Seasons of Revolutions: Transnational Lives of Nationalist Revolts

Sharon Ong's picture
Call for Papers
September 21, 2021
Subject Fields: 
World History / Studies, Arabic History / Studies, Asian History / Studies

The self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor in 2010 became the first swallow of the Arab Spring. Under pressure from reinvigorated national publics, decades-long, strong-fisted regimes in the Middle East and North Africa fell one after the other, like a set of dominos. While the protests initially triggered by domestic issues, the drama that ensued quickly became transnational. As precarious states and protestors alike mobilized critical life-support from neighbors and allies afar, a broader transnational infrastructure of human mobility came into sharp relief. The Sunni Al-Khalifa regime in Bahrain, for example, recruited riot police through networks of diasporic Baloch soldiers, just as protestors sought moral and political support from exiled Shia leaders in Iran. The label of ‘Arab Springs’ suggesting that revolt was just in season, overlooks the role mobile populations play in amplifying local unrests into transnational waves capable of remaking both state and society across a broad region.

Serial revolutions have been a recurring feature in Asia across the twentieth century. At the turn of the 20th century, constitutional currents across Eurasia, inspired by the Russian revolution (1905), set ablaze similar revolutions in Iran (1906), Turkey (1908) and China (1913). Later in the mid-20th-century, as one independence movement succeeded, others grew in strength, together overthrowing the colonial yoke from across the Global South. Just as in the Arab Spring, these national revolts hopscotched across the region on the back of mobile populations, be they merchants, scholars, pilgrims, soldiers, exiles, laborers, refugees, and diasporas.

Bringing these mobile societies, or Mercurians as Yuri Slezkine calls them, to the forefront of these world-historical events, this conference invites participants to rethink how ideas and ideologies travel and find force in unexpected places. We specifically focus on three key instances of local rebellions cascading into serial revolutions in Asia: (1) constitutional revolutions from the early 20th century that led to the rise of republics in Russia, Turkey, and Iran; (2) mid-20th-century independence movements that ended centuries-long colonial rule and resulted in sovereign nation-states across the Indian Ocean; and (3) early 21st century Arab Spring protests that spilled across the Middle East toppling decades-old military dictatorships. In centering the role of peripatetic societies in spreading these revolutions, we look to develop a new “mercurian” lens on political history that is often compartmentalized into national literatures.


Submissions should include a title, an abstract of no more than 300 words and a brief biography including name, institutional affiliation, and email contact. Please note that only previously unpublished papers or those not already committed elsewhere can be accepted. By participating in the workshop, you agree to participate in the future publication plans of the organisers.

Please use the paper proposal form and send it in doc/docx format to Sharon at by 21 September 2021. Successful applicants will be notified by mid-October. Panel presenters will be required to submit drafts of papers (4,000 words) by 9 November 2021. These drafts will be circulated to fellow panelists and organisers in advance.


Dr Yang Yang 
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Dr Ameem Lutfi 
Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore

Dr Serkan Yolacan 
Department of Anthropology, Stanford University

Dr Nisha Mathew  
School of Law, Mahindra University

Contact Info: 

Sharon Ong (she/her)
Senior Executive, Events

Contact Email: