GV4F2      Half Unit
Popular Politics in the Middle East

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof John Chalcraft


This course is available on the MSc in Comparative Politics, MSc in Conflict Studies and MSc in Global Politics. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course is capped at 3 groups.

Course content

The course explores the role of popular politics in the making of the contemporary Middle East and North Africa. The primary focus is on the Arab world but reference is also made to Iran, Israel and Turkey. We study the origins, course and consequences of popular protest, social and political movements, uprisings and revolutions in the region. We ask how a wide variety of subaltern social groups have challenged subordination and brought about new social relations. Our cases are drawn from the early twentieth century to the present. Common topics include the Iranian revolution of 1979, everyday forms of resistance, the first intifada in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (1987-1991), social justice and labour movements, Islamic activism, the Arab uprisings of 2011 and the Rojava Revolution. The course draws on critical, historically-minded and Gramscian approaches, aims to grasp the role of active subjectivity and leadership in context, and evaluates the ways in which a wide variety of movements have aimed to bring about change, and how they have succeeded and/or failed to do so.


This course is delivered through a combination of seminars and lectures totalling a minimum of 25 hours in Lent Term. Some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of online and on-campus lectures and seminars. Week 6 of the LT is a reading week.

Formative coursework

In order to develop essay skills and obtain feedback outside of formal assessment, students will complete a 2,000 word formative essay on which they will receive feedback as to overall standard, argument, evidence, structure and style. Students will choose one essay from a list of titles. To prepare for the 5,000 word essay, students will submit for approval a proposed title and a two-page handout summarising the question or puzzle that their essay will address. A seminar will also be held as a workshop to assist students prior to the final submission of their 5,000 word essay.

Indicative reading

Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran between Two Revolutions (Princeton University Press, 1982); Achcar, Gilbert. The People Want. (Saqi Books 2012); Bayat, Asef. Street Politics: Poor People's Movements in Iran (Columbia University Press, 1997); Beinin, Chalcraft, John. Popular Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East (Cambridge University Press, 2016); Cronin, Stephanie. Subalterns and Social Protest (Routledge, 2007); Kurzman, Charles. The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran (Harvard University Press, 2004); Swedenburg, Ted. Memories of Revolt: The 1936-1939 Rebellion and the Palestinian National Past (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2003); Tripp, Charles, The Power and the People (Cambridge: CUP, 2013).


Essay (100%, 5000 words).

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 26
Merit 56.7
Pass 15.4
Fail 1.9

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2020/21: 40

Average class size 2020/21: 13

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication