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Albiti, Hebah (2021) Social Change through Power of Imagination in Arabic Theatre: How the Raḥbānī Brothers’ Works Empowered their Audiences. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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The Raḥbānī Brothers are known as pioneers of musical theatre in the 20th century in Lebanon and the wider Arab region: they introduced a theatrical form integrating theatre, music, singing, dancing, acting, performing arts and poetry. This fusion caused many of the studies on their works to be preoccupied with classification, instead of highlighting their distinctiveness. In my view, the social function of the theatrical works of the Raḥbānī Brothers has yet to be investigated. I argue that their theatrical works function as motivation for social change, as they empower people to initiate action. However, the Brothers seem to propose a new version of social change that urges people to rebel against their realities, and restores their faith in their power of imagination and ability to initiate action without necessarily advocating any specific action. I argue the social change motivated by the Brothers’ works takes the form of ‘social nonmovements’ suggested by Asef Bayat’s theory of social change. The Raḥbānīs achieve the social change function through their special utilisation of the power of imagination. They build on ‘imaginary premises’ to make their audiences embrace their ‘poetic logic’ which might seem ‘illogical’ and ‘impossible’ according to the laws of reality. The Raḥbānīs succeed in using those ‘imaginary premises’ to involve their audiences in a game, where the thin line between ‘imagination’ and ‘reality’ seems to shatter and even overlap. Imagination in their works becomes a new proposal of their reality; they in a way reinvent reality through imaginary propositions. Their proposal of an alternative reality is embodied in the implantation of the ‘Raḥbānī possible’ (al-mumkin al- Raḥbānī) in the imagination of their audiences, sometimes disguised in the form of ‘lies’ and other times in the form of ‘visions’. The Brothers conspired with their audiences to imagine an alternative, to let the power of their imagination overtake their logical calculations and hope for a miracle, for ‘al-mumkin al-jamīl’ (the ‘beautiful possible’) enhanced by Fayrūz’s voice. I also argue that the Raḥbānī works empower the marginalised by changing the view and perception of their audiences who come in touch with these groups.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Marle Hammond
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 19 Jan 2022 15:32

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