists of three interlinked parts. First of </p><p>the summaries of the arguments by Anderson and Valbjrn will be provided. </p><p>They lay the foundation on how democracy has been studied so far. Then it </p><p>will be clarified by what political ethnography entails. Building on the works </p><p>by Tilly, Wedeen and possibly Nilan (2002) as well, the advantages and </p><p>disadvantages will be discussed. The final part of the analysis then combines </p><p>these two arguments and shows how political ethnography can contribute </p><p>to study democracy in the Middle East. Here the discussion will primarily </p><p>focus Asef Bayats (2013) argument of nonmovements. If appropriate ad-</p><p>ditional authors will be referenced in further support of the argument made. </p><p>2. Summaries of Anderson and Valbjrn </p><p>In Searching Where the Light Shines: Studying Democratization in the Mid-</p><p>dle East Anderson (2006) reviews 25 years of literature on how democracy </p><p>has been studied in the Middle East and thus also provides an overview as </p><p>well on how the positions also in US foreign policy have changed over time. </p><p>Throughout the text it also becomes clear that she criticises the American </p><p>debate on democratisation and the emerging one on post-democratisation </p><p>at the beginning of the 21st century. Anderson undermines her argument </p><p>by referring to some of the most known scholars of the field and what they </p></li><li><p> Sarah A. Lange </p><p>3 </p><p>have argued about democracy and/or the prospects of democratisation in </p><p>the region. She argues that political scientists were puzzled by the fact that </p><p>the Middle East did not undergo a process of democratisation that happened </p><p>at the end of the Cold War at which point many Eastern and South European </p><p>countries had joined this development. This led amongst scholars to ques-</p><p>tion whether democracy should even be debated when researching the Mid-</p><p>dle East as it had proven to withstand these so-called waves of democra-</p><p>tization (Anderson, 2006, p. 190). Anderson then debates that the religion </p><p>of Islam was once seen as an obstacle to democratisation but as more coun-</p><p>tries outside and even in the region (e.g. Turkey and Yemen) democratised </p><p>this changed. Political scientist continued to move back and forth between </p><p>questioning why democratic regimes have not emerged and whether au-</p><p>thoritarian governments in the region possess characteristics, influenced by </p><p>social, cultural and historical dynamics that make them resistant to change, </p><p>the so-called Middle Eastern Exceptionalism (p.201). One of her key ar-</p><p>guments is also that political scientists has been influenced by the norma-</p><p>tive commitment to liberal democracy (p.205) and this has resulted in try-</p><p>ing to apply Western categories (p.191) to politics in the Middle East. This </p><p>thinking from a liberal point of view, a bias towards democracy (p.209) is </p><p>apparent in the publications and consequently has limited their contribution </p><p>to the study of democracy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in </p><p>general because other (not influenced by US policy) points of view were </p><p>neglected. </p><p>It has also become apparent that the study of democracy in the MENA fo-</p><p>cused on investigating institutional, formal politics in those countries. Based </p><p>on this assessment, Anderson forms her final key arguments. She points to </p><p>the fact that political institutions are often underdeveloped in the MENA </p><p>region. Anderson thus argues that the investigation of politics in the MENA </p><p>region would be aided if it would also be questioned of what constitutes as </p><p>politics. Based on her argument, the study of politics in the region would be </p></li><li><p> Sarah A. Lange </p><p>4 </p><p>enhanced if a greater focus would be placed on how region-specific social </p><p>(e.g. sectarian differences, tribal history etc.) and economic (e.g. rentier </p><p>states) dynamics have shaped the prevalence of authoritarian regimes, au-</p><p>thoritarian resilience (Anderson, 2006, p.191), and thus proposed, and still </p><p>do, obstacles to democratisation. Resulting from this Anderson specifies: </p><p>In fact, if we wish to find out why the Middle East is resistant to democra-</p><p>tization [...] We may have to search a bit more in the shadows, in the arenas </p><p>of political life less well illuminated by conventional political science (An-</p><p>derson, 2006, p. 210). With this statement she indicates that political de-</p><p>velopments outside the official public sphere in those regimes has the pos-</p><p>sibility to give a better understanding on how to position the Middle East </p><p>and its developments in a global context. </p><p>The second text important for this paper is Valbjrns (2012) Upgrading </p><p>Post-Democratization Studies in which he focuses on the debate of post-</p><p>democratisation in the Middle East which as he early on claims needs to be </p><p>further developed. Valbjrn structured his argument as constructive critique </p><p>and response to some of Andrea Tetis work1. He argues that attempts at </p><p>political liberalisation, which took place from the late 1980s to the early </p><p>2000s, were merely measures employed by the authoritarian governments </p><p>to preserve their regimes and consequently have not led to the establish-</p><p>ment of democracies in Arab countries. These Lampedusan changes </p><p>(p.28) might appear to observers on the outside as political reforms but </p><p>only serve to maintain the status quo (Valbjrn, 2012). One of his key </p><p>points is the claim that the Arab Spring has re-politicized (p. 25) the po-</p><p>litical sphere in the Middle East and North Africa asserting that people in </p><p>those countries have become much more political active and vocal about </p><p>their demands. This according Valbjrn poses a challenge to the scholarly </p><p> 1 Valbjrn primarily refers to Andrea Tetis Democratization and the Middle East </p><p>in Contemporary Global Order in Stephan Stetter (ed.) The Middle East and </p><p>Globalization, London: Palgrave-Macmillan published in 2012. </p><p></p></li><li><p> Sarah A. Lange </p><p>5 </p><p>debate about the region and in referring to some of Lisa Andersons work he </p><p>consequently advocates for a move to re-define the meaning of politics. The </p><p>paths which those countries might take are hardly predicable and this is </p><p>why Valbjrn claims that these are transitions to somewhere (Valbjrn, </p><p>2012, p.26). This leaves more room as opposed to those political scientists </p><p>who advocate either for democratisation taking place and those who claim </p><p>that democratisation is unlikely (post-democratisation approach) for the </p><p>Arab countries of the MENA region. In accordance with his argument of re-</p><p>politicization of the Arab world (p. 30), he asserts that activism is now </p><p>visible in all part of society with even the more conservative elements rep-</p><p>resented mostly by Islamists and Salafists, who have started participating </p><p>in shaping the transitions of various countries which experience uprisings </p><p>due to the Arab Spring. Valbjrn highlights that the developments that led </p><p>to the spillover effect which characterised the Arab Spring were not neces-</p><p>sarily visible on the outside. Rather it was the formal political scene in the </p><p>years prior to the Arab Spring that had according to the scholarly opinion </p><p>undergone a general de-politicization and feeling of political apathy </p><p>(Valbjrn, 2012, p.32). Valbjrn (2012) claims that other key dynamics </p><p>taking place below the regime-centred radar were missed (p.32). He con-</p><p>cludes that the existing direction of studies on (post-) democratisation, Arab </p><p>politics in general, would be enhanced if the developments on the ground, </p><p>micro level, would receive greater attention. </p><p>3. Political Ethnography </p><p>Anderson and Valbjrn both have outlined how knowledge of democ-</p><p>racy/democratisation studies in the Middle East came into being, primarily </p><p>through academics who have investigated formal political scenes in the </p><p>MENA. Nevertheless, there are other ways of acquiring knowledge of this </p><p>field of study: political ethnography. Tilly (2006) and Wedeen (2010) concur </p></li><li><p> Sarah A. Lange </p><p>6 </p><p>that amongst the academic community, opinions are divided what consti-</p><p>tutes political ethnography in detail. However both authors agree that the </p><p>method is interdisciplinary as ethnographers can be found in various scien-</p><p>tific fields. Baiocchi and Conner (2008) offer a basic framework as a defini-</p><p>tion: [...] political ethnography, a research method that is based on close-</p><p>up and real-time observation of actors involved in political processes, at </p><p>times even extending the definition of these processes to move beyond cat-</p><p>egories of state, civil society, and social movements (Baiocchi and Conner, </p><p>2008, p.139). Similar views can be found in the texts by Tilly and Wedeen </p><p>who argues that immersion in the place and lives of people under study </p><p>(Wedeen, 2010, p.257) is an important feature of this kind of research. Tilly </p><p>(2006) highlights that interviews, active and passive observations as well </p><p>as casual conversations are some of the tools employed by political ethnog-</p><p>raphers to gather information. Participant observation is stressed to be a </p><p>notable characteristic (Wedeen, 2010, Tilly, 2006, Nilan 2002). Tilly for in-</p><p>stance points out how this and other ethnographic methods employed by a </p><p>researcher who has investigated the political and tribal dynamics in a town-</p><p>ship in South Africa revealed that the concept of democracy was understood </p><p>differently by the residents than by more affluent Caucasian citizens of the </p><p>country. </p><p>Nevertheless, ethnographic research has been criticised for not being ob-</p><p>jective and neutral enough. On the grounds of this, mainstream political </p><p>scientists have been hesitant to use ethnographic findings in their work or </p><p>to use the method themselves. Nilan (2002) and Haage (2009) state that </p><p>this critique is warranted to a certain extend. Emotions do play a notable </p><p>role in fieldwork and ethnographers cannot escape them. Haage (200) </p><p>claims that ethnographer enters a different mindset when confronted with </p><p>emotional and/or dangerous situations and environments but that, if they </p><p>are aware of their emotions, this can later be analysed from a researchers </p><p>perspective and thus gain more information of their investigated field. Nilan </p></li><li><p> Sarah A. Lange </p><p>7 </p><p>discusses that tools such as participant observation does require a good </p><p>deal of self-control and that the researcher in question should pay attention </p><p>of not becoming too attached. The authors agree that ethnography offers </p><p>the advantage of assessing the validity of general assumptions and theories </p><p>on a more localised level. In some cases as referred to by Wedeen and Tilly, </p><p>it may also be possible to generalise some of the arguments and apply them </p><p>to a wider context. Resulting from findings like that and others exemplified </p><p>by the authors, it can be determined that ethnography as a research </p><p>method does not mean that interpretive social science does not have to </p><p>forswear generalizations or causal explanations and that ethnographic </p><p>methods can be used in the service of establishing them (Wedeen, 2010, </p><p>p.255). </p><p>4. Contribution of Political Ethnography to studying democ-</p><p>racy in the Middle East </p><p>Now that the key arguments of Anderson and Valbjrn have been outlined </p><p>as well as what political ethnography, this section combines the two in order </p><p>to answer the research question. As it has been assessed by Anderson and </p><p>Valbjrn, the Middle East has been attested to have a democratic deficit </p><p>(Anderson, 2006, p.197). The actions by some authoritarian states to lib-</p><p>eralise politics to a limited extend such as the implementation of parliamen-</p><p>tary elections in for instance Jordan turned out to be techniques of the re-</p><p>gime in question to manifest its power (Valbjrn, 2012). Nonetheless polit-</p><p>ical streams ranging from conservative to leftist politics have been made </p><p>out in those countries as political parties are present in those countries that </p><p>hold elections despite the fact that the outcome is fairly predictable in most </p><p>cases. The overviews given by Anderson and Valbjrn also make it clear </p><p>that many political scientists tend to focus their analyses of Arab politics on </p></li><li><p> Sarah A. Lange </p><p>8 </p><p>what Valbjrn (2012) has critiqued as a very narrowly regime-centered </p><p>perspective (p. 32). </p><p>Political ethnography, as outlined previously, places its emphasis not on the </p><p>bigger picture of politics but rather the other way around. It informs of </p><p>political process by looking at it from the bottom up i.e. people and how for </p><p>instance they encounter, in this case authoritarian, regimes on a daily basis </p><p>(Baiocchi and Conner, 2008). In this regard the Asef Bayats (2013) Life </p><p>as Politics elaborates in detail on micro level developments. Bayat criticises </p><p>the tendency of scholars to view the Middle East as an entity. This perspec-</p><p>tive has led to change, that has happened and continues to do so, to being </p><p>overlooked (Bayat, 2013). Usually bigger events such as revolutions or the </p><p>uprisings of the Arab Spring bring a renewed focus on shifts in power in the </p><p>MENA region. Valbjrn pointed out that with the Arab Spring politics has </p><p>started to play a much bigger role, not only on the institutional level but </p><p>most importantly in the civil societies of the region. This view is echoed by </p><p>Bayat (2013) who refers to the widespread demands for democracy re-</p><p>flected in the protests in all countries affected by the Arab Spring since late </p><p>2010. This was also the case in those where the uprisings did not lead to a </p><p>regime overthrow such as in...</p></li></ul>


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