Monday, November 28, 2011

Wendy Pearlman

Wendy Pearlman is Assistant Professor of Political Science and the Crown Junior Chair in Middle East Studies at Northwestern University.

A few weeks ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
My new book, Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement examines 90 years in the history of the Palestinian struggle and asks these questions: Why do some self-determination movements use violent protest and others nonviolent protest? Why does a movement use different protest strategies at different points over time? I argue that paths to violence are multiple, but there is one prevailing path to nonviolent protest: a path that demands that a movement have or create internal cohesion. Nonviolent protest requires coordination and restraint, which only a cohesive movement can provide. When, by contrast, a movement is fragmented, factional competition generates new incentives for violence and authority structures are too weak to constrain escalation. This increases the likelihood that protest will become violent.

What I’m reading lately both compliments and diverges from my book. I’m continuing to read about both Middle East politics and processes of protest movement mobilization, but now with a focus on the 2011 uprisings in the Arab world. As these are still unfolding, few academic analyses have been published. So I’ve been reading journalistic coverage and insightful commentaries, such as those from al-Jazeera and I’ve also learned a lot from the great reports by the International Crisis Group.

In Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement, I focused on the organizational aspects of mobilization. In my reading on the current uprisings, however, I’ve been drawn to explore the role of emotions. I’m usually skeptical about emotions as a factor explaining political action. But the intensity of feelings expressed in these uprisings has inspired me to rethink that bias.

As such, I’ve been reading about the psychology and sociology of emotions. I’ve been reading works that consider the place of emotions in societal relationships, such as Jack Barbalet’s Emotion, Social Theory, and Social Structure. I’ve also been reading works on how emotions affect individuals’ decision-making about politics, such as Affective Intelligence and Political Judgment by George Marcus, W. Russell Neuman and Michael MacKuen. In addition, I’ve been reading scholarly articles by George Loewenstein, an economist who has researched how people’s emotions affect their thinking and behavior in ways missed by conventional models in the social sciences.

I hope to link these general theories of emotions to the specific case of the revolts in the Arab world. My goal is to explore what insight these theories can offer about how it came to be that millions of people rose up against authoritarian regimes. No less, I want to discover how these events can test, challenge, and improve existing ideas about the role of emotions in popular mobilization.
Learn more about Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement at the Cambridge University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement.

--Marshal Zeringue