Anti-Colonial Machine Conference, “Decolonizing Revolutionary Theory: Arab Spring Uprisings and Their Aftermath” – Dr. Atef Said with Sora Han and David Lloyd

The Social Justice Institute and
Critical Racial & Anti-Colonial Studies (CRACS) Research Network presents:

Anti-Colonial Machine Conference

“Decolonizing Revolutionary Theory:
Arab Spring Uprisings and Their Aftermath”

Dr. Atef Said
with Sora Han and David Lloyd

January 27, 4pm-6pm
Fairmont Social Lounge at St. John’s College
2111 Lower Mall, UBC


This event is free and open to the public. RSVP’s are not required to attend, only encouraged.

Abstract: This paper has two premises.  First, scholarship on revolutions and social movements like many other scholarships in the larger social sciences and humanities is colonized. I argue that the developments of this scholarship started with assumptions that the revolutionary subject and the so-called great revolutions were white and occurred in Europe. Second, the project of decolonizing this scholarship is unattainable without undoing the history of knowledge production on the study of revolutions. Even if we agree that the decolonization project is difficult, I argue it is useful to examine the colonial and the post-colonial element in the scholarship of revolutions.  While focusing on the case of the Arab Spring Uprisings, and analyzing selected works in the disciplines of sociology, political science and history, I show how colonial past and colonial and imperial present informed the uprisings and shaped their trajectory. Yet, scholarship on the Arab spring ignored the colonial question altogether in the study of the uprisings. The paper is divided into two parts. In the first part, I examine how the scholarship of revolutions centered Western revolutions in their theoretical paradigms and ignored significant revolution such as the Haitian revolution (1791 -1804), and when studying the 20th century non-European revolutions, this scholarship ignored the colonial element in these revolutions and or studied these revolutions as homogenized episodes. I closely study critical developments in the literature of revolutions, such developments that give attention to the role of international geo-politics in uprisings. I argue that these developments are not satisfactory as long as they do not put the colonial question at the forefront of study of revolutions. In the second part, I examine how this pattern has continued in the study of the Arab Spring uprisings. My study shows that while dominant scholarship on Middle Eastern Politics applied rigid paradigms of authoritarianism, democratization and or transitions from authoritarianism to democracy without proper attention to dynamics of revolutions and counter-revolutions in the region, scholars of revolution were not in a better space than scholars of Middle East politics.  Prominent scholars of revolution used old frameworks of so-called third world revolutions and the color revolutions and continued to miss the significance of the colonial and post-colonial factor in enplaning the uprisings and their trajectory. I also criticize shallow post-colonial scholars and anti-imperialists who not only saw the colonial factor operate in societal vacuum but also had limited understanding of the role of colonial powers, which limited this role to intervention namely military one. I study how scholars of revolutions have limited analyses of the multifaceted dynamics of counter-revolutions in the context of the Arab Spring. In conclusion, I argue that critical theories are not adequate to decolonize revolutionary theories, without decolonizing epistemological knowledge that inform revolutionary theory.

Dr. Atef Said is a Visiting Assistant Professor of sociology at University of Illinois at Chicago with a research interest in revolutions, human rights, ethnography, and colonialism specifically in the Arabic context.  With a background as a human rights attorney and researcher in Egypt from 1995-2004 Atef’s work is informed by his practice and by the concept of political public space.