Professor John Chalcraft

Professor John Chalcraft

Professor of Middle East History and Politics

Department of Government

Room No
CBG 4.19
Office Hours
Tuesdays 9:45 - 11:15
Connect with me

Key Expertise
Protest, Activism, Middle East, North Africa, Human Rights

About me

John Chalcraft graduated with a starred first in history (M.A. Hons) from Gonville and Caius college Cambridge in 1992. He then did post-graduate work at Harvard, Oxford and New York University, from where he received his doctorate with distinction in the modern history of the Middle East in January 2001. He held a Research Fellowship at Caius college (1999-2000) and was a Lecturer in Modern Middle Eastern History in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Edinburgh University from 2000-05. He is currently Professor of Middle East History and Politics in the Department of Government at the LSE.

Research interests

I work on history and politics ‘from below’. I am interested in the many ways in which subordinated groups challenge social domination and build alternatives. Most of my research has been on the Middle East and North Africa, while my more recent work is on theories of popular mobilization and transnationalism in many parts of the world. My studies draw very much on the transdisciplinary traditions of research and engagement initiated by the intellectual and revolutionary Antonio Gramsci. I trained as an historian, but the aim is to connect history with politics and philosophy. My early work on the social history of pre-1914 Egypt puzzles over questions of labour ‘outside the factory gates’, and uneven, peripheral capitalism. After this book, I started increasingly to think in terms of the rich possibilities afforded by the living Gramscian tradition. I co-edited a volume on hegemony and counterhegemony in the colony and postcolony. I then addressed questions of labour migration, writing an historical ethnography about migrant workers in Lebanon and Syria since the 1960s, while also publishing on migration politics and transnationalism in the Arabian peninsula. I then wrote a survey history of popular politics, contentious mobilization, and hegemonic contestation in the whole region from the eighteenth century to the revolutionary uprisings of the 2010s. I have also researched and published on transnational activism for Palestinian rights. My next major publication puts forward a Gramscian theory of popular mobilization.

Teaching responsibilities

  • GV248: Power and Politics in the Modern World: Comparative Perspectives
  • GV4F2: Popular Politics in the Middle East
  • GV4G5: The History and Politics of the Modern Middle East


Popular Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East
(CUP 2016)

The waves of protest ignited by the self-immolation of Muhammad Bouazizi in Tunisia in late 2010 highlighted for an international audience the importance of contentious politics in the Middle East and North Africa. John Chalcraft's ground-breaking account of popular protest emphasizes the revolutionary modern history of the entire region. Challenging top-down views of Middle Eastern politics, he looks at how commoners, subjects and citizens have long mobilised in defiance of authorities. Chalcraft takes examples from a wide variety of protest movements from Morocco to Iran. He forges a new narrative of change over time, creating a truly comparative framework rooted in the dynamics of hegemonic contestation. Beginning with movements under the Ottomans, which challenged corruption and oppression under the banners of religion, justice, rights and custom, this book goes on to discuss the impact of constitutional movements, armed struggles, nationalism and independence, revolution and Islamism. A work of unprecedented range and depth, this volume will be welcomed by undergraduates and graduates studying protest in the region and beyond.


Striking Cabbies of Cairo and Other Stories
(SUNY Press 2012)

This book charts new directions in Egyptian social history, providing the first systematic account of adaptation and protest among crafts and service workers in Egypt in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Using a wealth of new sources, John T. Chalcraft challenges conventional notions of craft stagnation and decline by recovering the largely unknown histories of crafts workers’ restructuring in the face of world economic integration, and their petitions, demonstrations, and strike-action at a time of state-building and colonial rule. Chalcraft demonstrates the economic importance of petty producers and service providers, and tells the story of widespread collective assertion couched in new discourses of citizenship and nationalism. He also gives a new interpretation of the end of the guilds in Egypt and addresses larger debates about unevenness under capitalism.


The Invisible Cage: Syrian Migrant Workers in Lebanon
(Stanford University Press, 2009)

The Invisible Cage uncovers the hidden history of the cycle of labor migration and return of hundreds of thousands of un- and semi-skilled Syrian workers in Lebanon. It traces how Syrians came to comprise a significant proportion of Lebanon's workforce during the 1950s and 1960s, the ways in which these Syrians lived through Lebanon's civil wars, and their prolonged unsettlement and exile through both the reconstruction of the 1990s and instability since 2005.

Offering both social history and ethnography, John Chalcraft challenges the commonly held view that a more benign form of economic labor migration, one based on personal choice, emerged with the end of slavery and forced labor in the region. Instead, he shows how both coercion and consent, unintended consequences, and hegemonic forms influence the ongoing rotation of migrant workers. This captivating account of the labor market as 'invisible cage' breaks new ground in Middle East and migration studies alike.


Counterhegemony in the Colony and Postcolony
(Palgrave, 2007)

Capitalism seems to have conquered the world. Historians and social scientists increasingly elaborate on the ever-subtler forms of hegemony that control our lives. Resistance appears naïve, elusive or futile. Within this vexed context, this interdisciplinary volume represents an unusual attempt to think through the meaning of resistance and give new theoretical content to the oft-cited but underspecified concept of counterhegemony. Rather than proceeding in a Eurocentric manner from some principle of resistance at work in the world of 'advanced capitalism', and then generalizing to the so-called developing world, this work is grounded in theoretically informed but fine-grained studies of important but little-known cases of resistance in the global South.

With contributions from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Latin America, and reaching back to the Eighteenth-century, Counterhegemony in the Colony and Postcolony works through issues of colonialism, nationalism, statism, postcolonialism and neoliberalism. Attention is paid to politics and the state, intellectual formations, counterculture, and popular struggle. In doing so this volume goes beyond unexamined and naïve notions of resistance and gives a firmer conceptual basis for thinking counterhegemony.