Dr Michael Marcusa is a Visiting Fellow with the ERC-funded project Qualitative and Quantitative Social Science: Unifying the Logic of Causal Inference? during 2018 Michaelmas Term.

Michael Marcusa is a political scientist who uses ethnographic insights to solve real-world problems. His research agenda focuses on issues of social conflict and political change in the Arab World. Before coming to Cambridge, he served as a Policy Advisor to the Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States- a working group of senior foreign policy leaders appointed by the United States Congress to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the problem of extremism after the military defeat of ISIL. His work on jihadism and social protest in Tunisia has appeared in Comparative Politics, Middle East Report, and The Atlantic.

More recently, Michael has begun to develop a body of research aimed at optimising ethnography and other traditionally “soft” social science methodologies for application in the business and policy worlds. This methodological research agenda addresses issues of representativeness, causality, and hypothesis-testing from an ethnographic perspective.

Michael holds a Ph.D and M.A. in Political Science from Brown University and a B.A. from Dartmouth College.


At CRASSH, Michael will work on a book manuscript that uses innovative qualitative methods to tackle the question of why jihadist movements gain a following in some places but not others.
The book -based on extensive field research conducted in Tunisia- is centred around an ethnographic and historical comparison of two Tunisian cities with similar socioeconomic indicators and a common tribal origin: Sidi Bouzid and Metlaoui. After the 2011 Tunisian revolution, Sidi Bouzid emerged as one of Tunisia’s most significant bastions of jihadist street activity and foreign fighter recruitment. Metlaoui, by contrast, witnessed significant street protest but saw attempts by jihadists to gain influence stymied by popular opposition.

The central argument of the book is that jihadism is a culturally-rooted practice, conditioned by collective memory. Sidi Bouzid was the centre of the armed uprising against France during the 1950s, so the rhetoric of jihadist Salafists resonated with youth who had been raised on stories of grandparents who fought against the French in mountains. By contrast, in Metlaoui, a history of early industrialisation led to a tradition of mobilisation around class interests in the framework of labour unions: jihadist rhetoric that emphasised the violent overthrow of the state did not appeal to youth who had been raised on stories of general strikes and workers’ movements.

The study’s central argument raises the intriguing possibility that regions with histories of class-based mobilization may have developed social features that make their youth less susceptible to jihadist recruitment appeals. This insight can inform theorising in other regional and national contexts.


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