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Libya(s) in the Making

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Special Issue for Année du Maghreb 28 |2022-II

« L'Année du Maghreb », dossier de recherche n° 28 - 2022-II

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Published on Monday, October 18, 2021 by Sarah Zingraff


17th February 2021 marked the tenth anniversary of the 2011 uprising that led to the overthrow of the Mu'ammar Gaddafi regime in Libya. We think such an anniversary can stand for an opportunity to reflect upon scholarly work on the country over the past decade, and to point out its blind spots in order to bring into greater resonance recent and original accounts that focus on the plural dynamics of the post-Gaddafi Libyan society. This call for papers for a special issue of L'Année du Maghreb therefore aims to question both the most recent changes and the categories of analysis over time, questioning in particular the relevance of the caesuras traditionally retained, most often articulated on regime changes and defined by colonization, the monarchy, the 1969 coup d'état or the 2011 revolution.



Chiara Loschi and Chiara Pagano

17th February 2021 marked the tenth anniversary of the 2011 uprising that led to the overthrow of the Muʿammar Gaddafi regime in Libya. Such an anniversary could easily prompt retrospective assessments of the events that followed the demise of the Jamahiriya. However, we think it can more usefully be intended as an opportunity to reflect on the scholarly work that has been conducted on the country over the past decade, and to point out to its blind spots while also bringing into greater resonance recent and original accounts that have focused on the plural dynamics characterizing post-Gaddafi’s Libyan society.

In fact, the stakes and consequences of Libya’s political transition have most often been assessed so far through the prism of the interests of European and Western countries: i.e., migration flows to Europe, security, and geopolitical interests at stake (Colombo and Varvelli 2020; Galen Carpenter 2018; Martinez 2007; Pack 2013; Randall 2015; St John 2011; Vandewalle 2018).

Another approach has privileged analyzing institutional processes at the macro level, focusing on issues such as state building and/or its preservation, as well as the emergence and structuring of counter-powers, national and/or international security, border and territorial control, economic resources, external interference and/or internal centrifugal forces (Eaton 2018; Lacher et al Idrissi 2018; Pack 2019; Wehrey 2018). Attesting for the drawbacks of the state apparatus or its competition with other forms of power regulation, these works ultimately resulted in opposing notions such as ethnicity to the nation-state, tribalism to political parties and/or civil society mobilization, militias to the centralized army, etc. Such interpretations assumed essentially different institutional configurations depending on either national or municipal scales (baladiyet), state or non-state actors.

While all these dimensions are of central interest for understanding the issues at stake, analyses that focus on variations in scale (from macro to micro) and time have been relatively little explored. And yet, considering the interactions and political reconfigurations at the crossroads of institutional and non-institutional spaces could give us a glimpse of the multiplicity of “Libyas” that are currently in the making in the folds of the transition. Scholarly works on the history of contemporary Libya, for instance, have already underlined the variety of roles that certain factors such as family structures and the weight of group belongings (ethnic, religious, linguistic, interest groups, etc.) played over time (since the end of Ottoman domination and Italian colonization), together with complex socio-political dynamics at the municipal, provincial, and regional levels, as well as imperial and trans-imperial ones (Simon 1987; Anderson, 1984, 1986; Baldinetti 2010; al-Barbar 1986, 1992; Berhe 2013 and 2015; al-Būsayrī 1998; Dumasy 2008 and 2017; Lafi 2001, 2002, 2013; Morone, 2017). Such contributions have led to questioning the relationship between administrative boundaries and solidarity networks and thus prompt an analysis of the present that also account for the historical development of nowadays Libya in all its complexity. Indeed, without denying or rejecting the categories traditionally close to the paradigm of the neoliberal state of Western origin, few researchers have recently addressed independent Libya’s institutions from a critical perspective (Abusedra 2020; Capasso, 2020; Badi, 2021). These “combined” approaches are still minoritarian, but it seems important to us to encourage them so to widen the scope of nowadays critical studies on Libya. The latter, indeed, are mostly devoted to borders and migration issues, and essentially focus on the cooperation between European countries and Libyan authorities (Bialasiewicz 2012; Cuttitta 2018; Tazzioli 2016), denouncing the “organized hypocrisy” (Cusumano 2019) on which the European policy of outsourcing border management is based.

Lastly, it must be recognized that, albeit research on Libya has always been difficult - both inside and outside the country - the situation has worsened in the aftermath of 2011. It was not until the early 2000s that the end of international sanctions against the country made access to the field possible for international researchers, despite in a limited way. As a result, exchanges with Libyan colleagues resumed. After 2011, and even more so since 2014, the interruption of these extremely productive exchanges has meant that information from the field, describing its civic and political experiences, has largely been blocked. These experiences have been therefore largely ignored and, indeed, little analyzed in recent academic literature.

This call for papers for a special issue of L’Année du Maghreb aims to interrogate both the changes most recently occurred in the country and the categories that have been used to analyze them from a long-term perspective, by questioning the relevance of most applied caesuras, traditionally articulated according to regime changes (i.e., the colonial period, the monarchy, the 1969 coup d’état, and the 2011 revolution). We call for original contributions accounting for these contentious aspects, as well as the multiplicity of processes transcending binary distinctions between state and non-state actors, political and social dimensions, but also security and insecurity (axis 1). This special issue is also intended to analyze the interaction between the use of violence and the segmentation of the country into militias on the one hand, and the multiplicity of political and social mobilizations currently undergoing on the other (axis 2). Lastly, this call solicits contributions reflecting on how the difficulties in accessing the field have imposed a rethinking of potential sources to be used, as well as of new research strategies for internally informed research on the Libyan context, and the Middle East and North African countries at large (axis 3).

Axis I: Interrogating power configurations in Libya beyond the Nation-State paradigm

Few academic contributions on the Libyan revolution have sought to explain the fall of the Gaddafi regime by the exhaustion of a system of governance based on alliances with family and tribal elites, the uncertainty generated by the personalization of power, and the question of Gaddafi’s succession. These elements are said to have led to divisions that bear the seeds of the current fragmentation of power, weak institutions, the rise of militias, and persistent conflict (Eaton 2018). As a result, some studies have focused on local Libyan political alliances to understand national-level processes (Lacher 2016). At the same time, the role played by external actors (from Western interventions to the involvement of Turkey, the Arab Emirates, Qatar, Russia, and Libya's neighbors, the Arab League, and the African Union) has been the subject of geopolitical analyses questioning the permanence or transformations of regional security logics since the Cold War (Megerisi 2017). These approaches have been complemented by others assessing the way in which security issues are approached at the national level (Bigo 2000; Bilgin 2004). Some authors have thus emphasized the need to measure how the migration and security interests of external actors (notably states and Europe) influence the engagement processes of local institutions, at times risking limiting them (Loschi, Russo 2020; Loschi 2021).

Often invoked to explain a political and social segmentation portrayed as traditional, the weight of tribalism has instead been critically addressed by scholarly works that question the authority of this category and its articulations as a tool to develop an investigation on the State. These works show indeed that ‘tribalism’ and ‘tribe’ correspond more to rather intermittent forms of socio-political mobilization than to a stable and tangible social reality (Lahmar 2016). Tabib (2016) has thus emphasized the relevance of situating each analysis within specific physical and political conjunctures, so as to highlight the diversity of economic and social processes. Indeed, few recent contributions have shown how, after the fall of Gaddafi, some local groups were able to strategically mobilize the notion of ethnicity for legitimizing their specific demands and gain domestic and international support (Guichaoua 2015; Morone, Pagano 2016; Pagano 2018 and 2019). In the same vein, Bensaâd (2019) has reapproached the question of Libya’s statehood from the perspective of transnational conflicts in the Sahel, re-reading conflicts in Fezzan through a long history of familial and social ties, coupled with the more contemporary instrumentalization of local political-military forces. This research shows how shifts in the balance of power are rooted in locally informed social and political processes.

Drawing on these contributions, our first axis intends to emphasize the perspectives of local actors beyond the state framework alone. It will look at how informal groups and political organizations, as well as individuals, experiment with, change, and redefine power balances beyond state and non-state categories, statelessness, institutional configurations, and the dichotomy between traditional institutions and the supposedly "modern" paradigm of the nation-state.

Contributions to this axis shall answer questions such as:

  • How to analyze the Libyan transition from the perspective of local actors, considering the diversity of issues and configurations?
  • How to approach social and political relations at the local level, and how to (re)articulate the local, national, and international levels to understand the balance of power and forms of social mobilization and regulation?
  • How are security threats and (in)security defined, and how have these definitions evolved over the last ten years?
  • How can we integrate these different (re)definitions into new theoretical elaborations for an analysis of Libyan institutions’ reconfigurations?

Axis II: Thinking Libyan society beyond violence and coercion

Goodhand's (2000) experience with research on conflicts and crises led him to warn the scholarly community of the risk of "conflict fetishism". Without necessarily falling into this trap, the importance of Libya as a theatre of local and international armed struggles has indeed engendered an important scientific production on military and security aspects, to the detriment of the analysis of other aspects of Libyan society. Yet “those affected by conflict frequently remind researchers and aid workers that there are other aspects to their lives, that war is not the only point of reference” (Goodhand 2005, 15). Leyla Taieb, for instance, has explored the production and circulation of Amazigh music in post-Gaddafi Libya, noting how “the intimate public created through Amazigh music during the Libyan revolution helped to suggest foundational structures on which longer-term political projects might (still) be built” (2018, 834). Adding to the cultural activism of certain Amazigh, Tebu and Tuareg groups, Libya has seen the emergence of youth and/or women's mobilizations around specific themes such as climate change, feminism, and women's rights (Tayeb 2021; Langhi 2014), but also citizens mobilizations on human rights more broadly, economic rights, and the preservation of the country's cultural and historical heritage (Qutait 2020; Gana 2020). These forms of activism are also expressed through art (Tayeb 2017; 2019; 2020) and rely on both the internet and exhibition spaces (Ghouma 2015). Conversely, the end of Gaddafi’s regime has also witnessed the emergence of exclusive identity logics based on claimed ethnic, cultural, or religious categories, whose genesis prior to 2011 remains poorly understood. These mobilizations allow us to re-examine the (re)construction of the public sphere and the struggles for the right to take part in it. They invite us to evaluate the importance of social and economic mechanisms of exclusion and subalternity, particularly with regard to the large population of migrants of sub-Saharan origins.

We invite contributions that, through the analysis of concrete situations, can highlight the diversity of forms of mobilization, ostracism, and expression also considering the plurality of contexts and the multiplicity of affiliations on the one hand, while measuring the role violence and constraint play in these processes on the other.

This axis aims to host research on transitional Libya addressing questions such as:

  • What social dynamics underlie the high levels of violence visible in Libya? How does the study of these dynamics contribute to our understanding of everyday life in Libya?
  • What political, social, or cultural mobilizations have emerged since 2011 beyond the violence? To what extent do these mobilizations allow us to re-examine the political divide between the revolution and the war, and to question the notion of “civil society”?
  • What are the means of expression used in these processes of mobilization and awareness raising? How do they allow for the emergence of several arenas of debate? And do they influence the possibilities of speaking out? How did groups excluded from the possibility of direct expression saw the emergence of gatekeepers and issue entrepreneurs?
  • What role did the various forms of artistic expression (music, photography, theatre, literature, etc.) play in these processes?
  • What was the role of diasporas in the development of these phenomena?
  • How have the spread of conflict, the development of militias, criminal activity and the recent health situation modified these forms of expression and their subjects?

Axis III: Doing research between conflicts and the pandemic: Libya as representative case of Middle Eastern and North African scenario

After the February 2011 revolution, and even more so after the escalation of the conflict in 2014, doing research in Libya means doing research in an area of conflict and surveillance, which has become more and more inaccessible throughout time. The security aspect echoes the contexts of revolution and transition (Catusse, Signoles, & Siino, 2015), as well as situations of surveillance and restrictions on civil liberties. Both the researcher and the respondent are indeed exposed to modes of surveillance and retaliation as soon as they break the representation that the authorities want to give of themselves. Escaping the security risks arising from doing research “under surveillance” is sometimes difficult and raises serious concerns on the protection of both investigators and respondents from the malicious use of the information they share. The first consequence has been a decline in funding academic research on Libya. Since 2020, the health crisis added to this already troubled scenario.

We propose to investigate whether it is still possible to conduct field research within such contexts, while also questioning the restrictions this implies.

The use of online platforms and mobile apps to collect data and overcome these obstacles has indeed revealed the drawbacks of Internet at the technical level (instability of Internet connections, risk of miscommunication) as well as the ethical concerns raised by its usa (potential participants’ lack of motivation, psychological consequences of these unsafe and uncertain periods on potential informants, difficulties in establishing trusting relationships) (Ayimpam, Bouju 2015). Furthermore, the use of data available online may have led to magnifying glass effects of overvaluing certain sources and actors, which invites critical questioning of their representativeness.

These difficulties have echoed issues like those discussed for nearly two decades by social scientists who have ventured into what is called “Netnography” (Latkovilkj and Popovska 2020), a new qualitative research method for “studying the cultures and communities that emerge from on-line, computer mediated, or Internet-based communications” (Kozinets 1998, 366). Against this scenario, it seems essential to interrogate the research tools and methodologies that scholars have been experimenting in recent years in order to critically address the actual dynamics of internet-mediated research. Libya offers a relevant example for reflecting on these research dynamics well beyond its boundaries, and into the broader context of the Maghreb and the Middle East.

Other than posing extremely serious challenges to scholars willing to conduct oral and/or online research in Libya, the subsequent conflicts that have troubled the country in the last decade have also made key archival repositories inaccessible, notwithstanding Libya’s engagement in a reorganization and partial publicization of its archival sources just prior to the 2011 revolution – which, to be sure, had also accentuated the competition between various institutions claiming to hold a legitimate word on Libyan history and regime ideology on the one hand, and the attainment of international credit on the other (Dumasy and Di Pasquale 2012). Other archival repositories remain either unexplored or not even located with certainty, as it is the case of the Sanussyia archives. This raises the question of how the country’s conflicts may have changed the relationship of local actors to this documentation and compels the scholar community to interrogate whether and how Libyan scholars, researchers, librarians and curators have or have not managed to navigate the challenges arising from these very conflicts. The inaccessibility of the Libyan terrain also invites us to rethink Libya in a more global, regional, and international perspective, for instance by identifying oral or written sources on this country located elsewhere (mainly in North Africa, Turkey, Europe, or the United States).

We therefore invite researchers on Libya and, more generally, specialists on the Middle East and North Africa to share the research experiences they developed over the last ten years, so to initiate a collective debate on available methodologies, potential alternative research venues to be considered, the opportunities and constraints of Internet-based communications, and/or the strategies for conducting research on conflict zones as well as hardly accessible ones in times of pandemic, and the responsibilities arising from it.

Contributions to this axis may address questions such as:

  • What research methodologies can mitigate the effects of limited in-country accessibility? What local networks and contacts could be mobilized to achieve a reliable understanding of the conflict?
  • What strategies of circumvention or specific arrangements can be experimented? How could these strategies and arrangements impact on the objects under investigation and the researcher’s position in his or her field?
  • How can we manage the potential risks linked to the use of tools such as the telephone or the Internet (e.g., wiretapping, cyber-attacks and tracing)?
  • To what extent can the potential risks for informants as well as for researchers lead to forms of self-censorship and limitation of research objects?

Conditions of submission / Timetable

Articles of 40 000 characters maximum will be accepted in French and English

Proposals for contributions should be sent on the online form

  • Deadline for the return of proposals (abstracts between 800 and 1000 words): December 15, 2021

  • Confirmation of the selection of the proposal abstracts by the editorial board and the coordinators: January 19
  • Deadline for receipt of papers: Avril 1st, 2022
  • Return of the evaluation of the texts: June, 2022
  • Publication: December 15, 2022


  • Chiara Loschi (Université de Bologne, CITERES-EMAM)
  • Chiara Pagano (Université de Bologne, Wits Institute, Univ. de Witwatersrand)

Editor-in-Chief : François Dumasy, historien, IEP, CHERPA

Editorial Committee

  • Céline Lesourd, anthropologue, CNRS, Centre Norbert Élias, co-directrice de publication
  • Loïc Le Pape, politiste, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, CESSP, co-directeur de publication
  • Aurélia Dusserre, historienne, AMU, IREMAM, trésorière
  • Éric Gobe, politiste, CNRS, IREMAM, rédacteur en chef adjoint (chroniques)
  • Sabine Partouche, CNRS, IREMAM, secrétaire de rédaction
  • Nessim Znaien, historien, AMU, IREMAM, rédacteur en chef adjoint (varia)
  • Marc André, historien, Université de Rouen, GRHis
  • Sophie Bava, socio- anthropologue, IRD, AMU, LPED
  • Saïd Belguidoum, sociologue, AMU, IREMAM
  • Katia Boissevain, anthropologue, CNRS, IRMC
  • Myriam Catusse, politiste, CNRS, IFPO
  • Mathilde Cazeaux, historienne, Université de Toulouse Jean Jaurès, PLH
  • Meriam Cheikh, anthropologue, INALCO, CESSMA
  • Thierry Desrues, sociologue, IESA/CSIC, Cordoue
  • Karima Dirèche, historienne, CNRS, TELEMMe
  • Louisa Dris Aït-Hamadouche, politiste, Faculté des sciences politiques et de l’information, Alger 3
  • François Dumasy, historien, IEP, CHERPA
  • Camille Evrard, historienne, IMAF
  • Vincent Geisser, politiste, CNRS, IREMAM
  • Marta Gonzalez Garcia De Paredes, relations internationales, Université Loyola Andalucía, Seville
  • Isabelle Grangaud, historienne, CNRS, Centre Norbert Élias
  • Didier Guignard, historien, CNRS, IREMAM
  • Richard Jacquemond, linguiste, AMU, IREMAM
  • Perrine Lachenal, anthropologue, CNRS, Centre Norbert Élias
  • Chiara Loschi, politiste, Université de Bologne, CITERES-EMAM
  • Alain Messaoudi, historien, Université de Nantes, CRHIA
  • Chiara Pagano, politiste, Université de Bologne, Wits Institute, Univ. de Witwatersrand
  • Antoine Perrier, historien, CNRS, IREMAM
  • Erin Pettigrew, historienne, NYU, Abu Dhabi
  • Florence Renucci, juriste, CNRS, IMAF
  • Farida Souiah, politiste, Emlyon Business School, OCE
  • Beatriz Tomé-Alonso, relations internationales, Université Nationale d’Education à Distance (UNED).


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  • Aix-en-Provence, France (13)


  • Wednesday, December 15, 2021


  • Libye, politique, sociologie, histoire, ethnologie


  • Chiara Pagano
    courriel : chiara [dot] pagano01 [at] gmail [dot] com
  • Chiara Loschi
    courriel : chiaraloschi [at] gmail [dot] com

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Sabine Partouche
    courriel : sabine [dot] partouche [at] univ-amu [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« Libya(s) in the Making », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, October 18, 2021, https://calenda.org/921244

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