Theoretical Background | الخلفية النظرية

This call for papers seeks to build on a burgeoning literature of urban politics of the Middle East by 1) pushing for a relational approach to local politics, in which the local is examined “in its own right, and not merely as subnational territorial units” (Clark et al 2022: 275), 2) narrowing down on categories of political violence and contentious politics as opposed to typical macro-themes of urban politics, and 3) centralizing dense networks, as a research subject and approach, and data collection in the process of examination. Dense networks are those in which members have frequent face-to-face contact, and where ties are multiplex and triadic (Bowles and Gintes 2002: F420; Tilly 1998: 50). That said, their definition and analysis in the research on local politics in the region lacks congruence and sufficient markers for consistent measurement. As for datasets, specifically in the case of codification, the spatial turn in Middle East-related scholarship introduced several advances pertaining to particular research quests but is yet to integrate georeferenced projects in ways that allow for answering cross-cutting theoretical questions.

A related range of ongoing conceptual debates in the urban politics scholarship requires new empirical interventions: How can we operationalize the notion of dense networks in Middle Eastern cities? How do urban ingredients/elements contribute to expanding or aggravating violence or collective action? How do identities/subjectivities get politicized or reproduced during revolutionary situations? How to account for informal settlements in urban politics’ questions, and to integrate the variations in their dwellers’ political behavior during times of political unrest? Offering grounded answers to such questions requires developing better coded datasets as the first building block.

The workshop also seeks to direct the discussion on new possible research agendas through the following interdisciplinary themes: broadening the scope of analysis to include local politics in intermediary/peripheral towns or villages, rather than the mainstream focus on capital or main cities; exploring how ruling authorities and/or local communities leverage locations and urban/spatial elements in intermediary cities to advance their socio-economic and political interests; and enhancing cartographic and visualization practices of urban violence through dataset-based mapping and spatial analysis.