Research Publications

2018. Launching Revolution: Social Media and the Egyptian Uprising's First Movers. British Journal of Political Science (with Korhan Koçak). [Link]

Drawing on evidence from the 2011 Egyptian uprising, this article demonstrates how the use of two social media platforms – Facebook and Twitter – contributed to a discrete mobilizational outcome: the staging of a successful first protest in a revolutionary cascade, referred to here as ‘first-mover mobilization’. Specifically, it argues that these two platforms facilitated the staging of a large, nationwide and seemingly leaderless protest on 25 January 2011, which signaled to hesitant but sympathetic Egyptians that a revolution might be in the making. It draws on qualitative and quantitative evidence, including interviews, social media data and surveys, to analyze three mechanisms that linked these platforms to the success of the January 25 protest: (1) protester recruitment, (2) protest planning and coordination, and (3) live updating about protest logistics. The article not only contributes to debates about the role of the Internet in the Arab Spring and other recent waves of mobilization, but also demonstrates how scholarship on the Internet in politics might move toward making more discrete, empirically grounded causal claims.

2018. When do the Dispossessed Protest? Informal Leadership and Mobilization in Syrian Refugee Camps. Perspectives on Politics 16 (3). [Link]

Refugees are often considered to be among the world’s most powerless groups; they face significant structural barriers to political mobilization, often including extreme poverty and exposure to repression. Yet despite these odds refugee groups do occasionally mobilize to demand better services and greater rights. In this paper I examine varying levels of mobilization among Syrian refugees living in camps and informal settlements in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan in order to explain how marginalized and dispossessed groups manage to develop autonomous political strength. I explain the surprisingly high levels of mobilization in Jordan’s Za’atari Camp compared to the relative quiescence of refugees in Turkish camps and Lebanese informal settlements as the product of a set of strong informal leadership networks. These networks emerged due to two unique facets of the refugee management regime in Jordan: the concentration of refugees in the camp, and a fragmented governance system. In Turkey and Lebanon, where these two conditions were absent, refugees did not develop the strong leadership networks necessary to support mobilization. I develop this argument through structured comparison of three cases and within-case process tracing, using primary source documents from humanitarian agencies, contentious event data, and 87 original interviews conducted in the summer of 2015.

2017. Social Forces and Regime Change: Beyond Class Analysis. World Politics 69 (3): 569-602. [Link]

This article discusses three recent books that analyze patterns of political conflict and regime change in postcolonial Asia and Africa using a social forces approach to political analysis. The social forces tradition, originally pioneered by Barrington Moore, studies the social origins and political consequences of struggles between social groups whose members hold shared identities and interests. The works under review examine, respectively, the varied regime trajectories of Southeast Asia's states, divergent regime outcomes in India and Pakistan, and the institutional origins of social cleavages and political conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. Although historically the social forces paradigm has focused on conflict between class actors, the author argues that these three works fruitfully extend the social forces approach to encompass struggles between nonclass social groups, including those defined along the lines of ethnicity, religion, nationality, region, and family. This pluralized version of the social forces approach is better suited to studying patterns of regime change in Asia and Africa, where the paradigm has been less frequently applied than it has been to cases in Europe and Latin America.

2015. Reclaiming the ‘Third Sector’ from ‘Civil Society’:  A New Agenda for Development Studies. Sociology of Development 1 (1): 173-207 (with Jocelyn Viterna and Emily Clough). [Link]

Civil society is one of the most widely used—and widely maligned—concepts in development studies. In this paper, we argue that much confusion regarding civil society stems from the omnibus nature of its conceptualization. We consider civil society to be an omnibus concept because it has been imbued with several distinct meanings—a normative meaning (civil society as civilized), a functional meaning (civil society as democratizing), and a structural meaning (civil society as a third sector). Using the example of humanitarian NGOs, we demonstrate how the omnibus nature of civil society resists systematization and requires scholars to make problematic assumptions when designing empirical research. As a solution, we propose replacing “civil society” in empirical research with the structural “third-sector” concept. This move narrows the gap between the actors that scholars study and the theoretical construct that they are supposed to represent; it brings the third sector into conceptual alignment with our understanding of the first and second sectors (the market and the state); and it improves our efforts to compare findings across cases and build generalized theories. It also enables scholars to consider questions of power, resources, and influence when studying development NGOs—questions that are difficult to ask when notions of “civil society” are defined as actors that understand, represent, and advocate on behalf of their “constituents.” We conclude that “civil society” as a concept should be maintained for theoretical analyses of what makes society civil but that empirical studies of development are best served by a third-sector approach.

2014. Unexpected Brokers of Mobilization: Contingency and Networks in the 2011 Egyptian Uprising. Comparative Politics 46 (4): 379-97. [Link]

Before 2011, Egyptian society was seen as weak and fragmented, capable only of mounting limited collective challenges to a powerful and repressive authoritarian state. The uprising of 2011 therefore came as a shock, raising profound questions about how such an ostensibly weak society could generate the kind of mobilization necessary to overwhelm the Egyptian regime's feared security apparatus. In this article, I argue that this unexpected uprising was made possible by a sudden and ultimately contingent set of changes in the configuration of Egypt's social structures. I show how the success of the revolution in neighboring Tunisia catalyzed a rapid shift in the perceptions and considerations of a set of strategically positioned actors, who began serving as brokers between three otherwise autonomous social sectors.

2013. Aish, Hurriya, Karama Insaniyya: Framing and the Egyptian Uprising. European Political Science 12 (2): 197-214. [Link]

One of the principal chants that was raised during the Egyptian uprising of 2011 was aish, huriyya, karama insaniyya, or 'bread, freedom, human dignity'. This slogan encapsulated the three primary collective action frames that activists employed during the uprising. I argue that these frames were drawn from, and engaged with, three broad themes in Egypt's political discourse that had been developed over the previous decade: poor economic conditions, lack of democracy, and police abuse.

2011. Saying ‘Enough’: Authoritarianism and Egypt’s Kefaya Movement. Mobilization 16 (4): 397-416. [Link]

How do reform-oriented social movements in authoritarian states get off the ground? I argue that authoritarian regimes can actually facilitate social movement mobilization by making it easier for movement leaders to form opposition coalitions. When authoritarian states experience a political opening, certain structural aspects of these regimes will ease the process of coalition formation. I describe three ways in which these states facilitate mobilization: (1) they offer a straightforward set of least-common-denominator goals; (2) they establish incentives for existing organizations to get involved; and (3) they enhance the role of protest events in building cohesion. To make my case, I analyze the Egyptian Kefaya movement, a social movement whose diverse members had never meaningfully worked together before and whose nine months of sustained street protests defied expectations that it would collapse under regime repression.

  • Republished as: “Authoritarianism, Nonviolent Resistance, and Egypt’s Kefaya Movement,” in Hank Johnston, ed. Social Movements, Nonviolent Resistance, and the State. Routledge (2019).