This thesis examines the transformations of cultural, symbolic and material capital (and power) both within and among the fields of music, activist, and journalism during the recent uprising in Tunisia. Analyzing a selection of Tunisian music juxtaposed to several ubiquitous conjectures in the news media, I also challenge the role music is purported to have played in these revolutions. In recent months, many in the international press and music industry have credited hip-hop artists in Tunisia as being a driving force in the 14 January Revolution. Many cite substantially increased levels of outspokenness among the artist community against the regime and therefore locate a significant rupture with past traditions. However, by analyzing the past decade one can find many examples of artists, bloggers, workers, and activists speaking out against the regime, thus the contention that an unprecedented level of activism arouse among the artist community requires further analysis. In addition, the function that the international news media played in the revolution via the elevation of certain artists (and thus consecration of their musical-activist capital) is often ignored or unacknowledged. Evidence suggests however, that the artists in question seemed implicitly aware of this dynamic and often used it to their advantage. It is clear that music, as a cultural production both influences and mirrors widespread public opinion(s). The interplay between political music and public sentiment is instructive when examined through transformations of capital; particularly because much intangible capital can be converted to other forms of capital when the artist is lauded by international observers. Additionally, by locating the regime of Ben Ali and dissident artists at opposing loci, and placing a linear hierarchy between them, the (often foreign) analysts ignore the breadth of power dynamics both within the macro-hierarchy that they propose, within the media, as well as within the music industry itself.


Middle East Studies Center

Degree Name

MA in Middle East Studies

Graduation Date


Submission Date

May 2012

First Advisor

Geer, Benjamin

Second Advisor

Ghazaleh, Pascale



Document Type

Master's Thesis

Library of Congress Subject Heading 1

Music -- Tunisia.

Library of Congress Subject Heading 2

Revolutions -- History -- Tunisia -- 21st century.


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Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval

Approval has been obtained for this item


This project would not have been possible without the help and support of countless peers, professors, and family. The crucial help of Dr. Benjamin Geer, ranging from close revisions to the many hours spent in his office discussing and deciphering the work done for this thesis, was absolutely indispensable. Dr. Pascale Ghazaleh and Dr. John Schaefer also spent much time and effort helping me to complete and edit this thesis and to look upon the concepts herein in different ways. Achref Chargui, an amazing musician and an even better friend, introduced me to many of the Tunisian artists I interviewed for this thesis. Without Achref, this thesis would not have been possible. The research grant awarded to me from American University in Cairo (AUC) allowed me to return to Tunisia a third time, and it was during this period that I was able to conduct what I feel is the most meaningful fieldwork to surface in this thesis. The many resources AUC made available to me eased the often emotiol and academic crucible of writing this thesis. Filly, my family's support and respect for my judgment has allowed me to pursue my goals regardless of where or what they pertain to. I thank them for their patience and trust while I have lived in Cairo these past few years.