Entanglements of the Maghreb: Cultural and Political Aspects of a Region in Motion

The French version of this text can be found here.

By Imen Louati and Julius Dihstelhoff

Julius Dihstelhoff, Charlotte Pardey, Rachid Ouaissa, and Friederike Pannewick (eds.), Entanglements of the Maghreb: Cultural and Political Aspects of a Region in Motion, Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2021.

This anthology aims to generate a new approach to address regional studies in the Maghreb. Indeed, capturing the Maghreb’s heterogeneity and its dynamic is central for reflecting on recent transformations, not only in the Maghreb but in the Arab world generally, particularly in relation to the Arab uprisings of 2010–11. The contributions to this volume explicitly explore the region’s manifold cultural and political ‘entanglements’ and their transregional dynamics.

Entanglement: method and approach 

Within this anthology, the editors stress that the Maghreb is a region ‘in motion’ and focus on ‘entanglement’ as a cross-field and cross-lingual concept in order to give this region a fitting dimension of complexity. The Maghreb region is an intersection of various geographic, religious, cultural, political, and economic spaces. It also connects Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. While the connections and intersections are shared by each of the Maghreb’s countries (Algeria, Libya, Mauretania, Morocco, and Tunisia), these distinct nation-states, nonetheless, also hold their own histories, cultural productions, languages, and policies. 

To capture the Maghreb’s remarkable dynamism, it is necessary to consider the tension between its cultural, linguistic, economic, and political disparities, on the one hand, and, on the other, the extensive links and interdependencies it holds with Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, which have characterised it throughout its history. Any rigorous analysis must take into account these disparities and complex networks of relationships, as they constitute the structural basis of the ongoing transformation processes and, therefore, the preconditions for future developments.

‘Entanglement’, as an approach, is thus deeply fitting to analyse this region. This approach covers the broad spectrum ‘histories of transfer’ and ‘histories of entanglement’ and highlights the hybrid character of the different units of the Maghreb, while also addressing the classic methodology of considering isolated national cases.

The introduction to this book, written by Julius Dihstelhoff and Charlotte Pardey, is dedicated to both an explanation and the application of entanglement. The approach is defined here “as the combination of discontinuities, reversals, and overlays; the interpenetration and envelopment of various aspects”.[1] Used as an equivalent to the German and French words Verflechtung/enchevêtrement and Verschränkung/intrication, entanglement here no longer has only the negative meaning it carries in English, but rather the more neutral tone as defined in French and German. Fittingly, this also the case in Arabic, with its equivalent word tashābuk.

The editors bring together an interdisciplinary group of authors to operationalise the concept of entanglement and conduct multi-faceted research. Of particular importance in these contributions are the following points: an awareness of the relationship between the researcher and research object; safeguarding interdisciplinary research perspectives; using multilingual sources; and paying special attention to interdependences within and/or of the Maghreb. Perspectives from individual countries, however, are also included as examples of broader patterns. Moreover, in the spirit of multilingualism and of the volume’s general strategy, the different studies have not been translated, but remain in English or French, as written by their authors.

Image: Julius Dihstelhoff.

The Maghreb: a region ‘in motion’

Often considered as a periphery – a sphere of the influence of other powers, where multiple competitions are played out – the Maghreb is, in this view, a space marked by the conquest of powerful civilisations and without its own historical identity; it is condemned to be a subject and not an object of history. However, the popular protests of 2011, which emerged in the Maghreb and profoundly changed the dynamics of the region, made the diversity of the Arab world visible and, especially, the diversity of Maghrebi societies and the deep mutations moving through them.

The driving forces of the mobilisations allowed political and social realities to clearly contrast with the stagnant and homogeneous representation of the Maghreb, thus definitively overcoming its periphery status. Maghrebi societies are undergoing rapid transformations that upset traditional social structures, beliefs, and social relations.

The contributions in this book are, thus, articulated around the notions of movement and mutation and provide stimulating analytical and disciplinary insights into the field of Maghrebi studies. They also offer state-of-the-art knowledge in an interdisciplinary perspective.

The anthology: an overview

This anthology contains 4 sections with a total of 11 chapters, features research by European, Maghrebi, and American scholars, and approaches entanglements in the Maghreb through different research fields, such as literature, political science, and other social sciences, in both English and French.

The introduction, as mentioned above, contextualises ‘entanglement’ within Maghrebi studies. Dihstelhoff and Pardey provide an exhaustive explanation of the concept, from its connotations in French, English, and Arabic, to its concrete use in this anthology, including its conceptualisation in the humanities and in political research, and particularly in historical and post-colonial approaches.

“Conceptions of the Maghreb”, the first section, develops global perspectives on the interdependent character of the Maghreb to round out the concept of entanglement and the specificities of the Maghreb region. This section examines different ideas and views of the Maghreb, its borders, and its identities. In concrete terms, Karima Dirèche and Rachid Ouaissa discuss the Maghreb from historical and interdisciplinary perspectives.

The second section, “Entanglements of Mobility and Society”, looks more closely at the dynamics of motion and socio-political processes of change within and outside of Maghrebi societies. Hakim Abderrezak’s article, “The Maghreb Entangled and Ensnared in European Webs: Nets, Knots, Spiders, and Sirens as Symbols of Clandestine Sea-Crossings”, analyses literature and film from and about the Maghreb that feature clandestine migration, which the author deems essential to understanding today’s Maghreb and its entanglements. In the same section, Lahouari Addi’s article, “Anthropologie de la conscience nationale au Maghreb”, examines cultural and political interweaving processes. He reflects on national consciousness in the Maghreb and, through political factors, explains the differences between Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, despite their similar cultural parameters. The third article of this section, “Le ḥirāk du Rif et la diaspora en Europe: espaces mentaux enchevêtrés” by Christoph Schwarz, discusses Europe-based activists of the Moroccan ḥirāk movement around 2017. The author addresses the stances of European activists, entangled between Europe and their country of origin, Morocco (and specifically the Rif area). Fadma Aït Mous closes this section with her article, “L’instruction des filles dans le Maghreb colonial”. She considers social entanglements using the example of girls’ education in the Maghreb, which evolved in the aftermath of the independence of the region and has preoccupied colonial authorities and Maghrebi elites alike. Her research aims to explain the persistent instrumentalisation of the ‘question’ of women by both state feminisms and social movements.

The third section, “Entanglements of Identities and Multilingualism”, concentrates on Maghrebi culture. The chapters look at language and the simultaneity and interactions of multilingual identities within this heterogeneous cultural space. Approaching the subject from memory studies, “Entangled Memory: Saint Augustine in Colonial and Postcolonial Texts” by Claudia Gronemann considers Saint Augustine as a symbolic figure in Maghrebi cultural discourses and examines the saint’s changing significance within the Maghreb’s cultural tradition. Samia Kassab-Charfi discusses multilingualism in the Maghreb in “La question du multilinguisme au Maghreb: repréentations de la langue et postures d’appropriation”, focussing on cultural entanglements in the form of interlingual dynamics, such as linguistic representations, relationships between languages, attitudes towards appropriation, and their respective imprints on identity. In the third chapter of this section, “Defying Language Ideologies: A View from Morocco”, Karima Laachir addresses the multilingual literary traditions of the Maghreb with a specific focus on the Moroccan context.

The last section of the anthology, “Entanglements of Politics and Economics”, delves into the political, economic, and cultural composition of the region. In the first article of this section, “Les Printemps berbères. Pour en finir avec un Maghreb arabe?” Karima Dirèche investigates the role of historically marginalised Berberism in collective protest and explores the increasing politicisation and resistance of the Berbers. She views these latter processes as expressions of sociocultural and political entanglements, which have particularly reflected Maghrebi societies’ ethnic and linguistic plurality since 2011. Janicke Stramer-Smith explores socio-political mobility and existing power structures in “Socioeconomic Factors and Political Mobilization in the Maghreb: Lessons from the Arab Spring”. Here, the author compares the different outcomes of the popular movements in Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia, and links them to variances in governance and power structures shaped by colonial experiences and post-independence politics. Lastly, Hartmut Elsenhans’s “Rent, Globalization, Dependency, and Impediments to Growth in the Maghreb”, explains the lack of self-sustaining growth in the Maghreb as due to the inability of this region to compete with successful export-oriented industrialisers, such as Vietnam. He argues that to overcome this impasse, Maghrebi countries need to solve their dependency on food imports.

The anthology concludes with a collective chapter written by the editors and reflects on the overarching themes of the volume. Here, the editors remark on the current state of research in Maghrebi studies and attempt to look into the future, at further possibilities of interdisciplinary work in the field.


[1] Dihstelhoff J. & Pardey C., “Entanglements in/of the Maghreb” in Dihstelhoff J. & Pardey C., Ouaissa R., Pannewick F., (2021) Entanglements of the Maghreb: Cultural and Political Aspects of a Region in Motion. transcript Verlag. Postcolonial Studies. p 19.  ISBN: 978-3-8394-5277-6.

Imen Louati (Dr.) is Program Manager for the Merian Centre for Advanced Studies in the Maghreb (MECAM). She is involved in the implementation of the research programme together with the academic coordinator, which includes science communication, event planning, and public relations.

Julius Dihstelhoff (Dr.) is a research fellow in the Department of Politics at the Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies (CNMS) at Philipps-Universität Marburg. He is the academic coordinator for the Merian Centre for Advanced Studies in the Maghreb (MECAM) at its location in Tunis/Tunisia. His research focuses on political Islam and German foreign policy in the Arab world since the so-called “Arab Spring” of 2010/2011, with a special focus on Tunisian transformation processes.

Citation: Imen Louati and Julius Dihstelhoff, Entanglements of the Maghreb: Cultural and Political Aspects of a Region in Motion, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 02.11.2021, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/31268.

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
MECAM (2021, 2. November). Entanglements of the Maghreb: Cultural and Political Aspects of a Region in Motion. TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research. Abgerufen am 20. Mai 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/ut34

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