tunisia: another data point on revolutions

Given the events in Tunisia, I thought it would be worth pointing toward two (lengthy) Org Theory posts written during the “Green Revolution” in Iran last year.

The first is my post “Fisking” Andrew Miller and Gideon Rachman’s dialogue on the factors that lead some revolutions to succeed while others fail.  Events have moved so quickly in Tunisia, that I don’t really have much of a read on what just happened.  But as we learn more about how this revolution unfolded, it will add yet another data point.  For instance, current news reports mention relatively little about internal divisions among the elite, but if previous revolutions have anything to teach us, it would suggest that this must be part of the story.

In addition, I am interested in the government’s violent response to initial protests.  In Tunisia, this spurred further protests.  In Iran, violently putting down protests helped to squelch the movement.  Why?  This points to what I think is probably the most important open question in the social movement literature: why do some cycles of protest catch fire while others peter out?

On this, the evidence so far suggests that new social media played a role and so, I will also point toward Brayden’s post on the role that social media (i.e., Twitter and Facebook) might have played in Iran.  Brayden’s argument, if I can paraphrase, was that Twitter and Facebook may be more important in conveying the voice of movement participants to the outside world — becoming an “audience generation machine” in his words — but that they were not as effective as a coordinating mechanism.  In Tunisia, it does seem that social media helped to coordinate.  The difference, it seems, has to do with how the two regimes regulated social media, but it seems like there is more of a story to be told here.

Indeed, reports are that the role of social network media was to bring outside information in that changed the political opportunity structure: information unveiled by Wikileaks laid bare the corruption of the regime, this spread through social media, and helped to drive people to the street.


Written by seansafford

January 14, 2011 at 7:16 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Sean–
    If the hypothesis you’re interested in testing hinges on social media’s ability to resolve collective action problems, I’m wondering if you have (or could find) a mechanism that would help us understand better what makes the usage of social media different in each case. First, I’d need a really good description of exactly how the usage of social media differed in each case. This would have to go beyond the regulatory structure that bounds the usage of media to actually characterize how the usage of such media differed. My hunch is that this has something to do with the offline support structure for both movements. Second, we’d need some explanation linking usage of the media to persistent, vocal mobilization and a reason why the Iran movement dissipating/going underground is linked to the way in which each movement used technology to organize. I’d also be interested in an explanation of why actors in these two movements ended up using similar tools differently or any learning/adaptation went on in the interim between movements.


    solano county

    January 14, 2011 at 10:14 pm

  2. It’s not a data point until we know what happened, which we don’t yet. Unfortunately, there seem to be very few sociologists who focus on the Arab world. Maybe it’s time to change that.


    Benjamin Geer

    January 14, 2011 at 10:20 pm

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