about live-ar project

« The subsequent lives of Arab revolutionaries »

Photo credit: Victor Dupont

What has become of the men and women, more often ordinary people than experienced activists, who brought about the Arab revolutions of 2011, ten years following the first wave of protests? What remains of their commitment to freedom, social justice and dignity, and the bonds and networks of friendships they forged during the revolutionary moment? What of their “subsequent lives” (Fillieule et al., 2018) and the structures and institutions they created? What are the “emotional legacies” (Nussio, 2012) of their participation in the revolutionary processes of 2011? In sum, what are the biographical consequences and the social outcomes of revolutionary activism when the revolutionary moment becomes a civil war (Syria), an “authoritarian restoration” (Egypt), a fragile and tense democratic transition (Tunisia), or a return to the former “years of lead” (Morocco)?

At odds with the generalized idea of a “lost decade” and that of the “failure” of the Arab uprisings, the main hypothesis of this project is that despite the fact that most Arab revolutionary processes have not (yet) succeeded in accomplishing their initial goals of political liberalization and social justice, that violence and repression have indeed increased in the region, and that feelings of failure, frustration and trauma are generalized among Arab revolutionaries whose “activist careers” (Fillieule, 2001) have on many occasions been interrupted or put on hold, the “subsequent lives” of the latter reveal that a major disruption took place in 2011 and that its biographical consequences, “emotional legacies” and social outcomes will be multi-fold, long-lasting and nourish the new generations of Arab citizenry. In this perspective, the revolutionary process, instead of necessarily leading to a successful radical political rupture, is conceived of here as one that produces a more diffuse reconfiguration of individual and collective social practices, representations and interactions. What is more, acting as “micro-social change entrepreneurs” (Fillieule and Neveu 2019), these revolutionaries contribute to shape broader socio-political dynamics, thereby generating meaningful change through their everyday actions (Bayat, 2013). The revolutionary phase initiated in 2011 has not been closed; beyond what has often been portrayed as an “Arab winter”, the different societies of the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region have shifted towards a new reality whose long-term transformations are yet to come and need to be documented.

Building on the previous research experience of the PI and the team members, this project develops an ambitious analytical approach that focuses on the “subsequent lives” of the ordinary, meaning “run-of-the-mill” (Giugni and Grasso, 2016), not experienced, prominent or newsworthy, Arab revolutionaries. It aims at analyzing the impacts of revolutionary activism on the biographical trajectories of these citizens in their private, activist, professional, affective, relational and organisational lives.

In order to achieve the above, LIVE-AR follows a multi-layered research design that simultaneously articulates the micro and meso levels and focuses on four highly contrasted case-studies: Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. In so doing it proposes a three-fold shift in the usual analysis: a) from the revolutionary moment to the “subsequent lives” and a longitudinal analysis (temporality); b) from the institutions and macro-political transformations to the ordinary activists and the individual level (structure/agency); and c) from national studies to cross-national comparison in order to comprehend variations depending on the political context (reinforced authoritarianism in the case of Morocco, difficult transition to democracy in Tunisia, authoritarian restoration after a revolutionary moment in Egypt, and war in the case of Syria) (spatiality and scope).

The project relies on a highly skilled multidisciplinary team, with extensive experience in the region, as well as on a diversified methodological “toolkit” in phase with a qualitative multidisciplinary approach: biographical interviews are combined with life calendars, an analysis of digital social networks and internet archives, ethnographic observations of daily life practices and encounters, and secondary sources.