A decade ago, very few political scientists had either the opportunity or the incentive to engage with the political public in a direct, unmediated way. Today, there is a dense and eclectic ecosystem of political science and international relations-focused blogs and online publications, where good work can easily find an audience through social media. There are multiple initiatives dedicated to supporting academic interventions in the public sphere, and virtually every political or cultural magazine of note now offers a robust online section featuring commentary and analysis in which political scientists are well represented. This has transformed publication for a broader public from something exotic to something utterly routine. I discuss how these changes have affected individual scholars, the field of political science, and the political world with which we are engaged.
Narratives of Fear in Syria by Wendy Pearlman.
Scholarship on Syria has traditionally been limited by researchers’ difficulty in accessing the reflections of ordinary citizens due to their reluctance to speak about politics. The 2011 revolt opened exciting opportunities by producing an outpouring of new forms of self-expression, as well as encouraging millions to tell their stories for the first time. I explore what we can learn from greater attention to such data, based on thick descriptive analysis of original interviews with 200 Syrian refugees. I find that individuals’ narratives coalesce into a collective narrative emphasizing shifts in political fear. Before the uprising, fear was a pillar of the state’s coercive authority. Popular demonstrations generated a new experience of fear as a personal barrier to be surmounted. As rebellion militarized into war, fear became a semi-normalized way of life. Finally, protracted violence has produced nebulous fears of an uncertain future. Study of these testimonials aids understanding of Syria and other cases of destabilized authoritarianism by elucidating lived experiences obscured during a repressive past, providing a fresh window into the construction and evolution of national identity, and demonstrating how the act of narration is an exercise in meaning making within a revolution and itself a revolutionary practice.
Perspectives on Politics 14, no.1 (2016)
Exit, Resistance, Loyalty: Military Behavior During Unrest in Authoritarian Regimes by Holger Albrecht and Dorothy Ohl.
A few years into the most recent wave of popular uprisings—the Arab Spring—studying regime trajectories in countries such as Syria, Egypt, and Yemen still seems like shooting at a moving target. Yet what has not escaped notice is the central role military actors have played during these uprisings. We describe how soldiers have three options when ordered to suppress mass unrest. They may exit the regime by remaining in the barracks or going into exile, resist by fighting for the challenger or initiating a coup d’état, or remain loyal and use force to defend the regime. We argue that existing accounts of civil-military relations are ill equipped to explain the diverse patterns in exit, resistance, and loyalty during unrest because they often ignore the effects of military hierarchy. Disaggregating the military and parsing the interests and constraints of different agents in that apparatus is crucial for explaining military cohesion during such crises. Drawing on extensive fieldwork we apply our principal-agent framework to explain varying degrees and types of military cohesion in three Arab Spring cases: Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria. Studying military hierarchy elucidates decision-making within authoritarian regimes amid mass mobilization and allows us to better explain regime re-stabilization, civil war onset, or swift regime change in the wake of domestic unrest.
Perspectives on Politics 14, no.1 (2016)
The Origins of Kuwait’s National Assembly by Michael Herb.
Why does Kuwait have a powerful national parliament while the other Gulf monarchies do not? In this paper I explore several explanations for Kuwait’s National Assembly, address- ing works by Jill Crystal, Sean Yom and others. I argue that the Iraqi threat had a crucial role during two historical episodes: the writing of the constitution in 1962, and the res- toration of the constitution after liberation from Iraqi occupation. In the conclusion, I explore the lessons of the Kuwaiti case for the prospects for reform in the other five oil-rich monarchies of the Gulf. This paper draws on research presented in my book The Wages of Oil: Parliaments and Economic Development in Kuwait and the UAE (2014).
LSE Kuwait Program Paper Series 39 (March 2016).
Civilianizing Civil Conflict: Civilian Defense Militias and the Logic of Violence in Intrastate Conflict by Govinda Clayton and Andrew Thomson.
This article examines how civilian defense militias shape violence during civil war. We define civilian defense forces as a sedentary and defensive form of pro-government militia that incumbents often use to harness the participation of civilians during a counterinsurgency campaign. We argue that civilian defense forces reduce the problem of insurgent identification. This leads to a reduction in state violence against civilians. However, we also claim that these actors undermine civilian support for insurgents, which leads to an increase in rebel violence against civilians and overall intensification of conflict. A statistical analysis of government and rebel violence against civilians from 1981 to 2005 and a qualitative assessment of a civilian defense force operating in Iraq from 2005 to 2009 offer strong support for our theoretical claims. These findings provide further insight into pro-government militias and their effects on violence. They also have wider ethical implications for the use of civilian collaborators during civil war.
International Studies Quarterly (February 2016).