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Response to Howard and Walters


Surprise is an intrinsic fact of political life and its elimination, especially with regard to extraordinary moments of protest and revolution, is a vain endeavor. Prediction and explanation are fundamentally different enterprises. While scholars may be well-positioned to trace, retrospectively, the motivation, networks, leadership, and other contextual factors that fueled the events of 2011 and 1989, such analysis will never bestow the sort of predictive power that will eliminate the surprise of mass uprisings. Verstehen-esque studies of mobilization, while crucially enlightening, have limited capacity to augment our powers of foresight due to the fundamental gulf between agency and intention as well as the causal disconnect between precedent and prediction.

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Eva Bellin . 2012. “Reconsidering the Robustness of Authoritarianism: Lessons from the Arab Spring.” Comparative Politics 44(2): 127149.

Jeff Goodwin . 2011. “Why We Were Surprised Again by the Arab Spring.” Swiss Political Science Review 17(4): 452–56.

Timur Kuran . 1989. “Sparks and Prairie Fires: A Theory of Unanticipated Political Revolution.” Public Choice 61(1): 4174.

Charles Kurzman . 2004. “Can Understanding Undermine Explanation? The Confused Experience of Revolution.” Philosophy of Social Sciences 34(1): 328–51.

Mark Lichbach . 1987. “Deterrence or Escalation? The Puzzle of Aggregate Studies of Repression and Disssent.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 31(2): 266–97.

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Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
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