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Rethinking Civil Society in Transition

International Donors, Associations and Politics in Tunisia

222 pages
Amsterdam University Press
This book illustrates the results of ethnographical research designed to shed light on the notion of civil society in a context characterized by the transformation of power relations. Such transformation is given by shifting resources, renewed local and international opportunities, and a general reframing of goals and objectives. The academic literature has usually relied on a substantialist understanding of the notion of civil society – referring to the latter as something that exists a priori or does something. This volume relies, instead, on a relational approach – where civil society becomes the name we give to a host of complex interactions in which local associations are involved in a time of reconfiguration of power relations. Building on this approach, this volume analyses the relational dynamics affecting Tunisian associations after the fall of the authoritarian regime in 2011 and their implications for the changing political order. Findings show two main interrelated trends: the nationwide professionalization of local associations and the localized networking strategies of various socio-political categories crossing the associational sector. The book shows how their members understand the standardization of local associations as a strategy to have guaranteed access to the public sphere and, therefore, to influence the changing political order.
Author Bio
Ester Sigillò is a Junior Assistant Professor at the University of Bologna. She holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Scuola Normale Superiore (Florence). During her doctoral activities, she served as visiting fellow at the Institut de Recherche sur le Maghreb Contemporain (IRMC) in Tunis and as a research fellow at the ERC-funded project TARICA. After her doctoral studies, she served as a Max Weber Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute (Florence). From 2020 to 2022, she was a postdoctoral researcher under the framework of the ERC-funded project BIT-ACT at the University of Bologna. Her research interests include democratization, dynamics of contention, and Islamic activism in the Maghreb. Among her most recent publications: “Understanding the transformation of Political Islam beyond party politics: the case of Tunisia” in Third World Quarterly, “Digital media, diasporic groups, and the transnational dimension of anti-regime movements: the case of Hirak in Algeria” in Review of Communication (co-authored), “The Evolution of Tunisian Salaf.ism after the Revolution: From La Maddhabiyya to Salaf.iMalikism” in International Journal of Middle East Studies (co-authored). Ester is also Adjunct-Faculty at Georgetown University (Florence Campus), where she teaches ‘Comparative Political Systems in the Mediterranean World.’