EUME Workshop
Mo 08 Jul 2019 – Di 09 Jul 2019

Property and Citizenship: Histories of Contestation and Entitlement

Convened by Seda Altuğ (Boğaziçi University / FU Berlin / EUME Fellow 2017-19) and Pascale Ghazaleh (AUB / EUME Fellow 2017-19), in cooperation with the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies

Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin Graduate School of Muslim Cultures and Societies, Altensteinstraße 48, 14195 Berlin


The workshop is conceived as an opportunity for scholars from different fields (law, history, anthropology, political theory, philosophy, ...), and working on different geographical areas, to reflect together on the themes of property, citizenship, and sovereignty. Of special interest are the ways in which ownership rights and citizenship practices have been mutually constitutive, and have both shaped and been shaped by state-building processes and state sovereignty.

The late nineteenth century witnessed strong and vocal popular movements aimed at staking claims to resources, demanding a say in control over various forms of wealth, and exercising political rights – not only in Europe, but also in Egypt, Persia, North Africa and the Fertile Crescent. In some cases, the ruling classes transformed, coopted, or silenced these movements. In other cases, popular movements may have informed nationalist ideologies articulated by intellectuals and subsequently divorced from grassroots practices and expressions of entitlement. The same century witnessed violent conflicts over property between local actors with unequal economic and political resources. The colonial/imperial state usually sponsored one group against the other, thereby striving to establish its power and authority. Simultaneously, this process led to the consolidation of group affiliations. In these cases, the making of property regimes went hand in hand with the making of certain racial taxonomies or ethno-religious cultural identities. As well as this, central and regional sovereignties are built up during this process which violence is embedded into. 

In this workshop, participants will discuss different cultural and geographical areas, historical experiences, and intellectual traditions. It will reflect on a set of themes or questions in order to engage in productive comparisons and emerge with a clearer understanding of the origins and development of movements like the Urabi uprising, the Tobacco Revolt, the agricultural reform in Algeria, the Armenian issue or the Mahdist rebellion in nineteenth-century Sudan. While relating these movements and/or political questions to similar cases in Europe, the focus will be principally on the Middle East. The working hypothesis is that these social and political movements involved a conflict over entitlement to various forms of property, access to resources, or the right to control assets such as agricultural land, profits from the sub-Saharan slave trade, waterways, saltpans, urban infrastructure and so on. The question of who was entitled to profit from certain resources was answered not by laws formulated by the state in a vacuum but by conflicts between different stakeholders, which included the state. The different, variable, contingent outcomes of these conflicts shaped the conditions of citizenship that emerged during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

While the concept of citizenship is often related to our understanding of the nation-state, the workshop tries to transcend narratives that are centered on that entity, as well as divides between colonial and post-colonial periods or Northern and Southern geopolitical areas. Rather, it will analyze ruptures and continuities where sources indicate that they are to be found. 

The contemporary period is also witnessing massive upheavals around questions of entitlement to resources, which will only grow more violent as resources become scarcer (whether that scarcity is real or perceived). Indeed, the ability to define what constitutes a resource, and to determine how it should be managed on behalf of an entity designated as “the people,” is a foundational element of the modern state apparatus. The arrival of refugees in Europe has given such questions particular urgency, whether in their host countries or in the regions that they have been forced to flee. Even in areas where no violent armed conflict is occurring, covert battles over resource ownership are taking place, as evidenced in struggles for real estate, historical artifacts, voting rights, and other resources, both tangible and immaterial.

The workshop participants will compare and contrast the ways that struggles over resources have been related to the development of political rights in the past two hundred years. Using their knowledge of specific case studies, the participant will formulate questions that may shed light on potential comparisons with other events and areas.

The workshop is convened by EUME Fellows Seda Altuğ and Pascale Ghazaleh, and organized in cooperation with the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies. It is supported by the Einstein Foundation Berlin.

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