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Agonistic Peace in the Middle East

Cover of Third World Quarterly

CMES scholar Lisa Strömbom has co-edited the Special Issue "Agonistic Peace: Advancing Knowledge on Institutional Dynamics and Relational Transformation" in the journal Third World Quarterly, together with Isabel Bramsen (Lund University). The special issue contains several articles focusing specifically on the MENA region.

The Special Issue is comprised of empirical studies from a wide range of cases at local, national and global levels. The various articles use and develop tools for analysis of agonistic processes in transitions from war and peace and help anchor the concept of agonistic peace empirically and analytically.

Read the introduction to the Special Issue, written by Lisa Strömbom and Isabel Bramsen

The issue includes several articles focusing on the MENA region:

Lebanon – John Nagle: “Disarticulation and chains of equivalence: agonism and non-sectarian movements in post-war Beirut”

Divided cities are characterised by intergroup contestation over the wider issue of state legitimacy. Violent conflict has left a legacy of segregation, weak public services and clientelistic networks. Debates and practices for conflict management in divided cities centre on accommodationist or integrationist approaches. While accommodationist methods seek to recognise and accommodate ethnosectarian divisions within public institutions, it risks intensifying ethnosectarian polarisation and empowering elites to deepen control over communities. Integrationist methods, alternatively, aim to foster shared identities and relationships between groups, but are too optimistic in assuming that divisions can be overcome through rational deliberation. As an alternative, I deploy Mouffe’s theory of agonistic conflict to show how various non-sectarian movements contest the hegemony of a sectarian system that reproduces exclusion and inequality. To this end, I use key dimensions of agonism – ‘rearticulation/disarticulation’ and ‘chains of equivalence’– to analyse different types of non-sectarian actors and successive waves of protest, known as ‘You Stink’ and the ‘Thawra’, in post-war Beirut.

Israel and Turkey – Bahar Rumelili and Lisa Strömbom: “Agonistic recognition as a remedy for identity backlash: insights from Israel and Turkey”

While an extensive part of the conflict transformation literature stresses the importance of transforming the identities of conflict parties through recognition, it fails to recognise the propensity of such transformations to generate ontological insecurity and dissonance, and consequently a possible backlash towards antagonistic identities. Drawing on agonistic thought, we develop a conception of agonistic recognition, premised on non-finalism, pluralist multilogue and disaggregated recognition. We suggest that these elements of agonistic recognition may guard against the development of ontological insecurity and dissonance in recognition processes. We comparatively analyse the connections and tensions between recognition, ontological insecurity/dissonance and identity backlash experienced during the transformation of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict in the context of the Oslo Peace Process in the 1990s and Turkey’s ‘rapprochement’ with Greece in the context of its EU accession process in the 2000s. We also assess the presence of the elements of agonistic recognition in these two conflict transformation processes. Our contribution constitutes an important step towards the specification of agonistic peace in terms of its underlying recognition processes and in developing the empirical study of agonistic elements in actual conflict transformation processes.

Turkey - Zeynep Gülru Göker and Ayşe Betül Çelik: “Women’s dialogic encounters: agonistic listening and emotions in multiple-identity conflicts”

Using data collected from a dialogue meeting in Turkey of 19 women participants with different ideological orientations, ethnicities and sects, as well as 10 in-depth follow-up interviews, this article explores the dynamics of listening and emotions in dialogue in multiple-identity conflicts. Considering listening as an important component of agonistic peace, the article aims to understand the conditions that help or hinder listening and one’s perception of being listened to in the face of weighty emotions in the context of women’s dialogic encounters. The article shows that agonistic listening facilitates the expression of emotions and views, and an interest in Other’s story, while an attitude of care stemming from previous experience of working together on women’s issues may help transform the antagonistic Other into an agonistic one. However, agonistic listening does not lead to significant perspective change and entails only a temporary suspension of one’s categories to lend the Other an attentive ear; it is a conception of listening that recognises the temporary and limited character of listening and the place of emotions in dialogue with the Other.

Read all of the articles in the Special Issue