RPP 9: End of Term Mentor Meeting

My mentor, Dr. Malini Ranganathan, and I have met consistently every 2-3 weeks throughout the semester to discuss my progress on my research project. On December 6th, she and I met for around 20 minutes at 2:10 pm to have our final mentor meeting for the semester.

We discussed two main topics: reviewing the progression of how my puzzle and research questions have changed this semester and the next steps moving into 306 next semester.

This semester, my project has undergone a sharp turn into new territory. I initially began my research wanting to focus on urban planning techniques that proved to be successful in Global South cities. As Dr. Ranganathan and I worked to broaden my horizons within the critical urban geography world, I started to realize my interest in how class division operates within these bounds. As I read more and more scholarship in the field, I settled on a specific interest surrounding this urban class discourse and its relation to activism and revolution. I wondered why the middle-, working-, and subaltern classes were so divided despite all facing a similar opponent in their activism: the rich and powerful. Together, they would be stronger, and class was an aspect of activism studies that was often overlooked by scholars, even though the division seemed extremely counterintuitive to me.

This has all led to me deciding on my research design as of right now: a small-n case study driven by the question, “What explains the difference in transformational outcomes resulting from the Arab Spring uprisings demanding democratic reform in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Libya?” specifically focusing on class’ impact in those movements.

Dr. Ranganathan encouraged me to broaden my thinking about class’ place in activism since I had struggled to find scholarship that directly attributed class as playing a main role in movements. She suggested I also consider the question, “if at all, to what extent does class feature in studies of social movement?” Additionally, we discussed how class intersects with other identities, such as sectarianism and religion.

Regarding next steps, I am not using human subjects and will be focusing on the analysis of documents and social media presence to inform my case study. Therefore, there is not much I need to consider regarding the IRB. Instead, I will be focusing over break and in the future on reading as much Arab ethnographic work as possible as well as considering the intersection of class and activism on a broader context, including important movements in Lagos, Hong Kong, Ecuador, Chile, and more. This will assist me in approaching the execution of my research with a better base understanding of Arab culture as well as the role class divisions have played in social movements outside of the Arab world.

After meeting with Dr. Esser a few weeks ago, I don’t currently have any pressing questions about SISU-306. Instead, I simply ask if there is any additional preparation for the class, aside from further research, that he would recommend.

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.

RPP 7: Qualitative Data Sources

Currently, the overall question I am looking into is, “What explains difference in outcome in democracy movements in Tunisia, Egypt, and Romania?”

My dependent variable with this question is the outcome of democratic reforms. I will operationalize this variable through either labeling it as non-transformative, partially transformative, or fully transformative. This will be determined through an analysis of qualitative data to see to what extent, if any, of progress towards democratization was made as an effect of the reforms, including factors such as the length of lasting effects, the extent to which democratic legal and overall regime change occurred, and the extent of allowance of free speech and press.

Three cases I am currently considering are Tunisian and Egyptian democracy movements during the Arab Spring and the Romanian anti-communist movements. I do realize that these cases occur in different time periods, but I believe that this is an inevitable issue if I am to analyze cases which occur in different regions, as democratic reforms generally occur in a sort of domino effect within particular regions, as seen in the Arab Spring regarding the Middle East and Northern Africa, eastern European anti-communist movements in the mid-1900s, and Latin American democratic reforms in the late 1900s and early 2000s.

I have located data sources specifically analyzing the outcome of Egypt’s Arab Spring democratic protest. To fully represent the extent to which change occurred after this movement, I have chosen two differing perspectives on the issue. The first is an interview held with Alaa Abdel Fattah, an influential Egyptian pro-democracy activist, who describes his experiences fighting for democracy in Egypt, and how he has been jailed several times for speaking outwardly about democracy in the years before the interview.[1]Contrastingly, the second source is a translated version of the new official Egyptian constitution, which was formally released and implemented starting in 2014, and states many democratic articles, even including articles regarding “due process” and “freedom of thought”.[2]Both of these sources combined give a broader perspective on the extent of democratic transformation; with this information, I would prescribe Egypt’s Arab Spring outcome as partially transformative because there was a democratic change in the literal law, but as seen through personal accounts, the regime remains extremely authoritarian and restrictive. However, I would be sure to consult more sources to determine this in the actual implementation of this research design aspect.

[1]Nermeen Shaik and Amy Goodman, “Alaa Abd El Fattah, Egyptian Blogger and Critic of Military Regime, Speaks Out After Months in Jail.” Democracy Now! 28 Dec, 2011. https://www.democracynow.org/2011/12/28/alaa_abdel_fattah_egyptian_blogger_and.

[2]International IDEA, trans. “Egypt’s Constitution of 2014,” Arab Republic of Egypt.12 Aug 2019. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Egypt_2014.pdf.

RPP 6: Quantitative Data Sources

  1. I am proposing to research the working class’ place in activism.


  1. This is because I want to find out what explains why the working class chooses activism techniques more typical to the urban class or middle class in different situations.


  1. In order to help my reader understand what causes the working class to sometimes identify with middle-class methods of activism, through legal means and professional organizations, or urban subaltern methods of activism, or more violent, loud, and illegal forms of protest.[1]


Q: What explains variation in activism methods used by the working class in Global South cities?


The dependent variable in this situation would be what method of activism is used by each case. I would have to compile this data set myself because the data does not really exist all in one place. Thus far, I’ve found that Gallup Poll Microdata for the Gallup World Poll would be the most helpful, although I’m waiting for them to hopefully approve my request to send the full dataset back. The survey asks some important questions which could help me compile a data set:


“Have you done any of the following in the past month? How about volunteered your time to an organization? (WP109) [2]

Have you done any of the following in the past month? How about voice your opinion to a public official? (WP111)[3]”

This represents two levels of activism I am interested in exploring as the dependent variable, working with organizations who promote certain issues and direct communication with officials. The Gallup Poll also includes information about the employment status, income, and location of each individual who answered these questions.


The main independent variable I would be testing for is income to investigate if this class designation if true. In addition, location would be another helpful independent variable to investigate if this information could be generalized across Global South cities or if the information is only relevant in each individual location. The dataset is limited in that there is not much representation of the more violent, loud, and illegal forms of protest I’d also like to observe.

[1][1]Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, Joseph Bizup, and William T. Fitzgerald, The Craft of Research(4thed.), Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016, 54.

[2]Gallup World Poll, “WorIdwide Research: Methodology and Codebook”, Gallup Poll, 1-76.

[3]Ibid, 67.

RPP 5: Research Puzzle Proposal


  1. I am proposing to research the urban poor’s place in activism.


  1. This is because I want to find out why the urban poor are excluded from working- and middle-class discourses about urban inequality and activism.


  1. In order to help my reader understand how the urban lower-class, working-class, and middle-class engage in activism and why they often operate separately, despite having similar goals and opposition.[1]


In conversation about insurgence and activism in urban spaces, marginalized and impoverished groups are often at the forefront of discussion. Their place in activism is highlighted as the urban poor has often been observed as much more likely to participate in “problem-solving actions.”[2]These groups’ activism is driven by “economic deprivation and uncertain livelihoods,” and is necessary for working towards their own survival.[3]Corruption and discrimination executed by the rich and power have continually increased income inequality, and therefore forced the urban subaltern into a vulnerable states of lacking housing, food, safety, and other basic needs.[4]


Nevertheless, when considering Global South cities where those in poverty make up significant amounts of the population, it is difficult to group all of the urban poor together. There exists the urban subaltern, those who are dwell in slums and survive from informal labor, as well as what John Harriss refers to as the working class, who live in poverty, but not to the extent of the subaltern.[5]Additionally, there is a middle class presence who represent those who are better off than most, but do not possess the majority of the nation’s wealth. All three of these groups, to different extents, experience the repercussions of corruption and discrimination from the rich and powerful, exhibiting something of a common opposition. Yet, these groups have time after time been unable to truly unite over an issue. Instead, the differences between them cause exclusion from their discourses; most commonly, the urban poor classes are excluded from middle-class efforts to make change. When there is access to mobilizing the majority of the population on a common cause, why do these classes still choose their differences, and lessen their strength?


This exclusion has been commented on greatly by scholars within urban studies. However, their beliefs for these gaps differ. Ruchi Chaturvedi wrote extensively regarding the separation of what he refers to as the urban “underclass,” or subaltern, from the “informal proletariat,” or urban poor as a whole.[6]He attributes the exclusion of the underclass to their character as activists; due to their “alienation from the state,” they are more likely to use louder, more destructive, and more illegal methods to convey their message.[7]The following picture of Nigerian artist, Jelili Atiku, protesting during the 2012 Occupy Nigeria movement emphasizes this point; he marches with many signs attached to him reading different cries for help while bystanders take pictures with their cell phones.[8]

Other scholars argue that exclusion arises from more deep-rooted, psychological reasoning, often connected to postcolonial effects. Peter Marris examined the subaltern reaction to slum clearance efforts in Lagos in 1958 and 1959, in which working- and middle-class Nigerians struggled to understand why clearing slums, which are “amongst the most obtrusive of social evils,” was devastating for the Lagos subaltern.[9]The difference laid in social values; the subaltern valued family and community above all, and the destruction of the slums divided their close-knit communities with distance.[10]In constrast, Dick Hoerder’s autobiographical article regarding intimate subalternism reflects on the effects of internalized classism, suggesting counterintuitive exclusivity is a result of perpetuating such classism.[11]

General Question:

Why are the urban poor excluded from middle-class discourses about activism and inequality?

Case-Specific Question:

Why, despite a unified presence in the petrol strike, was Lagos’ urban poor ultimately excluded from middle-class discourses about inequality in the 2012 Occupy Nigeria protest?


[1]Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, Joseph Bizup, and William T. Fitzgerald, The Craft of Research(4thed.), Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016, 54.

[2]John Harriss. “Middle-Class Activism and the Politics of the Informal Working Class: A Perspective on Class Relations and Civil Society in Indian Cities,” Critical Asian Studies, Vol 38, Issue 4, 451.

[3]Ruchi Chaturvedi. “Agentive Capacities, Democratic Possibilities, and the Urban Poor: Rethinking Recent Popular Protests in West Africa,” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 29, no. 3, 315.

[4]Ananya Roy. “Slumdog Cities: Rethinking Subaltern Urbanism,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 35, no. 2, 223.

[5]Harriss, 446.

[6]Chaturvedi, 315.

[7]Ibid, 315.

[8]Tajudeen Busari. “Nigerian Fetish,” January, 2012.

[9]Peter Marris. “Slum Clearance and Family Life in Lagos,” Human Organization19, no. 3, 123.

[10]Ibid, 124 -125.

[11]Dirk, Hoerder. “How the Intimate Lives of Subaltern Men, Women, and Children Confound the Nation’s Master Narratives,” Journal of American History88, no. 3, 875.

RPP 3: Philosophical Wagers

Ontology and methodology are schools of thought that explain different philosophies of science. Ontology covers a larger image of how we view the social world and how we believe it inherently functions. Namely, objectivists believe the social world exists apart from humans, and has stable qualities, in comparison to constructivists, who believe the social world is constructed by humans, and cannot be traced through patterns or predicted. Methodology, on the other hand, explains the reasoning behind choosing specific methods to complete research on something. Methodology and ontology reflect each other, and their philosophies must align. For example, if a person agrees with the constructivist ontology of believing that humans are agents within the social world, they will also use methodologies that reflect that belief. Therefore, the methods they choose with their methodology will search for explanations of specific instances, such as ethnographies or discourse analyses, because the researcher does not believe in stable patterns or prediction.

I don’t believe that humans can ever truly objectively observe our social world. Empirical data has little meaning until it is interpreted, and our interpretations will always be swayed by our experiences and biases.  Reading Lisa Wedeen’s “Acting ‘As If’: Symbolic Politics and Social Control in Syria,” a great example of constructivist research, forced me to think about this impact.[1]Wedeen analyzes symbolic social behavior in an oppressive Syrian regime up close, as an Arabic speaker but still a foreigner.[2]This experience sets her understanding of Syrian symbolic interactions apart from those who do not speak Arabic and have never lived within Syrian culture, but her perception is still limited compared to native Syrians. These factors are important to shaping the depth of understanding, and therefore, there is no universal and objective understanding of the “M’s” story that Wedeen shares.[3]My belief in impossible objectivity causes me to lean towards interpretivist perspectives, and I need to stay aware that I don’t ignore the potential in neo-positivist research methodologies as I look into my topic further.

One can most easily make valid knowledge claims about physical things, feelings, and interactions because these are observations that can be relayed exactly as they are and without interpretation. Valid knowledge claims can be made about more complex things, such as invisible structures and social norms, but these must be supported by simpler knowledge claims and data.

[1]Lisa Wedeen. “Acting ‘As If’: Symbolic Politics and Social Control in Syria,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, no. 3 (July.,1998), 503-523.



RPP 2: Mentor Meeting

My mentor, Dr. Malini Ranganathan, and I were able to meet Wednesday, September 11, at 10:30 am. We met for about 20 minutes. Over the course of this meeting, we discussed preliminary research regarding urban studies and critical urban geography. Unfortunately, urban studies is a topic that for me has been fueled merely by personal interest and inquiry, and I have not had the opportunity to engage in extended academic conversation or take critical classes in the field. Therefore, Dr. Ranganathan and I discussed a framework of reading in which I can set a comprehensive academic foundation in critical urban studies for myself.

We did identify particular interest areas that I currently intend on pursuing in my research. I am intrigued by postcolonial lenses on urban areas within the Global South. My interest in urban areas as a whole is spurred by observations that I made as a child when I was exposed to several cities which my family called home: London, Berlin, and Cleveland. I vividly remember noticing the close existence of diversity and inequality in each of these cities, sometimes only a street apart. When I looked into the Global South, I saw many photos of slums on the literal doorstep of million dollar houses. The compression of this inequality seemed to be magnified in these cities. This initial fascination is a thought I will keep in mind while looking into other academic sources.

We also decided to move away from terms regarding urban “success,” as it can be problematic. Instead, I intend for my future questions to focus on specific concepts that I may have previously confused as “success.” My next steps will be indulging in all of the literature that Dr. Ranganathan and I discussed, and deciding my future focus based on that.

RPP 1: Research Interests

Broadly, my research interests intersect urban planning and critical urban geography with international development. The success and growth of developing countries often relies on the emergence of a major city. These cities provide economic hubs, a direct and centralized connection to other international visitors, and a birthplace for both social norms and diversity. Since the growth of cities in developing countries is so important, I want to pose a question: What urban planning strategies build successful cities in developing countries?

This question could take the form of many different lenses. What urban planning strategies build successful urban economics? Which strategies build successful social urban atmospheres? Which strategies build successful sustainable urban practices? Will these strategies ever overlap, and could they even coexist? This last question presents the first of many large puzzles I mean to research. To add onto this, how can “success” even be defined?

My interest in the complexity of city planning was sparked last semester while taking a writing course focusing on architecture criticism and urban planning literature. My view on urban spaces was revolutionized after reading Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. In the final chapter of the book, she discusses why cities are so complex; cities do not “exhibit one problem in organized complexity, which, if understood explains all.”[1]Additionally, she added that strategies which work in one city may often be unsuccessful in another due to the individuality of each urban culture. The complexity she describes has only further peaked my interest in the semantics of urban space.

As for thoughts about how this research will be conducted, I am considering my options for choosing a specific lens to answer my essential question from. I also would love to delve into case studies considering the individuality of each city.

[1]Jacobs, Jane. The Death And Life Of Great American Cities. New York : Vintage Books, 1992. Print.