Unruly Politics

Unruly Politics is a research theme led by the IDS Power and Popular Politics Cluster to better understand the modalities of popular political action in the contemporary world.

The work seeks to develop a 'seeing like a human-being' approach to understanding engagement beyond the 'visible spectrum' of governance and participation as conventionally defined in development policy and practice.

It focuses on why and how the individual and the multitude acts politically in ways that are often described as unruly, illegitimate and irrational. The focus of this framework is on political actions which escape, exceed or transgress 'civil' forms of civic and democratic engagement, in that they characteristically take forms that are juridically illegible, extra-legal, disruptive of the social order, strident or rude, whether this be in the form of riots and revolts, or through the use of humour, disruptive aesthetics or eroticism in engagements with power.

We launched an 'Unruly Politics Manifesto' at an IDS Seminar in March 2011. A number of our initiatives experiment with an unruly lens, including 'Food Rights and Food Riots', an 'Unruly Politics' module open to all IDS MA students, an IDS Bulletin on the pulse of Egypt's revolt and a working paper on the Changing Face of Citizen Action.

Food Riots and Food Rights

The objective of this research is to improve the prospects for accountability for food security at a time of volatility. This will be achieved through an exploration of the proposition that recent popular mobilisation around food has activated public accountability for hunger. More details

The 'Right to Nutrition' in its Social, Legal and Political Context: A Scoping Study in Two Low-Income Countries

A ‘right to nutrition’ has been suggested as a normative concept that might increase the impact of nutrition policy and action. This research will start to explore the views of those working for improved nutrition, and their understanding of - or desire for - a right to nutrition approach to address the intractable issue of malnutrition and its social determinants. More details

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Energy Protests in Fragile Settings: The Unruly Politics of Provisions in Egypt, Myanmar, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe, 2007–2017

IDS Working Paper 513 (2018)

How do popular protests about the basics of everyday life, specifically about energy, come about in settings where political authority is fragmented and conflict and repression common? How do state and political actors respond to protests which disrupt social and economic life, and undermine public authority? To what extent do such mass protests, often justified as inherently moral struggles over the basics of everyday life, empower the powerless or hold the powerful to account in such political settings? And how do external actors shape these events? More details

IDS publications on international development research

The Politics of Sustainability and Development, Annual Review of Environment and Resources

Annual Review of Environment and Resources 41 (2016)

This review examines the relationships between politics, sustainability, and development. Following an overview of sustainability thinking across different traditions, the politics of resources and the influence of scarcity narratives on research, policy and practice are explored. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Beyond Ballotocracy: Citizens' Voices and the Many Faces of Unruly Politics

IDS Bulletin 45.5 (2014)

The article argues that attempts to methodologically capture the 'pulse of citizens' must be sensitive to its dynamic nature (requiring constant revision and verification) and sensitive to the highly specific contextual nature of its expression and decryption. More details

ER 57 Front Cover

Settling After the Revolts? Egypt’s Political Settlements and Violent Transition

IDS Evidence Report 57 (2014)

The uprisings in the Arab region generated much hope among significant proportions of the population that a rupture with the status quo would herald a new era marked by bread, freedom and social justice/human dignity, the catchphrase of many of the revolts. More details

Non-IDS publication

Copts at the Crossroads - The Challenge of Building Inclusive Democracy in Egypt

In the light of the escalation of sectarian tensions during and after Mubarak's reign, the predicament of the Arab world's largest religious minority, the Copts, has come to the forefront. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Egypt’s Unfinished Transition or Unfinished Revolution? Unruly Politics and Capturing the Pulses of the Street

There has been a growing consensus among political scientists that transitions rarely follow linear processes, and that any tautological approach to paths of change is likely to be misguiding. This paper argues that the same signals of a disconnect between universalist liberal democratic prescriptions for change and the situation on the ground are surfacing once again. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Where's the 'Bread, Freedom and Social Justice' a Year after Egypt's Revolution

Things are getting worse rather than better for people who took part in Egypt's revolution last January, and the new government doesn't seem to be a stabilising force. More details

This is the IDS Bulletin 43.1, entitled, 'The Pulse of Egypt’s Revolt'.

The Pulse of Egypt’s Revolt

IDS Bulletin 43.1 (2011)

How do we explain the way in which change unfolded in the wake of the recent Egyptian uprisings? What can this tell us about the success or failure of related development policies? More details

IDS publications on international development research

The Politics of Unruly Ruptures

The question, then, is why political and civil society organizations and institutions have become marginal to the ways through which people engage politically? More details

IDS publications on international development research

The Significance of Unruly Politics in Bangladesh

This paper asks: why is politics so prone to rule-breaking in Bangladesh, and what does it matter? More details

IDS publications on international development research

Arab Uprisings: Why No One Saw Them Coming

The west failed to 'see like citizens' and missed the signs that people in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen were at breaking point. More details

IDS Working Paper

Advocacy in the Age of Authoritarianism: Adjustments of all Sorts in Egypt

IDS Working Paper 337 (2010)

This paper examines how advocacy, a highly political concept became a depoliticised technocratic buzzword for many donors, international and local NGOs. More details

Front cover of the In Focus Policy Briefing 7

Towards a New Social Justice Agenda: understanding Political responses to crises

IDS In Focus Policy Briefing 11.5 (2009)

Food riots across the developing world in 2008 sent powerful messages about the limits to people's tolerance of acute economic insecurity. More details