State Building and State-Society Relations in Libya (1911-1969) : an Examination of Associations, Trade Unions and Religious Actors

El Taraboulsi, Sherine Nabil. 
 University of Oxford (United Kingdom) ProQuest Dissertations Publishing,  2020. 28309759.

Abstract (summary)

This thesis is an examination of state-society relations in Libya during the period preceding the rise of Gaddafi in 1969. It addresses the roots of Libya’s recurring state failure by examining the role played by Libyan social actors in state building during the period between 1911 and 1969. Three key periods in Libya’s history are addressed: the colonial period under the Italians (1911–1943), then the years under the British Military Administration (1943–1951) and then the period as an independent monarchy (1951– 1969). Three social actors are explored: associations or jamʿiyyat, trade unions, and religious groups. Based on Migdal (2004) and Saouli (2012), I approach state formation as a process, not as a finished outcome, and the state as a social field wherein social actors engage with one another as well as with state structures rather than a fixed entity. This approach allows a deeper understanding of the temporal dimensions of Libya’s experience with state building as well as the different processes at play through which states are formed and (un)formed. The thesis makes three key arguments. First, contrary to the majority of Western scholarship on Libya which ascribes Libya’s “statelessness” to a failure to adopt modern state formation following independence, I argue that this linear view oversimplifies a much more complex local power dynamic among social actors, and between social actors and the state (colonial and postcolonial) that manifested itself in modes of cooperation and contestation that shaped Libya’s experience with state building. This view of “statelessness” also suggests that divisions in Libya’s social fabric are endemic which is not the case. Through a social history of the period in question, the thesis shows that while contestation among social actors before and after independence had been stronger than centralizing forces, this should be explained in context and in history. Second, I argue that 8 within non-Western societies where a normative notion of the modern nation-state was imposed but was adopted by local actors and adapted to social, cultural and historical realities that are local, it is within the civic space that society was empowered to shape the state in both constructive and (de)constructive ways, and that there is a pattern to how this shaping happens that is embedded within the history of those societies. Third, the thesis demonstrates that Libya’s civic space has played a twofold role in state formation. On the one hand, it has actively contributed to the strengthening of resistance forces against colonialism, the development of state institutions and the domestication of state power as experienced in the Kingdom of Libya (1951 – 1969). On the other hand, because of societal differences, many of which resulted from aggressive colonialism, a short history of institutionalization and the entrenchment of fragmentation and regional differences, Libya’s civic space manifested processes of localism or bonding and coalescing that occurred within groups which compromised the development of a Libyan state as in the case of the Tripolitanian Republic (1918 – 1922). The thesis demonstrates that state building can be compromised by contested state-society relations and that a state in the making would need to incorporate various forms of its civic space within its bureaucracies and overall model of government to ensure its local legitimacy and geopolitical unity. Using a sociohistorical approach which includes primary data from archives in London, Rome and Tunis, as well as 80 semi-structured interviews, this research makes a contribution to a social history of twentieth-century Libya by exploring its civic space and its engagement with governing structures, colonial and independent.

Indexing (details)

Business indexing term
Social history;
State-society relations;
Labor unions
Identifier / keyword
State Building and State-Society Relations in Libya (1911-1969) : an Examination of Associations, Trade Unions and Religious Actors
El Taraboulsi, Sherine Nabil
Degree date
School code
DAI-C 82/6(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
University of Oxford (United Kingdom)
University location
Source type
Dissertation or Thesis
Document type
Bibliographic data provided by EThOS, the British Library’s UK thesis service. https://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.ethos.813530
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
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