Perspectives on Politics

Reflections Symposium

Response to Howard and Walters

Eva Bellin


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.

Eva Bellin is the Myra and Robert Kraft Professor of Arab Politics at the Brandeis University and the Crown Center for Middle East Studies (