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Students, social change and the construction of the post-independence Algerian state, 1962-1978

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - STUSOCSTA (Students, social change and the construction of the post-independence Algerian state, 1962-1978)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2019-08-31

This project set out to bring a new perspective to understanding state construction in Algeria after independence. Through a history of the first generations of Algerians who went to university in the 1960s and 1970s, it explores the intersections between political and institutional transformations and social, cultural and economic processes. These processes included increasing literacy, rural to urban migration, migration to study abroad and changes in gender relations and family structures. The case study produced reveals state-building as a dynamic process which takes place at different levels of power (transnational, national and local) and which both shapes, and is shaped by, individual agency and wider processes. Far from the stereotype of the Algerian state as a single-party monolith, in which ideas were imposed from above and dissent crushed, these histories ‘from below’ reveal the importance of individual initiatives, the significance of personal and familial networks and the constant (re)negotiation of the limits of what it was possible to say and do. In sum, this enables us to challenge teleological readings of post-independence histories and homogenising understandings of post-independence states – which are often deeply pessimistic – underlining the ability of societies to renew themselves and autonomously recover from periods of violence and profound disruption.
1. Conducted extended oral history interviews (c. 2-4 hours each) with 50+ participants across Algeria and France.

2. Completed archival work: French Ministry of Education, UNESCO, libraries of the University of Algiers, Faculty of Law, Centre de Recherche en Economie Appliquée pour le Développement, the Algerian National Library and the Glycines/ Centre d’Etudes diocésain.

3. Built networks within and beyond Algeria (and including across Europe), to set, and disseminate, a research agenda for conducting research on post-independence histories, including:
• Co-organised an international conference: ‘The Algerian War of Independence: Global and Local Histories, 1954-62, and beyond’ at the University of Oxford in May 2017.
• Co-organised, with the Centre d’Etudes Maghrébines en Algérie (CEMA) and Malika Rahal, my mentor at the IHTP-CNRS, an international conference: ‘Students, universities and knowledge production in the Maghrib’, held in Oran, Algeria June/July 2018, successfully applying for $20,000 of funding from the American Institute of Maghribi Studies (AIMS). As a result of this, I have initiated a number of co-publishing opportunities with participants based in Maghribi universities. This includes a 10,000-word entry (forthcoming 2020) for the Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of African History (Oxford University Press) on ‘Women in Northern African History’ with Kmar Bendana (Université de la Manouba, Tunis) and Fadma Aït Mous (Université Hassan II, Casablanca).
• In August/September 2019, I was selected to participate in a two-week long Transregional Academy in Beirut (funded by the German Forum Transregionale Studien and the American University in Beirut) on the theme ‘Fragment–Power–Public: Narrative, Authority and Circulation in Archival Work’, within the framework of the research programme Europe in the Middle East-The Middle East (EUME). As a result of these networks developed in the course of this MSCA project, and with a view to take forward the work of the project beyond its lifetime, I am now co-organising a seminar series for 2020 on ‘A Global History of the Present Time: the 1980s in and seen from the Global South’ with EUME in Berlin and the IHTP in Paris. A key aim is to use ever-improving video conferencing technologies to enable genuinely transnational seminars, without the visa, cost or carbon footprint implications.

4. Wrote and produced a series of documentary shorts – ‘Generation independence’.
• This consists of series of 20-minute documentary portraits of men and women from across Algeria (all former students) talking about the 1960s and 1970s and notably moments in which an individual life story intersected with the processes of post-independence state-building – the construction of monuments, bringing air traffic control into Algerian hands, operating energy infrastructure.
• Uploaded on to a website and connected to social media, the documentaries seek to prompt discussion and the sharing of new testimony. All documentaries are subtitled in Arabic, English and French, seeking to foster cross-generational discussion in a context in which the older generation is much more Francophone and the younger generation much more Arabophone.
• I was able to shoot a pilot episode of the series using some of the MSCA funding for Research, Training and Networking. I then successfully secured additional funding to (a) cover the costs of professional filming and editing and (b) to pay for three young Algerian artists to produce an artistic response to the interviews (see photos for examples) via the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council impact and engagement scheme (AH/S013172/1).

5. Completed a book manuscript (currently under review) for Palgrave Macmillan on ‘The Algerian War/ Algerian Revolution’, which builds upon principles and knowledge developed in this project on writing multidirectional histories which bring the macro and mic
In the course of the project, one of the most useful approaches which emerged following wide cross-disciplinary reading, was the productive potential of applying anthropology-influenced approaches to ‘the state’ to the history of state building in post-colonial contexts and, in this specific case, Algeria. This enables us to think about the Algerian state not just as a set of institutions or as an actor, as it has hitherto tended to be framed, but as a heterogeneous series of everyday interactions and relationships, as well as an imaginary.

As this project progressed, the methodologies employed for approaching the research problem emerged as being as important as the research findings. The approach adopted from the outset was collaborative and participatory, with a clear objective to not research Algeria, as a country which is part of the Global South, with questions determined by the European researcher, for academic consumption in the Global North. Rather, the project engaged with colleagues working in the Middle East and North Africa region, oral history interviewees and wider Algerian publics to develop a research agenda of mutual interest and benefit. The dissemination of the results has taken place through short, online, open access, multilingual documentary films and artwork and not just academic publications, as a way of giving this research back in a meaningful way to the societies which helped to produce it.

Looking forward, this is an example of how knowledge might be produced in a more equitable, ethical and socially useful way. Initial feedback on the documentary series from Algerian audiences suggests that these ‘forgotten’ stories about ‘ordinary’ Algerians building post-independent Algeria have been empowering and prompted debates about pluralism and state–society relations. Whilst disseminating the results to as large an Algerian public as possible in accessible forms has taken priority, I continue to work on the planned monograph and journal articles for this project, which will be published beyond its lifespan.
Natalya Vince in Algeria with artist El Moustach and member of film crew Walid Benkhaled
Interview with Youcef Ferhi, former law student and founder of the Algerian press
Artwork produced by Algerian artist El Moustach (Hicham Gaoua) inspired by this project
Leading a roundtable on women's history at the Europe in the Middle East summer academy, Beirut
Artwork produced by Algerian artist Louise Dib inspired by this project
Interview with Aida Bamia, Palestinian student in Algeria in the 1960s, university lecturer in 1970s
AIMS annual conference in Oran, July 2018, which MSCA fellow Natalya Vince co-organised with CEMA