Dr. Huseyin Rasit’s recent article has been published in the British Journal of Sociology. Drawing upon parts of his dissertation research, Dr. Rasit focuses on the dominant Kurdish political party, the PYD, in the Kurdish regions of Syria and its rapid rise to power after 2011. He develops a new approach to analyzing the competition between different revolutionary organizations vying for power in the same revolutionary situation and argues for a legitimation-based understanding. More specifically, he claims that we should conceptualize the rise of a revolutionary organization as legitimation of its power in the eyes of the population it leads. He empirically demonstrates three such processes of legitimation at play in the revolutionary situation in Kurdistan-Syria.
When the Arab Spring gave way to demonstrations in Syria in 2011, the Kurds in the country were also full of hope. While they were going into the streets, the Kurdish political parties were debating what their people should do and offering competing visions for the future. Then in July 2012, the regime unexpectedly withdrew its forces from the Kurdish regions (Rojava). Suddenly, a revolutionary situation emerged in Rojava: a mobilized population and several political parties claiming leadership and offering competing political projects for a new society. Among these parties, only the Democratic Union Party (PYD) managed to move into the power vacuum and establish its control over large areas. Its rivals were unable to stop the rapid rise of this relatively young organization and fast erosion of their own base. How did the PYD manage to become the dominant organization even though it had rarely drawn attention before the civil war?
This question is connected to a larger issue: how does a revolutionary organization become the dominant force among the competitors in the same revolutionary situation? Even though multiple organizations competing in a single revolution is a recurrent phenomenon, we still lack a comprehensive framework specifically focusing on this issue. This paper argues for an approach based on legitimation: for people to follow a certain organization over others, they should see it as a legitimate leader. Bringing together the insights of the political and organizational legitimacy literatures, the paper identifies three processes of legitimation for revolutionary organizations: ideological/normative congruence, effective organizational capacity, and accumulation of prestige. Drawing upon participant observation and 30 in-depth interviews with Kurdish individuals collected during fieldwork in Iraq, Germany, and the United States between 2016 and 2019, the paper demonstrates that the PYD has outperformed its contenders and managed to legitimate its leadership through these three processes.
Title of original paper: Competing Revolutionaries: Legitimacy and Leadership in Revolutionary Situations
Journal: The British Journal of Sociology
Parts of the research were sponsored by Smith Richardson Foundation ISS Fellowship, DAAD Research Grants—Short Term Grants, 2018 (57378443), and Yale MacMillan Center International Dissertation Research Fellowship.
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