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 current book project, Reimagining the Middle East: Jihads, Empires, and the Long Great War (under contract with Columbia University Press), reexamines how World War I unmade the Ottoman political order that had shaped the Middle East for centuries and opened up the possibility for local and European actors to reimagine the region. Running against the standard narrative of European colonial powers imposing artificial boundaries at the Paris Peace Conference, this reexamination of the formative moment in the Middle East’s modern history presents a much more complicated and violent story. The book shifts the frame of the Great War in two important ways: expanding the geographic scope to stretch from Morocco to Iran and the temporal scope to extend into the 1930s. In this account, the region’s post-Ottoman political order was remade through the Long Great War as competing local and colonial projects were launched in the fluid post-1918 environment and came into conflict through the 1920s and early 1930s. Reimagining the Middle East demonstrates that, instead of an imperial drawing room, it was in and through these violent clashes on the ground that political order of the modern Middle East was reforged.