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Authority, anarchy and equity: a political ecology of social change in the Algerian Sahara

Benessaiah, Nejm Lakani (2015) Authority, anarchy and equity: a political ecology of social change in the Algerian Sahara. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (KAR id:54683)

Language: English
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This thesis charts and theorises a general transition from authoritarian to participatory forms of governance and natural resource management, as viewed from the locale of a Saharan oasis town situated within wider temporal and spatial change processes. Ostrom’s (2014) work on the ability of communities to regulate access to the commons hinges on resource users jointly agreeing on and conforming to rules of use. Similarly, recent theoretical developments related to Social Ecological Systems and adaptive management also emphasise group consensus as a prerequisite for adaption. These approaches presume a degree of equality in social relations across the group. In Beni Isguen, Algeria, by contrast, the management of water commons is complicated by class inequalities. This region has recently seen a shift from religion to capital as the dominant ideology behind ruling factions, entailing the contraction of a theocratic influence, with the accession of a secular merchant class. This latter faction has achieved this by ideologically and pragmatically positioning themselves within the hierarchical administration of the nation-state, and thus conforming to national laws. This key shift in political alignment followed a long period of local resistance to over-arching ruling powers. I argue that this conformation has entailed a displacement of a localised ‘social contract’ whereby welfare, labour and regulation were previously achieved through the ‘moral economy’ of reciprocal relations, to a citizen-state contract based on the assumption of rights and certain services (e.g. protection of private property, creation and maintenance of infrastructure), and a reliance on the market to provide goods and other services (e.g. labour). These historical social changes have implications for theoretical developments regarding the role of the citizen-state relationship in terms of the protection of private property vs. protection of communal property, of anthropological perspectives of legal pluralism, and social contract theory.

Furthermore, the thesis describes mixed modes of resource management involving new voluntary associations as alternative forms of local governance from below, alongside customary regulatory officials in charge of water. The emancipatory idea of some regarding civil society has received thorough critique by anthropologists (Benthall 2000; Comaroff & Comaroff 1999), yet along with Butcher (2014), I argue that despite this, the recent opening of the civic sector has created an opening for new forms of activity within the Algerian political landscape. However, the informal agreements of voluntary associations appear to lack the ‘teeth’ necessary to regulate uncooperative individuals. Authority today is locally perceived as the prerogative of the state, and so some state regulation appears necessary. The study thus views these processes from the viewpoint of the crucial determinant of life in the desert: water, and from there its social dependents, and how they organise themselves.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Puri, Rajindra
Thesis advisor: Hodges, Matt
Uncontrolled keywords: Sahara; governance; political ecology; adaptive management; ethnography; oasis;
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 29 Mar 2016 11:00 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2022 23:09 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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Benessaiah, Nejm Lakani.

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