Panel 8e Revolutionary Cities, Revolutionary Youth: The Arab Spring Society

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Chair: Dr Stacey Gutkowski, Lecturer in Conflict/Post-conflict Studies, King’s College London

Paper 1: Romancing Tahrir Square: Revolutionary Space under the American Gaze
Dr Stacey Gutkowski, Lecturer in Conflict / Post-conflict Studies, King’s College London

Once the US managed to bid farewell to its long love affair with Mubarak, American political discourse quickly followed European discourse in embracing a romanticised image of Tahrir Square as the locus of revolutionary change in the Middle East. As a revolutionary space, the imagined and real events of Tahrir Square both justified and called into question two decades of US democratisation programmes in the region. This paper places the American iconography of Tahrir Square within a broader genealogy of American perceptions of revolutionary spaces and its relationship to these spaces. It argues that Tahrir Square, like Tianeman Square and the US Embassy in Tehran, have a similar exhibitionary function to that described by Timothy Mitchell in his account of European colonialism. Under the American gaze, these revolutionary spaces reflect back to the US the mythology of its own revolution, while at the same time exposing the US government discomfort with non-Western people’s power.

Paper 2: Painting the Revolution: The Impact of Street Art on the Egyptian Revolt
Daniele Bolazzi, PhD candidate, King’s College London

What distinguishes an authentic revolution from a simple switch in the political arena is its cultural impact on society. Artistic movements represent the starting point of every revolution whose effects contribute to change, not only of the political situation, but, above all, the way in which people perceive themselves and their society. Due to its communicative power, art has often been kept under the shadow of censorship becoming, in this way, a symbol of freedom. The aim of this paper is to analyze the impact of artistic movements in supporting the Egyptian revolution, looking at the way in which Egyptian youth has expressed its criticism of the regime through art. The analysis will focus on Cairo’s street art since it represents a form of art which has been diffused only recently inside the Egyptian society and, at the same time, it has been able to embody needs and social anxieties of Egyptian youths. >> download the paper

Paper 3: Out of Class, In the Street: Moroccan Youth before and during the Arab Spring
Dr Charis Boutieri, Lecturer in the Anthropology of Religion, King’s College London

This paper interrogates the link between the disintegration of state education in Morocco and the massive mobilization of youth in Moroccan streets in the spring of 2011. Though youth movements have been launching forceful claims for a chance to social integration based on the meritocratic evaluation of their skills, they were simultaneously cynical about the material relevance of school knowledge. This cynicism has turned into a disengagement from the school as a socially and symbolically invested space. The connection between classroom experience and political mobilization reiterates the academic need to delineate how an elitist colonial framing of knowledge has been mapped onto neo-liberal ideas of pedagogy imposed on Morocco by organizations such as the World Bank. This way, we can respond to the technical diagnostics generated by international organizations in relation to the prolonged “crisis” of state education in the country. This paper will argue that this diagnosis – according to which learning is the outcome of educational engineering and the management of changing demographics – obscures the political intentions that underpin knowledge and overlooks the fact that what we label as postcolonial or development period is in need of its own emancipation, the struggle for which is far from over.

Paper 4: Vernaculars of Resistance: A Historical Assessment of Arab Youth Generated Media
Dr Joe Khalil, Assistant Professor, Northwestern University, Qatar

The wave of Arab uprisings has triggered heated debates about their social and political impact on Arab societies. In a global geopolitical context preoccupied with Arab democratization, many Arab, US and European commentators have hailed these uprisings as a triumph of globalization and modern technology. The validity of these claims has not received rigorous scrutiny. This paper focuses on the Friday demonstrations as pan-Arab media events, not in the neo-Durkheimian sense of a public ceremony of social solidarity, but rather as an episode of what some social movement theorists call contentious politics. This paper theorizes youth generated media as a political space. The language and style of youth generated media can have a powerful impact because by reclaiming public space and soliciting mainstream media coverage, youth generated media becomes a crossroads of intertextual references that most Arabs recognize.

These are abridged versions of the abstracts submitted by  the presenters.
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