“How we can convince the skeptic, especially skeptical political scientists, that music is important, that music is politics. Can we show that without music certain things would not happen, certain ideas would not be conceived, certain grievances would not be broadcast, certain injustices would not be questioned or left unchallenged.”(Street, 2012: 162). To understand Street’s words, it is important for International Relations (IR) students and scholars to ask why we are not introduced to academic works that use music as a source for analysis. Bleiker (2001: 518) underlined that the narrow limits of conventional IR legitimized some sources of analysis such as political speeches and government documents in relation to others. Through these elite sources (Grayson, 2015), conventional IR eliminated the politics of representation and political struggle (Bleiker, 2011: 518). This often wiped out the voices of the subordinates. Correspondingly, Frost (2010: 440) found that the aesthetic turn appeared as a breach of these conventional boundaries and encouraged the use of unconventional sources like music to achieve what is being exterminated. To understand this, subaltern studies within the IR are invested in restoring the voices of the unsupervised subaltern (Chalcraft, 2008: 376). The subaltern is a group that is subordinate and has a subordinate rank (Spivak, 1988a: 35). Accordingly, in this piece I will discuss the ways in which the analysis of music expands the scope of subaltern studies within international relations.
I contend that the analysis of music broadens its scope in two ways: first, by revealing the voice of the subaltern through the study of an unconventional source, and second, by understanding the subaltern, by gaining new knowledge about political events from below will. To build my reasoning, I’ll split this piece into 5 sections. First, I examine conventional IR and its narrow limits. Second, I introduce the aesthetic twist. Third, I present subaltern studies in IR. Fourth, applying the preceding paragraphs, I demonstrate my analysis through the Egyptian January 25thth The case of the revolution was specifically chosen for two reasons: studies of protests proved useful in revealing the voice of the subaltern (Cronin, 2008: 2), and scholars from the Middle East paid little attention to the studies of the subaltern (Webber, 1997: 11). In addition, I do a primary and secondary analysis by methodically comparing the contemporary national anthem and two of the most famous protest songs. Finally, I reckon with the three limitations of my reasoning: the inability to access the voice of the subaltern as a whole, the possibility of appropriating the subaltern’s voice through translation, and the possibility of the music’s inability to give the subaltern a voice in another cases.
Conventional international relations
International relations (IR) strive, regardless of their different perspectives, to explain world politics with different instruments (Sachleben, 2014: 29). Bleiker (2001: 509) emphasized that we have got used to the “conventional” understanding of the discipline, as it sticks to tools that stem from the search for established investigative procedures that relate to reasons and facts. This therefore led to a narrow understanding of the social sciences, which dominated a large part of IR science (Bleiker, 2001: 518). Moore and Shepherd (2010: 299) argued that this is due to the rigid “definition limits” of legitimate analytical sources, which have not made much progress since the discipline began.
This resulted in a hierarchy that gave some sources dominance and power over others. Political speeches, government documents and archives are examples of these dominant sources (Bleiker, 2001: 518). Conventional IR therefore perceives people based on the parameters of the status quo (Grayson, 2015). This led to the extinction of the politics of representation, to the place of political struggle (Bleiker, 2001: 518) and suppressed the voices of the subordinates.
In this sense, conventional IR insists that popular culture, such as music, as another source of analysis, is not really worthy of the scientific attention of the IR because it is not viewed as political (Weldes and Rowley, 2015). IR continues to treat popular culture as a black box of primitivism and irrationalism (Grayson, 2015). Hence, it is often rare for music to be mentioned in most works of contemporary political theory (Street, 2012: 140). I underline here how music is viewed as being at the bottom of the hierarchy in legitimate analytical sources. As a young and aspiring IR scientist, it strikes me that I was hardly introduced to any scientific work that combines music with IR. Street (2012: 149) stated that the music has been marginalized by the decline of the writers who advocated this unconventional tradition. The authors who define modernity, like Hobbes and Marx, largely neglected the subject of music in the IR and did not see it as useful for our political reports (Street, 2012: 141). Finally, Street (2012: 143) underlined that only those who break away from the traditional boundaries of the discipline can allow a place for music in IR analysis.
Taking into account the above-mentioned shortcomings of conventional IR and its narrow limitations, the aesthetic turn occurred (Moore and Shepherd, 2010: 299). Instead of focusing on reasons and facts, the Wende advocates the use of new analytical sources that capture emotions and representations in order to expand the scope of IR (Moore and Shepherd, 2010: 299). Frost (2010: 433) stressed that it encourages the use of other interpretive and reflective sources that have been denigrated by the conventional boundaries that mainly dominated the IR. Accordingly, I am of the opinion that unlike conventional IR, areas other than the domains present in the elitist reports can be political.
Therefore, the turn legitimized unconventional aesthetic sources and forms of popular culture such as music and not trust in government documents and political speeches (Bleiker, 2001: 526). Accordingly, the study of forms of popular culture such as music has increased and it has been beneficial to see IR gain significant momentum outside of its conventional aspects (Weldes and Rowley, 2015). Using forms of popular culture as a source of analysis opened up the possibility of perceiving things and people outside of the “parameters of the status quo” that have dominated conventional IR science (Grayson, 2015).
In addition, it is recognized in the Wende that the narrow limits of conventional IR extinguished the politics of representation and the location of political struggles (Bleiker, 2001: 510). Frost (2010: 440) added that the use of unconventional analytical sources that capture representations and emotions can provide access to the stories of marginalization, political struggles, and places of resistance. Hence, through the analysis of music, a new truth is learned that we can never reach in any other way (Frost, 2010: 435). This opens up new spaces of expression so that the voices of subordinates can be heard (Reeves, 2014: 394). Accordingly, I believe that analyzing music can restore the voices of subordinates and allow us to perceive what may previously not have been noticed through new insights into political events from below.
In relation to the main argument of this essay, one will wonder: what is being invested in IR to reach the voices of those who are subordinate in the elite reports? Inspired by the Marxist historical practice of “stories from below” (Altern, 2012: 59), subaltern studies were carried out in the IR to restore the hidden stories of the subordinates (Chalcraft, 2008: 376). It was also influenced by the three examples of critical approaches to subordination within the discipline: the repositioning of gender through feminism, the poststructuralism method of examining the mode of power, and the anti-Eurocentric currents of postcolonialism (Chalcraft, 2008: 376). The term “subaltern” adopted by Gramsci refers to a variety of groups that are politically, socially, ideologically or economically subordinate and of lower rank in terms of class, gender, age, etc. (Spivak, 1988a: 35) . According to Guha and Spivak (1988: vi) the term “subaltern” is the opposite of the dominant and “elite” groups in power.
Guha (1997: xiv) emphasized that in these reports the politics of subordinate people is eliminated, as the conventional reports pay attention to the dominant groups through their long tradition of elitism. Hence, Subaltern Studies focuses on debunking the evidence that lies outside these accounts (Webber, 1997: 11). Aging (2012: 61) added that it aims to restore the obliterated freedom of choice and consciousness of the subaltern. Hence, it informs a discussion that counteracts the elitist tendency that has dominated most of the academic work of conventional IR. While the investigation of the manner in which the voice of the subaltern is silenced continues, little attention has been paid to the analysis of music (Romanov, 2005: 2). Furthermore, Spivak (1988b: 307) argued that the subaltern cannot speak and that their consciousness is inaccessible because their voice is destroyed and appropriated when others write about it and enforce their values on it.
I recognize the problems of recovering the voice of the subaltern from elitist sources and the appropriation of their voice when others write about it, considering what encourages the aesthetic twist, and propose the analysis of music as an alternative solution. I claim that the analysis of music expands the scope of the subaltern studies by revealing the voices of the subaltern on the one hand and, on the other, by understanding the subaltern, gaining new insights into political events from below. Webber (1997: 12) affirmed that when it deviated from “disciplinary boundaries” it could access new tools to reach the subordinate voices that were not previously addressed. Shimizu (2013: 62) emphasized that music enables the subaltern to demonstrate the ability to analyze circumstances. Hence, it can reveal his understanding.
Ultimately, subordinate studies emerged in India, but they also inspired projects such as those in the Middle East (Chalcraft, 2008: 376). However, Webber (1997: 11) pointed out that Middle Eastern scientists paid little attention to the subaltern studies. This is due to the fact that the perspectives of subordinate groups are missing or underrepresented in elitist archival reports of the Middle East (Cronin, 2008: 5). Since studies of protest have proven useful, they reveal subaltern ideas that might otherwise remain hidden (Cronin, 2008: 2). Therefore, I am examining the contribution of the Subaltern Studies to the Middle East in order to challenge and demonstrate my main argument in the case of the Egyptian 25th the January Revolution.
The Egyptian Revolution of January 25, 2011
Building on the previous sections, I will illustrate my main argument by examining the case of the January 25th revolution in Egypt. I carry out primary and secondary analyzes by methodically comparing the texts of the contemporary national anthem as an elitist report and protest songs as the voices of the subaltern. The two protest songs that are analyzed are: “Izzay?” (“How?”), The first official song that was nationally and internationally associated with the revolution (Mostafa, 2012: 653), and “Sout el Huriyya” (“Voice of Freedom”), which was immensely popular in the EU Protests were used (Metwaly, 2011). As an Egyptian native Arabic speaker, I translated these songs and the national anthem and here I acknowledge my position.
On January 25, 2011, Egyptians protested against authoritarianism, political corruption and injustice for 18 days (Bates, 2012). The demonstrators had three demands: bread, freedom and social justice (Valassopoulos and Mostafa, 2014: 639). Despite the fact that President Mubarak’s regime was considered foolproof, the demonstrators were able to overthrow this authoritative regime (El-Ghobashy, 2011: 3). I underline here, to come back to it later, that this is the existing conventional insight into the revolution. Woltering (2013: 290) noted that the subordinate Egyptians, who were never seen as political actors, expressed their demands through protest. I understand the definitions of “subaltern” and “elite” given above in the previous section and claim that the protesters were the subaltern while President Mubarak and his regime were the ruling elite. Spivak (1988a: 41) noted that despite the fact that the subalterns are a heterogeneous subject, what they have in common is resistance to elite rule. In this case, the subalterns comprised different groups such as women, workers, young people, unemployed, middle class, Copts, etc., all of whom expressed their collective struggle (Kandil, 2012; Delgado, 2015; Nkroti10, 2013)).
Mostafa (2012: 272) highlighted the role of protest music in the revolution and stated that the success of the revolution was achieved not only through organization but also through the internationally heard protest songs. Hence it was seen as a productive place for political engagement that contributed to the success of the revolution (Valassopoulos and Mostafa, 2014: 640). It is noteworthy, however, that these accounts focused on how music articulated the revolutionary demands and paid very little attention to the understandings and feelings of the subaltern channeled therein. Ghannam (2012: 32) affirmed that we know little about the thoughts and feelings of the protesting Egyptians. Therefore, in order to capture these unsupervised feelings and insights, I analyze and compare the contemporary Egyptian national anthems and protest songs.
The contemporary Egyptian national anthem was officially adopted in 1979 and has been the national anthem so far (Mustafa, 2015: 183). Mustafa (2015: 180) stressed that national anthems reflect the ideology of the ruling elite and aim to get people to implement it. They also design how people should perceive the country (Mustafa, 2015: 180). Anderson (1991: 132,145) argues that nations conceived in language and are “imagined communities”; National anthems reflect this. Accordingly, the Egyptian national anthem reflects the perceptions and ideas of the ruling elite about the Egyptian community and speaks on behalf of the subaltern. As Guha (1997: xiv) noted, in any elitist report the politics of the people and their representation go unnoticed.
To analyze it: “Egypt, your children are noble. Loyal and keeper of the reins ”(Al-Qady, 1878), the land-people dualism is recorded in these texts and is based on loyalty and love (Mustafa, 2015: 190). “My home, my home, my home, you have my love and my heart” (Al-Qady, 1878) crystallizes the centrality of Egypt, in which loyal citizens should do nothing but love it, no matter what (Mustafa, 2015: 190)). Jorgensen (1990: 25) emphasized that states announce themselves and their images in national anthems. That is why I consider this to be a further crystallization of the centrality of this picture “Egypt! Mother of all countries, you are my hope and my ambition and above all the people ”(Al-Qady, 1878), conveys how people are expected to perceive Egypt as superior to them. McDonald (2013: 28) stressed that nationalist music is an effective way of promoting a national sentiment that serves a political agenda. Corresponding to anthemglorified patriotism, in which the people should only serve to protect and love the country and only to rebel against the enemy (Mustafa, 2015: 190). The loyalty is glorified that any direct criticism of this narrative is interpreted as unpatriotic (Bloom, 2011: 58). I note that the subordination of the subordinates and the lack of representation of popular politics were further subsidized.
Spivak (2005: 477) found that the elite’s failure to recognize the understanding of the subaltern was a problem of the inadequacy of the infrastructure for hearing the voice of the subaltern. This was made clear in the national anthem when she spoke on behalf of the subalterns who were obliterating their own understanding. In order for the subaltern to be heard, they have to put their differences aside and build an infrastructure that enables the recognition of their freedom of choice and their awareness (Spivak, 2005: 483). I think protest music was the way to channel this. The first song that is analyzed is “Izzay?” (“How?”), And the second is “Sout El-Huriyya” (“Voice of Freedom”).
In the first song “How can you accept for me, if I love your name deeply, I can’t find a reason to love you and my sincerity doesn’t even matter” (Nagy, 2011), Protesters here wondered how they could continue to love Egypt when it still prevented them from feeling safe and free (Blair, 2011). Contrary to what the national anthem conveys, I want to emphasize here that the subalterns who spoke for themselves expressed that they did not have the same love affair with Egypt. Music, as Shimizu (2013: 74) puts it, “is a world in which the subaltern can express the deepest feelings”; Therefore, I believe that the subalterns have articulated their rejection and guilt for what Egypt does to them. “How can you leave me so weak, why don’t you stand by my side?” (Nagy, 2011) expressed his anger over the support of Egypt because of its weakness and subordination. In addition, Blair (2011) emphasized: “I swear by your name that I will keep changing you until you accept me for who I am” (Nagy, 2011). He underlined that he was reporting his misfortune about the situation in Egypt and insisted on changing it as it imagines. In contrast to the national anthem, Valassopoulos and Mostafa (2014: 646) found that protest songs expressed the protesters’ ability to resist, to break away from dominant ideologies and to articulate their ability to create a new alternative.
In the second song “I went out and said that I would not come back and wrote with my own blood in every street, our weapon was our dreams, in every street of my country the voice of freedom is calling” (Eid, 2011), the text captured the feeling of hope of the demonstrators and the belief that they can finally play a role and spread a change (Valassopoulos and Mostafa, 2014: 643). In contrast to the national anthem, Rosenthal (2001: 18) noted that music vocalizes ideas about the definition of the world and itself. McDonald (2013: 31) stated that music delimits the boundaries of a discursive field in which the idea of the self engages against the prevailing order. Accordingly, I highlight these texts: “The most important thing is to obtain our rights and to write our own history with our blood” (Eid, 2011)., show how there is finally the chance to write one’s story through the revolution the way it imagines.
One by one, these songs not only represented a counter-ideology to the elite national anthem, but also, as McDonald (2013: 31) pointed out, led the participants through a network of shared meanings that encouraged their own freedom of choice and awareness. In my opinion, Subaltern Studies’ analysis of music in this case exposes the rejection and pain of the invisibility of the Subaltern, their contradiction to the elitist narrative and the realization of their agency in changing their country. As Cronin (2008: 4) asserted, the protest discourse in the population is an attempt by the powerless to negotiate the terms of change with the instruments at their disposal. Music thus serves as a rebellion and resistance to silence (Fischlin, 2003: 10). In both songs, I think the Subaltern reinterpreted loyalty and patriotism where, contrary to what the national anthem dictated, they could criticize the elitist narrative, blame their own country and seek change and still be patriotic and loyal. Shalaby (2015: 176) emphasized that protest songs have so far provoked a rise in patriotism for protesting Egyptians and others who could not join but believed in the revolution. Examination of the music uncovered the voices of demonstrators of despair, anger, and reorientation from obedience (LeVine, 2012: 795). In addition, the music revealed what could not previously be uttered and let those who sing hear themselves (Rosenthal, 2001: 13). Hence, I have shown that studying music broadens the scope of subaltern studies by first revealing the subaltern’s voice through analysis of an unconventional source in which the subaltern spoke for themselves.
Accordingly, I believe that the unveiling of the voice of the subaltern, as outlined earlier, also expands the scope of subaltern studies by adding new insights into political events such as the Egyptian revolution from below that complement existing ones. For example, in this case the subalterns revolted because they called for justice, equality, freedom and the end of authoritarianism, as the existing reports provide; but it also did it because it presented Egypt and its relationship with it differently from what the elites had imagined. According to Ludden (2002: 13), a liberated imaginary community can only come into its own in the language of the subaltern, which historians can try to recover. Here music was a medium that expressed the view of Egypt from below, where Egypt was configured, criticized and reinterpreted (Mostafa, 2012: 263). Protest music has managed to register understanding that could have been lost or gone unnoticed (LeVine, 2012: 795). Since the subaltern not only want to be heard, but also want to be understood (Shimizu, 2013: 66), the understanding of the subaltern subsidizes the understanding of new knowledge about political events such as the Egyptian revolution from below. After all, the subaltern may not be able to speak while others are writing about it, but here the subaltern can sing while speaking to himself.
Although I have shown that examination of the music reveals the voice of the subaltern, I acknowledge that there are three main limitations that I believe are necessary to be considered in further research. First, I cannot generalize and claim access to the entire voice of the subaltern through music. Spivak (2005: 479) stated that the dominant group, exercising the subordinate function of hegemony, speaks on behalf of their entirety. If we recognize the hierarchy among the subaltern, we have to realize that even the subaltern who can sing are not the total subaltern. I underline that in the case of the revolution, for example, the dominant group among the subaltern had the ability to take to the square. Kandil (2012: 147) affirmed that the lower middle class was at the forefront of the demonstrations when, for example, many farmers hesitated.
Second, I acknowledge that non-native speakers may still use the subaltern voice as the songs are subject to translation. Romanov (2005: 10) noted that the lyrics must be heard in the language in which they are sung, so that the voice of the subaltern may be silenced again by the transplant. There is an inability of Westerners to talk about and understand the other without enforcing their values (Chattopadhyay and Sarkar, 2005: 360). As in this case, when the protest songs are translated by non-Arabic native speakers.
Third, I admit the possibility that music cannot give voice to the subaltern in other cases. As Shimizu (2013: 73) pointed out, instead of assuming a universality of a practice, we should instead use a practice to reveal a real state in this world. So I am not suggesting that music has the power to give voice to all subaltern subjects, but we could analyze how music gave some Egyptian subaltern the opportunity to speak for themselves.
In conclusion, in this essay, I have argued that the analysis of music extends the scope of subaltern studies in two ways: first, by restoring the unsupervised voice of the subaltern by examining an unconventional source, and second, by understanding new political insights from events below. I built my reasoning and divided the essay into five sections. In the first part, I examined the narrow boundaries of conventional IR that dominated elitist analytical sources such as government speeches that wiped out the marginalized voices. In the second part I introduced the aesthetic twist that encourages using unconventional sources like music to capture what has been obliterated. In the third part, I introduced Subaltern Studies in IR as it is invested in restoring the voices of subordinates. Realizing the difficulty of restoring the subaltern’s voice from conventional elite sources, and deleting his voice when others write about it, I pondered what advocates the aesthetic turn and suggested analyzing music as an alternative source. In the fourth I examined my arguments in the case of the Egyptian revolution by methodically comparing the contemporary Egyptian national anthem with two protest songs “Izzay” (“How?”) And “Sout El-Huriyya” (“Voice of Freedom”) have. . I have shown how the analysis of music broadened the scope of subaltern studies by revealing the voice of the Egyptian subalters and understanding a new insight into the revolution from below. In the fifth, I recognized that my reasoning had three limitations: the inability to gain access to the entire voice of the subaltern, the prospect of losing the voice of the subaltern through translation, and the possibility that the music might not reveal the voice of the subaltern may other cases. Finally, for further research, it would be thought-provoking if we use other unconventional sources of subaltern studies to examine what other ways they can be useful.
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Written at: The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Written for: Theories of International Relations
Date written: April 2017
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