Anderson, Lisa. “Searching Where The Light Shines: Studying Democratization in the Middle East.” Annual Review of Political Science 9, no. 1 (2006) 189-214.
Lisa Anderson’s 2006 work “Searching Where The Light Shines” examines, and subsequently criticizes the political scholarship of the Middle Eastern region. The defining characteristic of Anderson’s argument is her assertion that the field of modern political science has developed a system of governmental and political understanding that is not universally applicable. Primarily “Western” political scientists have conducted much of the scholarship involving a process they label as “democratization.” Anderson warns that this type of Western-focused thought would “distort” the understanding of the dynamics of Middle Eastern politics. As a result of this intermingled scholarship, Western theories regarding democracy and society do not apply to the situation in the Middle East – and as a result western political scientists are unable to make sense of the social and political developments that have occurred in the Middle East. The reason for this distortion of political knowledge is due primarily with the West’s infatuation with using democracy as a generalized political gauge for measuring the societal welfare of certain countries. As Anderson remarks, “the theories of democratization that the field of political science has put forth do not apply to the situation in the Middle East.” (Heydemann)
Martin Kramer, another Middle Eastern scholarship skeptic, argues, “Trying to fit the Middle East into the restrictive terms of political science would rob the field of its potential to contribute to present and future debates.” (Kramer) Anderson emphasizes that the Middle Eastern region contributes nothing to the democratization theory, in that the developments of the region are not clear-cut steps towards democracy. The shortcoming in applying the democratization theory to the Middle East is due to the fact that the languages of political Islam cannot be generalized and understood in a western context. (Mitchell) Furthermore, Anderson asserts that few scholars have, or even are willing to garner a firm enough understanding of the Middle East in order to make an accurate translation into “western political science.” Political science began its scholarship in the Middle East in 1963 in order to provide “the policy maker and the public an analytical foundation for judgment.” This set the course for the severely flawed comparative measure of political science in the Middle East. Special attention must be given moving forward, to the justification and the goal of political scholarship in this region.
In order to accurately assess the political makeup of the Middle East, Anderson asserts that three different categories need to be taken into account. These include firstly the effect of European Imperialism, the role of international competition, and the informal regional economies all have a unique effect on politics in the Middle East. The states of the Middle East are very new, but the societies that make up them are farm from such. For much of the political history of the Middle East, the societal participation has been relatively low and much of the developments that have occurred have had a directly economic effect. However, following the 2011 “Arab Spring” protests the Middle Eastern region demonstrated growing levels of civilian participation in politics – a main pillar to the democratization theory. The Arab uprisings pose issues for skeptics such as Anderson, as it serves as one of the first examples of Middle Eastern democratization. Nevertheless, students such as us must stop looking for signs of democratization as a means for measuring the welfare of a Middle Eastern state. It is essential for the accuracy of political science that when Middle Eastern scholarship is conducted, all western notions for political measurement must be ignored. No universal process of change exists, social science must constantly (and separately) be rewritten. The main takeaway from Andersons article ought to be that going forward it is important that when one is studying the Middle East, they are examining a different language, region, culture, people, and ultimately a different world – and scholars need to be cognizant of that fact.