RESEARCH WORKING GROUP State-Building, Public Institutions, & Social Mobilization in Lebanon, 1943-1958
State Building, Public Institutions, & Social Mobilization in Lebanon 1943-1958
Over the past several years, public debates, research agendas, and policy recommendations have increasingly addressed the role of Lebanese public institutions in a range of spheres. These include social services, economic development, infrastructure, urban planning and policy, utilities, and tourism—among others. One impetus for this new emphasis has been the acute cabinet and presidential crises that have plagued Lebanon during the last several years. Another impetus has been a questioning of the outcomes (and underlying logics) of more than two decades of privatization and market-driven initiatives as part of the overall postwar reconstruction and reconciliation efforts. Yet a further, and perhaps more important factor, is the increasing attention paid by select researchers and journalists alike to the longer historical trajectories that animate some of the country’s more salient issues. After all, public institution building and restructuring did not begin in 1990, irrespective of the level of devastation, destruction, and dysfunctionality brought on by the civil war. It is here that a survey of academic publications, conference presentations, investigative reports, and other forums reveals an increasing attention to the effects of the civil war on public institutions, social relations, and geographies.
Concomitant with this emphasis on the war as a transformative (rather than nullifying) juncture has been a search for the nature of public institutions and social mobilizations prior to the war—even if only to better assess the effects of the war on those two dynamics. Researchers working on such topics take as a central axiom of their research that institutional origins, trajectories, and legacies rooted in the prewar period are just as important to understanding the present circumstances of public institutions, social mobilizations, and the production of space.
Yet despite this increasing turn to the pre-war era, scholars and journalists continue to struggle with an uneven archival terrain of primary sources, not withstanding those on the late Ottoman and French mandate periods. Furthermore, much of the existing literature on Lebanon during pre-war independence period focuses almost exclusively on the 1960s and 1970s. The problem therein reflects itself most acutely when researchers make repeated reference to the late 1940s and the early 1950s as critical junctures for their respective topics yet continue to rely on anecdotal and decades-old studies on the period. What little knowledge has been produced on this period reveals a degree of historical importance that rarely correlates to the quantity of research and analysis devoted to it.
Aims of the Working Group
This working group aims to address this lacuna by bringing together scholars whose current research agenda relies on specific understandings of the pre-war period in general and the early independence period in particular. This includes scholars whose research on later periods is informed by that of this period and who are interested in exploring it further. By bringing together researchers of various disciplinary training and topical focus, this workshop creates a space to question and disrupt metanarratives of Lebanese history that assume rather than research the period of early independence. Central to this disruption will be a focus on one or any combination of the following themes:
The State: Public institutions of any size or scale that are officially established and/or controlled by the government (defined nationally, regionally, or locally). These include ministries, departments, commissions, projects, legal arrangements, and much more.
Social Mobilization: The role of social groups in the shaping of public institutions or the ways in which they are affected by them. These groups can be defined by formal or informal relations and may be of an elite or non-elite segment of society.
Sectarianism: The public discourses, administrative arrangements, and daily practices of sectarianism as related to the workings of public institutions and social mobilization during the 1943-58 period. Key in this respect is attentiveness to how sectarianism manifested in fundamentally different ways given that the period predates not only the 1975-90 civil war but also the crisis/rebellion/insurgency/war of 1958.
Geographies: The role of social space in producing and being a product of institutions, regulations, planning tools, urban services, infrastructure, technologies, as well as memories and representations.
Goals of the Working Group
While the goals of the working group will evolve with respect the network's composition and the state of the field, the following are basic core goals that form the raison d'etre of the project:
Introduce researchers with an interest the early independence period to one another.
Facilitate critical knowledge production through focused discussion and peer review.
Exchange specialized knowledge on the period and attendant primary source bases.
Create networks for research, writing, & presentation to further shape research agendas.
A core group of scholars, representing varied stages of professional development, research agendas, and institutional affiliations form the heart of this group. They come together to share their findings, receive feedback on their analyses and argumentation, and together strategize on advancing a robust collective research agenda on state building, public institutions, and social mobilization in pre-war Lebanon.