MESA Banner
Beyond Binaries: How to Capture Causal Complexity at Critical Junctures in (Middle Eastern) Politics
This paper presents an original and timely theoretical framework with which to assess contests in and across divided polities. Emanating from a book manuscript currently under external review and based on over a decade of fieldwork including 100+ elite interviews in Turkey, Egypt, Israel, and Cyprus, it offers an alternative to binary readings of political contest as driven by clashes between “Islamists” vs. “secularists,” “Greeks” vs. “Turks,” or “Arabs” vs. “Israelis.” Rather, the paper argues, critical outcomes in and beyond the Middle East are driven by shifting alliances across camps. To capture this fluid complexity, the paper proposes a complex-systems inspired theoretical framework with which to trace the causal interplay between “ideas”, “agents”, and “structures” in the build-up to and during critical junctures. Ideas, agents, and structures are envisaged, in keeping with complexity theory, as parameters of a political system rather than as independent or dependent variables. Outcomes, as such, depend upon their evolving interactions rather than the primacy of, say, ideas over agents or structures. By thus employing a non-essentialist logic to identify the necessary and sufficient causes for an outcome of interest, the framework allows for causal claims which capture complexity rather than reduce outcomes to immutable identitarian commitments. The framework can help to debunk Orientalist perspectives and contributes to the rich tradition of historical sociology within political science. At the same time, it offers an intuitive, analytical-descriptive template which can help area studies experts across subfields to upload “thick” knowledge of critical junctures across cases towards a comparative research agenda. The framework is then applied to a series of recent political contests in Turkey since the 2002 rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) through to the February 2020 culmination of the Gezi Park trials. This enables the paper to demonstrate empirically that key outcomes like election and referenda results, mass uprisings, and political purges were caused by bargains struck—and broken—across camps and not by any immutable ideological / identitarian commitments.
Political Science
Geographic Area
All Middle East
Sub Area
Turkish Studies