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 second book project, Worldmaking in the Long Great War: How Local and Colonial Struggles Shaped the Modern Middle East (Columbia University Press, 2022; 2023 Guicciardini Prize in Historical International Relations, Honorable Mention), reexamines how the First World War unmade the greater Ottoman political order that had shaped the Middle East for centuries and opened up the possibility for local and European actors to reimagine political identities and political futures within 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. It demonstrates that, instead of an imperial drawing room, it was in and through violent clashes on the ground among competing local and colonial projects during the latter phases of the Long Great War in the 1920s-30s that the Middle East’s states, boundaries, and identities were remade.
He is currently starting up a third book project, tentatively titled Nation in Empire, that explores how spatial and symbolic boundaries of political and social inclusion/exclusion are recurrently drawn and contested. The project focuses on two central cases—the United States and France—tracing out their entwined histories of overland and overseas imperial expansion (including the Caribbean/Americas, Africa/Middle East, East and Southeast Asia) and contraction have patterned long-running struggles over “national” identities and the apportionment of rights.