Reconfiguration of Cultural Spaces in Tunisia: Public and Private Intervention, International funds, Grassroots Practices – 5in10 with Alessia Carnevale

Alessia Carnevale holds a PhD in Civilizations of Asia and Africa from Sapienza University of Rome. Her doctoral thesis deals with Tunisian counter-culture and the ‘committed song’ of the 1970s-1980s. She previously graduated in Comparative Literatures and Cultures from the University of Naples l’Orientale. In 2022-23 she taught History and institutions of Islamic countries at the University of Macerata. Her work has been published in the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies and Studi Maġrebini among other venues.  In 2022 she received the Best doctoral thesis award in African Studies from ASAI (Association for African Studies in Italy). Her research explores the relations between culture and politics, issues of collective memories and (counter)narratives, and grassroots/top-down interventions in the cultural field.

Alessia Carnevale

How do you explain your work to someone who may not be an expert in the same field of inquiry and comes from another geographical context?

At the core of my research is the relation between culture and politics: what interest me most are questions about the production of ideology, hegemony and counter-hegemony inside the Tunisian cultural field and by means of artistic expressions and aesthetic practices.

In a given society, all the different classes use cultural means and position themselves differently in the cultural field: the dominant and ruling classes, the subalterns and political opponents. They use cultural means to create hegemony and homogenise society, to educate, to express dissent, to trigger revolt, to assert identity, to create or maintain communities of peers.  My aim is to look at the ways in which different actors intervene in the cultural field, at the tensions and dynamics that cross it and regulate it, and at the impacts of major economic, social, and political changes in the production of culture. 

What intrigued you when you started your academic journey? What were formative encounters and challenges?

I graduated in Comparative Literatures at the University of Naples L’Orientale. The university (and the city) were spaces not only of intellectual discovery, but also of political consciousness and collectivity. I first came to Tunisia with a volunteering program, it was then that I first struck on the idea of researching leftist counter-culture in post-independent Tunisia. The PhD journey was also one of collective voices and beautiful encounters: professors, peers, but especially artists and activists who generously accepted to share with me their stories and memories. But this work comes with risks: I always try to be honest and careful with what my words or actions can produce, but my work too can reproduce disparities. As a European researcher in and of the MENA region, the challenge is to always consider and come to terms with my speaking position, to bear in mind my positionality.

How does your work relate to imaginations of future and how does it deal with questions of disparities?

In the present situation, with the ongoing horrific massacre of the Palestinian people in the Gaza strip, talking about culture might seem superfluous and even inappropriate. However, if we look at present mobilizations around the world, we see, once again, how aesthetic practices are crucial to the articulation of political discourses, and employed to address disparities, to advocate for peace and human rights, and eventually, to articulate alternative and better futures. At the same time, if we look at the repression and censorship currently targeting artists in Europe, the suppression of artworks from exhibitions and festivals, we see that even in our liberal societies art and culture might be perceived as a threat by those who retain power.

In my own country, Italy, we have witnessed the turmoil caused by Ghali, a young Italian-Tunisian rapper who dared to say “stop genocide” live on Rai1, the national television, during the most important music festival of the country. In the aftermath, the Rai’s CEO made the presenter read a statement expressing unconditional support for the state of Israel. Yet, Ghali, whose songs often deal with racism, migration and identity issues, has millions of followers among the Italian youth, whose sensibilities, interests and priorities are hardly intercepted by the country’s cultural and political establishment (although greatly intercepted by the market!). So, the leading questions of my research are: what is at stake in the cultural field? Why it is so crucial for matters of power and resistance?

What is the role of humanities and social sciences in times of upheaval? And what may be the task and the public of a scholar?

It is not easy to be optimistic in the present times. I would tend to say that what we are witnessing is actually the failure of the role of humanities and social sciences, especially related to the MENA region, in being catalysers of positive change, of social justice, of freedom and emancipation. We are seeing that knowledge produced in academia is at best ignored, at worst used to legitimate wars, imperialism, exploitation. We are also witnessing an exacerbation of the gap between Western academia and intellectuals from the so-called Global South, as well as the shrinking of academic freedom.  Also, we are seeing how neo-liberal policies in academia and the more and more precarious and unstable conditions of academic work can be a hindrance to quality research as well as to freedom of expression. But I do want to close this answer with a positive note: maybe we can make a difference by practicing our commitment in our work, by creating relations of care and support inside academia, as well as by bringing our knowledge and skills outside the university. 

Can you recommend a book, text, film, or exhibition that effectively addresses questions and imaginations of the future while dealing with inequalities in interesting ways?

In the last few years I have been particularly interested in independent documentary films. With regards to the MENA region, they have proved to be great tools for exploring different social realities in time of crisis, changes, and upheavals. They can be considered as audio-visual micro-histories that might destabilize the archive of a given dominant history, be it national or (neo)colonial, and that give access to otherwise unimaginable stories. Speaking about Tunisia, I would like to suggest a film by Ridha Tlili, “Forgotten” (2017). The film explores the deceitful outcomes of the Tunisian uprising and its transition by entering into the lives of a group of men living in Sidi Ben Aoun (Sidi Bouzid). Bound by a close friendship, they all differently deal with their precarious lives and uncertain future: one steadily carries on his political engagement, the other finds an escape into art, the other works hard while dreaming of embarking to Europe.


Citation: Reconfiguration of Cultural Spaces in Tunisia: Public and Private Intervention, International funds, Grassroots Practices – 5in10 with Alessia Carnevale, in TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 12.03.2024, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/50745



Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Forum Transregionale Studien (2024, 12. März). Reconfiguration of Cultural Spaces in Tunisia: Public and Private Intervention, International funds, Grassroots Practices – 5in10 with Alessia Carnevale. TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research. Abgerufen am 18. April 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/w05q

Forum Transregionale Studien

The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. It provides scope for collaboration among researchers with different regional and disciplinary perspectives and appoints researchers from all over the world as Fellows. More...

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