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From resistance to revolutionary praxis: subaltern politics in the Tunisian revolution

Boeddeling, Jann (2020) From resistance to revolutionary praxis: subaltern politics in the Tunisian revolution. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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How and where did mass mobilization for radical demands emerge in the process of the 2010/11 Tunisian revolution? And how can this inform theories of revolution, especially considering conditions of hegemony? These questions were addressed using secondary and archival sources as well as an event catalogue to identify time periods, localities and social groups for ethnographic study, leading to a focus on subaltern social groups, primarily in the provincial interior, where eight months of fieldwork and over one hundred open, narrative interviews were conducted. The thesis argues that provincial subalterns responded to their hegemonic disincorporation and increased policing during the Ben Ali regime by developing new forms of politics and resistance. Entailing interactions with political activists and unionists as well as significant levels of self-activity, this process furnished local solidarities, defensive logics, and principally economic-corporate claims which drove mobilization in the Tunisian interior during the first three weeks of the revolution. For the people there, indiscriminate violence and killings caused a collapse of existing hegemony, leading them to re-interpret their struggle in revolutionary terms by drawing on local histories of revolt. This revolutionary praxis of subaltern social groups and the radical demands they articulated pushed UGTT leaders and coastal middle-classes to turn against Ben Ali, thus creating national-level revolutionary mobilization. From this it is concluded that scholarship on the Tunisian revolution has assigned undue weight to organized and activist agencies while largely ignoring subaltern self-activity. It also suggests that Tunisian studies had overplayed the social and regional reach of the Ben Ali era hegemonic formation. The conclusion that revolutionary praxis developed among disincorporated subaltern groups in Tunisia further intervenes in studies of subaltern politics which have tended to posit everyday politics, hidden resistance, and defensive mobilization as a certain ceiling to subaltern self-activity. Addressing critical theories of revolution, the thesis concludes that self-change through revolutionary praxis appears possible in the context of a contemporary hegemonic formation, pointing to potentials for subaltern self-emancipation. Absent significant (organic) intellectual labor and organizational resources, however, revolutionary transformation will likely be limited by persistent forms of domination, counter-revolutionary forces and hegemonic ideas.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2020 Jann Boeddeling
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Chalcraft, John

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