Rebel populism and rupture
in Rebel populism
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This chapter examines what migrant labourers said about the uprising, what kinds of socio-economic antagonisms they wanted resolved, and what shape their idealised future post-revolutionary society might take. It argues that men’s oppositional politics are neither a mechanistic material “bread riot” response to low wages and high prices, nor are they wholly an emotionally or “affect-driven” response to “shame and indignation.”

Drawing on the work of Ernesto Laclau, I argue that Syrian labourers’ horizontal anti-regime demands and ideas are indicative of a populist rupture in Syrian state-society relations. I show how workers took time to reflect on their material conditions. Then they identified who they felt responsible for those conditions (what they called “the regime”) and decided on what was to be done (“support the revolution”). I show how their opposition to the Assad government is thus not only down to some threatened sense of “identity,” but that sense of threat, and even those identities, always emerge through a specific interplay between their objective material conditions under (neo-)liberal capitalism (as migrant laborers) and subjective understandings of the politically possible (“the people” having overcome the “barrier of fear”).

Rebel populism

Revolution and loss among Syrian labourers in Beirut


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