The Concept of Self-Organized Criticality: The Case Study of the Arab Uprising

  • Şuay Nilhan Açıkalın
  • Erbil Can Artun
Conference paper
Part of the Springer Proceedings in Complexity book series (SPCOM)


In today’s more connected, interdependent, fast, and highly globalized social world, conventional concepts and approaches for understanding social dynamics and social events have been getting weaker day by day. There is a need of more dynamic points of view and new concepts which will help us to grasp the underlying mechanisms of social dynamics and what is really happening beyond the phenomena that we observe as social events. Complexity science offers a fresh understanding of real systems, since they are usually complex. In the present study, an important concept of complexity science, self-organized criticality, is used gingerly to reinterpret the Arab Uprising, while a former study interpreted the Arab Uprising with the help of the concept “butterfly effect” of chaos theory. From chaos theory viewpoint, the starter event of the Arab Uprising which is the protest of a young Tunisian can be interpreted as the initial condition of the whole protest series and social movements. Although this approach supplies new ways of interpretations on the social movements, it misses the background state of the society. Self-organized criticality concept takes into account the whole society as a system and interprets the event not as an initial condition, but rather as a tipping point where the system which has reached a critical state begins to reorganize itself into a new state—a phase transition takes place. Has the Arab Uprising or as formerly so-called the Arab Spring finished? Was it a “spring” that the following days will bring the summer, or was it a “fall” that will bring the winter? Although the answer depends on one’s point of view, it will be understood only when the phase transition process is completed. Hence, the important thing, for everyone, is to understand the state of the society and the intentions of the organization of the society. That’s why this study seeks to explain dynamics of the Arab Uprising phenomenon with critical self-organization property of complexity theory as an alternative approach.


Arab Spring Self-organized criticality Sandpile model Complexity International relations 


  1. Açıkalın, Ş. N., & Bölücek, C. A. (2014). Understanding of Arab Spring with Chaos theory – Uprising or revolution, Chaos theory in politics. Netherlands: Springer.Google Scholar
  2. Ansani, A., & Daniele, V. (2012). About a revolution: The economic motivations of the Arab Spring. International Journal of Development and Conflict, 2(03), 1250013.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arendt, H. (1990). Philosophy and politics. Social Research, 57(1), 73–100.Google Scholar
  4. Bak, P. (1996). How nature works: The science of self-organized criticality. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bak, P., Tang, C., & Wiesenfeld, K. (1987). Self-organized criticality: An explanation of 1/f noise. Physical Review Letters, 59(4), 381–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Banerjee, A. (2012). Self-organized criticality in sandpile models. Research Paper. Retrieved 13 Jan 2018.
  7. Behr, T. (2012). Talking about the revolution: Narratives on the origin and future of the Arab. European Institute of the Mediterranean – IEMed, paper n. 9.Google Scholar
  8. Blight, G., Pulham, S., & Torpey, P. (2012). Arab Spring: an interactive timeline of Middle East protests. Retrieved 23 Jan 2018.
  9. Bossomaier, T. R. J., & Green, D. G. (2000). Introduction. In T. R. J. Bossomaier & D. G. Green (Eds.), Complex systems. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Breisinger, C., Ecker, O., Al-Riffai, P., & Yu, B. (2012). Beyond the Arab awakening. Policies and investments for poverty reduction and food security. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.Google Scholar
  11. Dabashi, H. (2012). The Arab Spring: The end of postcolonialism. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  12. Dalacoura, K. (2012). The 2011 uprisings in the Arab Middle East: Political change and geopolitical implications. International Affairs, 88(1), 63–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Eltantawy, N., & Wiest, J. B. (2011). Social media in the Egyptian revolution: Reconsidering resource mobilization theory. International Journal of Communication, 5, 1207–1224.Google Scholar
  14. Feller, W. (1945). The fundamental limit theorems in probability. Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, 51, 800–832.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Frangonikolopoulos, C. A., & Chapsos, I. (2012). Explaining the role and the impact of the social media in the Arab Spring. GMJ: Mediterranean Edition, 8(1), 10–20.Google Scholar
  16. Ghafar, A. (2016). Educated but unemployed: The challenge facing Egypt’s youth (pp. 1–16). Doha: Brookings Doha Center.Google Scholar
  17. Güçtürk, Y. (2016). Devrimden Darbeye Mısır’da İnsan Hakları. Çankaya: SETA.Google Scholar
  18. Howard, P., et al. (2011). Opening closed regimes: What was the role of social media during the Arab Spring?, Project on information technology and political islam data memo 2011.1. Seattle: University of Washington.Google Scholar
  19. Idris, I. (2016). Analysis of the Arab Spring, GSDRC helpdesk research report. London: Department for International Development. Retrieved 13 Jan 2018.
  20. Kron, T., & Grund, T. (2009). Society as a self-organized critical system. Cybernetics and Human Knowing, 16(1–2), 65–82.Google Scholar
  21. Lagi, M., Bertrand, K., & Bar-Yam, Y. (2011). The food crises and political instability in North Africa and the Middle East. Retrieved 13 Jan 2018.
  22. Lynch, M. (2011). Obama’s ‘Arab Spring’. Foreign Policy Magazine.Google Scholar
  23. Lynch, M. (2012). The Arab uprising: The unfinished revolutions of the new Middle East. New York: Public Affairs.Google Scholar
  24. Mitchell, M. (2009). Complexity: A guided tour. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Nicolis, G., & Prigogine, I. (1977). Self-organization in nonequilibrium systems: From dissipative structures to order through fluctuations. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  26. Page, S. E. (2009). Understanding complexity. The Great Courses. Virginia: The Teaching Company .Google Scholar
  27. Tinoco, E. (2013). Inequality and its role in the Egyptian revolution. Final Research Paper.Google Scholar
  28. Ulutaş, U., & Torlak, F. (2011). Devrimden Demokrasiye Tunus’un Seçimi. Seta Analiz, 46, 16.Google Scholar
  29. Walker, C., & Tucker, V. (2011). After the Arab Spring: The uphill struggle for democracy. Freedom House.
  30. Winckler, O. (2013). The “Arab Spring”: Socioeconomic aspects. Middle East Policy, 20(4), 68–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Şuay Nilhan Açıkalın
    • 1
  • Erbil Can Artun
    • 2
  1. 1.Middle East Technical UniversityAnkaraTurkey
  2. 2.Yeditepe UniversityIstanbulTurkey

Personalised recommendations