WORKSHOP In PERUGIA (Italy) May 12th-13th 2016 - The Arab Uprisings and National Identities: Interrogating the Politics of Culture and Relations of “Soft Power” in the Maghreb.

Anna Baldinetti's picture

Along with warm wishes for the new year, please find below a call for papers for this upcoming workshop. The workshop has limited spaces available and the organisers are especially interested in contributions that explore the role and impact of regional actors such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia on the Arabization of Maghrebi societies. Please email Anna Baldinetti (<; and Charis Boutieri>) with your abstract by the 25th January. Thank you for passing this around to other interested parties as well.


The Arab Uprisings and National Identities: Interrogating the Politics of Culture and Relations of “Soft Power” in the Maghreb.



Anna Baldinetti

Lorenzo Medici

Charis Boutieri


Project Description

This research project aims to explore the intricate and multi-layered encounter between arabization policies in the Maghreb countries from the 1970s to the present and other shapers of cultural identity both internal and external to the nation-state. In particular, the project addresses the question of whether the Arab Uprisings have substantially modified or even reversed earlier politics of culture in the Maghreb region. From an imposed Arabization as the foundation of a national identity after independence to the transnational Arabization mediated either through financing curricula and satellite TV channels such as al-Jazeera by Saudi Arabia and Qatar respectively or by international agencies (UNESCO, The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and ISESCO), modern standard Arabic occupies an important position in articulations of national citizenship in the Maghreb. Part of the goals of these policies has been to prevent further assimilation to western cultures of the presumed authentic Arabo-Muslim identities of the national Maghrebi population and the sizable Maghrebi diasporas. At the same time, the widespread diffusion of the English language, either as the indirect consequence of global market integration and cultural globalisation, and/or as the direct product of sustained policies of cultural influence of the United States and the United Kingdom, has become difficult to ignore; this is especially the case in the post-revolt context. The Arab Uprisings appeared to open up a space for the redefinition of the politics of language and culture in relation to national identity and democratic citizenship. One example of this newly carved space was the early post-revolutionary Libyan state that quickly pushed for the recognition of the linguistic and cultural rights of the Imazighen, the Tuareg, and the Tebu.

Language politics and language rights are among the most pressing axes of contemporary politics of cultural influence and recognition and of politics tout court. The inclusion of linguistic rights as human rights in international law and the foregrounding of linguistic conflicts in various contexts invite the attention of both scholars and policy-makers. What is relationship between language politics and rights and relations of “soft power”? Through the concept of “soft power,” a largely under-scrutinized notion that alludes to various types of linguistic and cultural interaction that affect socio-economic and political processes, this project will address the “cultural” aspects of transition in the Maghreb.

The emerging normative paradigm maintains that the recognition of minority language rights could potentially prevent many types of conflict that threaten the integrity of the new nation state as a multicultural structure. At the same time, western political discourse, aware of the importance of language as an instrument of socio-cultural control, continues to promote the idea that teaching western languages and, consequently, western terminologies of self and collectivity, is productive of and even co-terminous with a democratic citizenry in the region. Yet the Arab Uprisings highlighted both the remaining purchase of certain types of Arabism – especially linguistic – and the significance of the conventionally articulated nation state as the arena where struggles of identity and polity play out. While certainly intertwined with colonial histories of disciplining through language training and through certain forms of knowledge, external intervention in the Maghreb after the Arab Uprisings is more multiple, more fragmented, and more explicitly oriented to the latest objectives of neoliberal expansion. The idea of “soft power” directs our thinking in two inter-related arenas: an the examination of such phenomena as neo-colonial and an open-ness to new configurations of bilateral power relations as well as the drastically novel forms such power relations can take.

Project Objectives:

This research project will attempt to respond to the following queries:

What are the diverse manifestations of multilingualism in the Maghreb after the Arab Uprising?

To what extent are the decades of Arabization without the accommodation of minority linguistic rights held accountable for the stalling of democratization in post-Uprising Maghreb?

What are the consequences of the promotion and diffusion of western languages (predominantly English as a replacement of French) on the political contest for cultural “soft power” in the Maghreb?

Using case studies from the Maghreb, this research proposes:

To analyse the role of regional actors (Qatar and Saudi Arabia) in the unfolding of the politics of Arabization in the decades proceeding and the years proceeding the Arab Uprising.

To interrogate the workings of “soft power” in relation to western influence in the region during political transition.

To scrutinize the contemporary politics of culture in the Maghreb after 2011 in relation to dilemmas of national identity. 

To examine language politics among the Maghrebi diaspora (for instance, actions of diffusion and teaching of the Arabic language within Western-based Maghrebi communities)


Expected Project Contribution


The expected contribution of this research project is to provide a historically and sociologically grounded understanding of the role of language and culture in the countries of the Maghreb after the Uprisings. This understanding will both complicate the distinction between imperialism and “soft power” and provide critical insight into fundamental yet entirely overlooked aspects of current political transitions. Besides its contribution on the study of the Maghreb today, this project will enrich the not yet expanded literature on the politics of language as an instrument of soft power especially during the period of advanced neoliberalism. Methodologically, the research project will offer qualitative data to urgent questions on cultural and political identity in the region. This data was heretofore harder to produce and circulate because of the closed-ness of the political landscape and the tight control that centralized authoritarian states held over Arabization policies. This project will also provide access to the lived negotiation of “soft power” by actors on the ground, negotiations that have the potential to modify the way in which we understand this modality of control.


Expected Project Outputs and Provisional Timeline


The organizers will invite contributors to a workshop in Italy in May12th-13th 2016. This workshop will be the bases of an edited journal special issue or volume.

Submission of Abstracts for Consideration:

Please send a 450-word abstract and paper title to the team of organizers by 25th January 2016. We welcome contributions from all academic disciplines that can provide a qualitative evaluation of their proposed topic based on original research. We encourage contributors to emphasize their methodological framework and highlight the contribution of their work in relation to the specific objectives of the project.



Keywords: CFP