RPP 8: Data Sources & Interpretivist Research

  1. I am proposing to research uprisings demanding democratic reform in the Arab Spring.


  1. This is because I want to find out what explains empowerment of the middle- and working-class that allowed them to revolt against their authoritarian governments.


  1. In order to help my reader understand what discourse change empowered middle- and working-class people to effectively revolt against their authoritarian governments rather than succumbing to suppression.


How did it become possible for middle- and working-class people to influentially revolt against their authoritarian governments in the Arab Spring?

I’m analyzing two primary sources which represent a discourse analyzing what factors were represented to outsiders as emboldening Arab citizens to revolt against their government rather than succumbing to the suppression of their dictators. The object of inquiry, X, is the discourse regarding what motivated middle- and working-class citizens to stand up to their authoritarian governments. These two sources also represent how the discourse is broadcasted to outsiders from the conflict, making the actors contributing to the discourse empowering Arab Spring protesters foreign media and government documents.

The first is a speech given by Barack Obama, who was President of the United States during the Arab Spring.[1] It details the events that have occurred within all the countries affected by the regional chain of uprisings. It firstly creates an image of the Arab citizens protesting as change-makers for good who are motivated by their frustration, explaining Tunisia’s revolutionary beginnings as an emotional exodus: “that vendor’s act of desperation tapped into the frustration felt throughout the country.”[2] This speech was given soon after the assassination of Osama Bin Laden through a US operation, so President Obama’s words were observed by many Americans and foreigners observing the conflict, and therefore interact with outside perspectives of the Arab Spring as well as other texts promoting an image of protesters.

Second is an article published by The Washington Post in the midst of the Arab Spring which includes interviews from demonstrators in Syria to explain what motivates them.[3] A Syrian student emphasizes that the demonstrations are secular and the protestors are “moved by freedom, by our sense of humanity.”[4] This text represents the discourse about the character of protesters to outsiders of the protests, while also interacting with a discourse being pushed by the Arab authoritarian governments being revolted against which claims the protests are being religiously motivated.

[1] Office of the Press Secretary. “Remarks by the President on the Middle East and North Africa,” The White House. (Washington D.C.: 19 May 2011), 1.

[2] Ibid, 1.

[3] Tara Bahrampour. “Inspired by Neighbors and Technology, Syrians Join in Revolution,” The Washington Post. 16 April 2011, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/inspired-by-neighbors-and-technology-syrians-join-in-revolution/2011/04/16/AF3JPjqD_story.html.

[4] Ibid.

3 thoughts to “RPP 8: Data Sources & Interpretivist Research”

  1. Hi Claudia! This seems like a super interesting topic & I am excited to see how it goes. I think a helpful and interesting resource could be “Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East” by Asef Bayat. It talks specifically about the agency of lower and middle class actors during the Arab Spring – and he lays out the idea of “street politics” and “political street.” The book is available at the AU library, I think, and could act as a potentially valuable source for your research. Good luck and happy researching!

  2. Hey Claudia, interpretivist research could prove to be a very interesting methodology for your research! I notice that when you mention your reason for articulating your question, you state “because [you] want to find out what explains empowerment of the middle- and working-class that allowed them to revolt against their authoritarian governments” and “how [it became] possible for middle- and working-class people to influentially revolt against their authoritarian governments in the Arab Spring”. These are very solid articulations of a question as they presumably have the time and spatial contexts (not “cases” per se but delineated periods and places for study) of the MENA region around 2011 and onwards. Looking at your sources and analysis, however, it would appear that you (if I understand correctly) observe an official American foreign policy discourse regarding the Arab Spring as opposed to the protester’s own discourses. Either option is certainly valid and intriguing, it might simply be more useful to make sure your sources and analysis align with your choice of researched discourse. In the case of American official discourse regarding the Arab Spring, you can investigate the meanings and representations pervasive in the US establishment and how they understood the protests. This might allow you to focus on “how it became possible that the US adopted the policy it had towards the Arab Spring” for instance, given the bandwidth of possibilities regulated by the discourse and the representations and meanings that influenced how they perceived the protesters, their values, and their struggle. On the other hand, you could very well look at the protests themselves (though they may have common themes, it might be more advisable and practical to concentrate these on more specific contexts because though these were similar in many ways, different cultures and societies can provide for different patterns of perception and understanding of these movements). This can perhaps shed light on what I assume you currently delineate for study: how it became possible that citizens in a particular country and time in the MENA region began protesting and demanding change. Whichever you choose, you would be able to draw some great insights and rich analysis, but you would have to be cognizant that the sources align.

    For instance, your sources of President Obama’s speech and The Washington Post can be great for the former discourse as the representations of the protests included are those shared (possibly) by the American foreign policy establishment and not necessarily the protesters on the ground. Even if the two are identical, that is would not be what you seek to analyze. You would be researching how the protesters represented themselves, their regimes, their struggle, etc. and not necessarily how American politicians perceived them. If you are interested in the latter kind of discourse, however, that would of course work.

    Beyond identifying discourses for study, with either option, do you see possible counter-discourses? Who are the actors both central and peripheral to these hegemonic and counter-discourses? How might you map for exposure in order to capture these? Specifically, would you “cast your net wider” by looking for a diverse range of text types? In this vein, are there any key canonical texts in the American foreign policy establishment or in the localized protest culture/society you identify that may be implicitly referenced (ie: discussions of containment in the Cold War may reference Kenan’s Long Telegram, etc.)? In either option, what are examples of some of the episodes of rupture and moments of stability in the respective discourses? Has there been an evolution or change in these representations across time or have they been relatively consistent (has the “Arab protester” been represented as “secular, democratic, freedom-loving, and liberal” consistently)? Of course the answers to some of these questions are ones you wouldn’t have until after extensive embedment and research, but it would be interesting to hear what you think! Thank you!

  3. Claudia — you discuss data sources that are suitable for this methodology and you do a good job of identifying some representations that are in those sources. As Mohammad notes, though, you could work on refining the specific object of inquiry here (the discourses are not the object of inquiry; the object of inquiry is the issue/group/phenomenon that is given meaning by the discourses) to better focus the proposed research. It seems that the sources that you discuss concern representations of Arab citizens (one possible object of inquiry) and representations of the protestors themselves (another possible object of inquiry). How would you focus the analysis on one of these (or something else).

    As you think about the overall problem statement and the formulation of the question, remember (from Dunn and Neumann) that questions in this methodology usually take the “how…?” or “how possible…?” form that then points to the specific discourses and representations that are puzzling (e.g. “How was it possible that lone mothers came to be represented as immoral and greedy in 1830s Britain?” to use the Carabine example). That means that the middle part of your problem statement needs to change to align with the methodology (the current “because I want to find out what explains empowerment of the middle- and working-class that allowed them to revolt against their authoritarian governments” is very much a neopositivist question/statement). The question that follows (“How did it become possible for middle- and working-class people to influentially revolt against their authoritarian governments in the Arab Spring?”) is also a neopositivist explanatory question! Make sure to work on reframing the question and the problem statement so it aligns with the focus of this methodology (studying how shared meanings are constructed, reproduced, and challenged).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *