In Life as Politics, Asef Bayat argues that such presumptions fail to recognize the routine, yet important, ways in which ordinary people make meaningful change through everyday actions. First published just months before the Arab Spring swept across the region, this timely and prophetic book sheds light on the ongoing acts of protest, practice, and direct daily action. At heart, the book remains a study of agency in times of constraint. In addition to ongoing protests, millions of people across the Middle East are effecting transformation through the discovery and creation of new social spaces within which to make their claims heard. This eye-opening book makes an important contribution to global debates over the meaning of social movements and the dynamics of social change.
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Works on the Middle East and Muslims are in no short supply. And the recent uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, among other countries in the region, make the prospect of ever new releases imminent. But Asef Bayat is clearly among the few capable of approaching this task. With 16 years of teaching Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo, he has gained a firsthand look at a nation in transition.
He has also written skillfully on his own country of Iran. As a sociologist, director, and chair of centers on Islam, society, and the modern world, he approaches his subject with academic rigor and insight. Life as Politics has 12 main chapters, which were all adapted from essays mostly written in , and they range in publication from to At its core, though, Bayat is interested in agency and social change among [End Page ] ordinary Muslims in the Middle East.
While revolution and social activism in the region are typically viewed in terms of political Islam Islamism or social movements, Bayat offers an alternative view of how change occurs through what he calls "social nonmovement. In short, "nonmovement" constitutes the concerted and somewhat ordinary efforts of disfranchised groups working individually to improve their lives. While this behavior is categorized as collective action and believed to foster some sort of social change, it is nonetheless a "nonmovement" because it lacks an ideological framework, appointed leadership and the formal structure of protest organizations.
By comparison, social movements deliberately mobilize their members and challenge the state to meet their demands pp. However, the distinction between movement and nonmovement is less about how they differ in terms of structure and content. Rather, Bayat proposes a new way of thinking about movement itself, despite the fact that his idea of nonmovement might appear counterintuitive. Instead, the author focuses on the collective and compensatory behavior of the unorganized masses, which is perhaps a major reason his reformulation of social movement is so intriguing.
It has the potential to intervene into what we commonly understand to be collective agency overall, not to mention its implications for rethinking social activity and political practice in the Muslim Middle East. Life as Politics, however, is more than a critique of social movements. It is decidedly an exploration into the kinds of action Bayat calls the "quiet encroachment of the ordinary" p.
In fact, it is this encroaching behavior that qualifies what he means by social nonmovement. This activity might include, for example, illegally tapping into public services like electricity, water, and telephone lines; appropriating certain public sectors such as the informal economy or, for women, entering male-dominated spaces; and the strategies of the homeless to gain access to land or housing. As such, each chapter attempts to show how this process occurs in the areas of poverty and the economy, Muslim women and feminism, youth and the politics of fun, political Islam and revolution, urban ecology, and everyday cosmopolitanism.
In essence, this notion of quiet encroachment speaks to "the discreet and prolonged ways in which the poor struggle to survive and to better their lives by quietly impinging on the propertied and powerful, and on society at large" pp. But whereas traditional social movements target their own members for mobilization, the quiet encroachment of social nonmovements involves millions of ordinary citizens all massively working to redress their marginal status.
As a result, this collective action produces Access options available:.
Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East
Dr. Asef Bayat