State formation, colonialism and empire, ethnicity and nationalism, urban and rural contentious politics, and Islamic social movements, in North Africa and the Middle East
Jonathan Wyrtzen is an Associate Professor of Sociology and International Affairs. His teaching and research engages a set of related thematic areas that include empire and colonialism, state formation and non-state forms of political organization, ethnicity and nationalism, and religion and socio-political action. His work focuses on society and politics in North Africa and the Middle East, particularly with regards to interactions catalyzed by the expansion of European empires into this region.
His first book, Making Morocco: Colonial Intervention and the Politics of Identity (Cornell University Press, 2015; 2016 Social Science History Association President’s Book Award winner) examines how European colonial intervention in Morocco (1912–1956) established a new type of political field in which notions about and relationships among politics and identity formation were fundamentally transformed. Instead of privileging top-down processes of colonial state formation or bottom-up processes of local resistance, the analysis in Making Morocco focuses on interactions between state and society. During the Protectorate period, interactions among a wide range of European and local actors indelibly politicized four key dimensions of Moroccan identity: religion, ethnicity, territory, and the role of the Alawid monarchy. This colonial inheritance is reflected today in ongoing debates over the public role of Islam, religious tolerance, and the memory of Morocco’s Jews; recent reforms regarding women’s legal status; the monarchy’s multiculturalist recognition of Tamazight (Berber) as a national language alongside Arabic; the still-unresolved territorial dispute over the Western Sahara; and the monarchy’s continued symbolic and practical dominance of the Moroccan political field.
His next book project–tentatively titled Reimagining the Middle East: Jihads, Empires, and the Long Great War–demonstrates how multiple scales and forms of state-based and non-state based political order were imagined by various European and local actors between 1911-1931, why these came into conflict, and how these interactions influenced the definition of a proto-interstate topography from Morocco to Iraq. Against the dominant narrative of Europeans imposing artificial borders in the region after the war, this study exposes a much more complicated and violent story in which both local and European powers played major roles in forging a new political order in the Middle East and North Africa.