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Drafting and Enacting the Revolutions in the Arab Mediterranean. In search of Dignity, from the 1950’s until today

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - DREAM (Drafting and Enacting the Revolutions in the Arab Mediterranean.In search of Dignity, from the 1950’s until today)

Reporting period: 2020-03-01 to 2021-08-31

What happened almost ten years ago in the Arab world? If uprisings occurred almost simultaneously in several Maghreb and Middle Eastern countries from 17 December 2010 onwards, does this mean that the same things happened in each of these countries? What has been called the Arab revolutions has been the subject of abundant production, in terms of scientific research, but also and above all in all spheres of political and economic expertise. But few projects have turned to understanding the social history of the region, which has been somewhat neglected since the end of the 1970s, in an attempt to investigate the roots of the revolt in the region, and to answer the two questions posed by the 2011 moment: why now, and how to explain the shared destiny between these parts of the world.
The dream project (Drafting and Enacting the revolution in the Arab Mediterranean; in search for dignity 1950's-today) sets out the hypothesis that the post-independence period of the different countries in the region (with the major exception of Palestine) has brought about new horizons of emancipation and has put the notion of dignity at their heart. We want to make a history of the political emotion called dignity (Karama) in the Mediterranean Arab world since independence. It seeks to conceive ways of comparing revolutionary projects and episodes in the region, postulating that their matrices and ways of doing things constitute a transnational space of revolt whose base is the quest for dignity, which came to complete the desire for freedom and independence that guided the anti-imperialist movements, to accompany the struggles for autonomy or emancipation of different segments and sectors of society, and even to subsume the whole of social struggles, whatever their political, religious or historical references.

These research objectives break with the usual categories of understanding of protest movements in the Arab world by their interdisciplinary nature and by the application of a historian's methodology that focuses on the centrality of the use of the archive and the understanding of the role of the archive in establishing a social science analysis. This means that even the approach to the very contemporary focuses on the constitution of archives of the present and on the study of constituted documentary ensembles. The other important contribution is the work on the transnational dimension, which we choose to carry out by establishing thematic points of comparison, and by establishing micro-historical objects of study in the different spaces.
In order to establish the conditions for this transnational and diachronic comparison, the project first proposes to build up an archival and documentary toolkit. To this end, part of the work of its first two years has been devoted to the identification, collection and description of relevant documentary and archival collections. This identification was accompanied by monitoring and observation work on the very contemporary, which focused in particular on the latest episodes of uprisings that occurred in the region (Algeria, Lebanon).
Theoretically, the project is moving forward by developing cross-cutting questions that document episodes of uprising and revolt. These questions and issues also make it possible to compare different spaces. The work of these two and a half years has made it possible to highlight priorities and critical areas on which research has been and will be undertaken: the link between social and economic crisis and revolution is being reworked on the basis of work on the moral economy of peoples in revolt and by focusing on specific episodes. The role of women in these uprisings needs to be put at the heart of the questioning in order to bring to light other actors, other ways of doing things and other spaces of contestation. We have also put at the heart of the questioning on the history of revolts and the dream of revolution the transmission and the passage: this is what led us to work on apprenticeships, on places of passage and on revolutionary crossings.
In parallel, the investigation into the history of dignity is enriched by all these insights. It progresses on the theoretical level in the exchange with the team and is nourished by the updated archives and the works that examine the emotional contexts, the desire for revolt, and the events that triggered it, both on an individual and collective scale.
These research objectives break with the usual categories of understanding of protest movements in the Arab world by their interdisciplinary nature and by the application of a historian's methodology that focuses on the centrality of the use of the archive and the understanding of the role of the archive in establishing a social science analysis. This means that even the approach to the very contemporary focuses on the constitution of archives of the present and on the study of constituted documentary ensembles. The other important contribution is the work on the transnational dimension, which we choose to carry out by establishing thematic points of comparison, and by establishing micro-historical objects of study in the different spaces.
This project aims to renew the terms of historiography and discussion in the humanities and social sciences on the revolutionary question by decentring it from European and North American spaces, but also from analyses inherited from Marxist and anti-imperialist conceptions. It seems fundamental today to resume investigations in the light of what is expressed by the voices of the revolted. It is the bias of this work to listen carefully to "what the subalterns say" in particular moments, those when they are determined to "make themselves heard". What they say, far from being simply a succession of slogans or inaudible cries, appears to us to constitute the framework of a revolutionary worldview that contains lessons about our history and our present.
We would like to compile a catalogue of the available archives and documentary collections and, on the basis of fieldwork, create an archive of the learning of the revolt and of revolutionary memory, which will be deposited at the IISH.
Our publications accompany the work undertaken, they constitute stages in the intellectual process. Experiments carried out with artists make it possible to unlock questions linked to oral history, to speaking about the contemporary as well as the past, and to elaborate other ways of restoring a history of the sensitive which is that of facts and gestures, but also of dreams and aspirations.
Book: L'Esprit de la révolte, Cover, Seuil 2020
CI_Homepage_Tahir Square, Cairo 1950s. Unknown Photographer
Poster, Dream Seminar