The revolution will be uploaded: vernacular video and the Arab Spring

Peter Snowdon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The vernacular online videos produced by the Arab revolutions constitute an un-precedented (though not unproblematic) historical resource for understanding the subjective experience of the ordinary people who find themselves on the front line of revolutionary struggle. But they also effect a sea-change in the way in which we view and understand YouTube itself. This article argues that the political significance of these videos lies less in their explicit content, than in their aesthetics - that is, in the new formal and sensory propositions that they constitute, the ways in which they “redistribute the sensible” (Rancière).
The prologue proposes, following Judith Butler, that “the people” who are the subject of history are essentially a performative event, rather than a pre-existing entity, and that to write about revolution therefore requires a performative and allegorical approach. The first section reviews the current academic notion of “vernacular video” in the light of Ivan Illich’s work of the early 1980s on vernacular language and values, and argues that a stronger, more political conception of the vernacular is necessary to do justice to these works. The second section offers a close reading of one particular video from the Libyan uprising, and argues that it offers less an example, than an allegory of the dialogical relationship between the individual and the collective that defines the moral economy of the vernacular. The article concludes by proposing that the right response to such videos is not (just) more theory or criticism, but rather to seek to emulate their radically egalitarian forms of practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)401-429
Number of pages29
JournalCulture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Ivan Illich
  • Judith Butler
  • revolution
  • Arab Spring
  • YouTube
  • online video
  • vernacular
  • Libya


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