Reflection: Lisa Anderson

In her article ” SEARCHING WHERE THE LIGHT SHINES: Studying Democratization in the Middle East, Lisa Anderson explores the common misconceptions and inaccuracies of political scientists in studying the Middle East and its relationship with democracy.

There is a perception among many scholars that the path to an ideal society is one centered around democracy. She says that many believe in some form of modernization theory which states that as countries develop and industrialize with this will come democracy which will be the end place for a state. Anderson pushes back on this and states that democracy not the ideal path for every nation and that this is largely a western approach that doesn’t necessarily apply elsewhere. Another critique of Andersons is the idea that Islam is incompatible with Democracy. This is a false claim according to Anderson and through studies it can be seen that even before the uprisings there were positive views on democracy across all different demographics within this region. Another issue Anderson defines is applying principles from other countries to that of the middle east. The metaphor of searching for a key on the wrong side of the street simply because the lighting is better is something that is used. This is referencing the idea that just because there were waves of democracy in other parts of the world, what happens in one place can’t be used to explain what happens in other parts of the world. So, a lot of the research that is conducted in Latin America can’t then be applied to the middle east because there are different circumstances for each that can’t be generalized.

Avoiding or compensating for the problems of studying the Middle East can be achieved by gaining a better understanding of the region and the historical context of the MENA region. Not looking at things through a western perception or making assumptions based on religion, language, culture etc. This also means that in paying attention to this region apart from the rest of the world one must also understand the nuance within the region so that one doesn’t make generalizations about the whole region based off the actions in one or two countries.

When looking at the uprisings of 2011 we can see challenges to the previous lines of thinking that this region did not want democracy. Here we can see a mobilization of people to challenge the status quo which goes against the previous belief that people in this area didn’t want democracy because they thought it wasn’t compatible with Islam which we can see is false. The uprisings show though the complex nature of the area because different countries responded differently to uprisings and saw different results. We also have to be mindful that just because there were uprisings does not mean that those protesting are pushing for a western style of democracy and the actual desires for the people should be taken into account rather than a projecting of what people in the region ‘should’ want.








3 responses to “Reflection: Lisa Anderson”

  1. Ed Webb Avatar
    Ed Webb

    This makes good sense. The real trick comes in applying area knowledge effectively to identify *which* concepts and theories developed in other contexts can be useful and *how* to apply them. One can apply a concept developed from observing events in Latin America or Eastern Europe but Anderson is in part warning we must be careful and nuanced in how we do that, and we should recognize that sometimes, as you say, it won’t work at all. Your last point is particularly important: those agitating for bread, dignity, and freedom seem to be pushing for things we might recognize as related to western-style democracy, but that doesn’t mean they are in fact pushing for that style of democracy.

  2. craigm Avatar

    Awesome job! I like how you explained all the key points and aspects of the article. You have gone above and beyond in the fact that you thought about the Arab Spring uprisings. This shows me that you dwelled on the aftermath, as this writing was published in 2006 and the Arab Spring occurred in 2011. If I can pose some recommendations for your next post, I would encourage you to implement some direct quotes. On the other hand, implement your own personal thoughts and ideas. Do you agree with Lisa Anderson? I would like to know what you think. Otherwise, incredible job and keep up the good work!

  3. cruzr Avatar

    Very interesting take! I had a very similar take taken on the question about how we can avoid or compensate for the problems marked by Anderson. I think that Western ideology can often be used to make broad assumptions and leaves out the idea that other nations function differently and can be a major causation for why the wrong questions are asked! I’d like to ask you if you think there are any other ways we could avoid or compensate for the problems political scientists faced in doing prior research on the region?

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