Muriam Haleh Davis and Thomas Serres, eds. North Africa and the Making of Europe: Governance, Institutions and Culture (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018).
Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?
Muriam Haleh Davis (MHD) and Thomas Serres (TS): We were motivated to edit this volume after spending the 2015-2016 academic year at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, which has a strong focus on European politics and integration. As North Africanists, we felt that it was important to think about Europe from its margins, particularly as pressing questions about the past and future of the European Union were being posed by politicians across the region. We therefore organized a series of conferences on “Europe Seen From North Africa,” which brought together scholars from North Africa, Europe, and the United States. The insights and questions raised during those conferences form the basis of this volume.
MHD and TS: This volume addresses current debates on the definition of European space as a cultural, economic, political, and geographical unit. While the European Union (EU) presents itself as an area of freedom, security and justice, the vision from the periphery is far less enchanted. Indeed, Europe seems to be facing two, interrelated crises: the rise of Islamophobia (and overt racism in general) as well as a pervasive disillusionment with the technocratic governance that gave rise to the European Union during the interwar period. We wanted to explore how both of these crises have common historical roots by exploring the ways in which a certain conception of Europe—as both a system of governance as well as a cultural identity—emerged out of an intimate relationship with North Africa.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the book address?
At the same time, we wanted to go beyond the narrative of colonial legacies and investigate North Africa as a space where new conceptions of Europe are still emerging. The aftermath of the “Arab Spring” and the ongoing migration crisis have prompted new investigations of the Mediterranean space. In 2018, the Mediterranean region encourages exchange and cooperation as much as it fosters exclusion and competition. Consequently, our edited volume explores the construction of Europe as an ideological, political, and economic entity by looking at its past and present relationship with North Africa. In focusing on how European identity and institutions have been fashioned though various interactions with its southern periphery, this volume highlights the role played by Europeans in the Maghreb as well as by North African actors.
While there have been repeated attempts to analyze the continued relevance of the European Union in world affairs, we felt there were a few lacunae in the scholarship. We hope that focusing on North Africa not only provides us with a variety of political and economic contexts, but also decenters the prevailing perspective and offers a fresh optic for understanding the current challenges faced by the EU. We also sought to publish an interdisciplinary volume that would allow for historical analysis to be fruitfully put into conversation with contemporary politics, sociology, and international relations.
Originally published on Jadaliyya