Expectation as a mode of statecraft: ‘municipal encounters’ in post-revolution Tunisia

By Lana Salman
Submitted to Session P4916 (New Boundaries of State/Resistance Constellations in the Middle East, 2017 Annual Meeting
Archit & Urb Plng
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Six years after the revolution, the Tunisian government has embarked on a large-scale political decentralization program that aims to cover the entire territory with elected local governments. This paper asks what do ‘municipal encounters’, the everyday encounters between citizens and municipal officials, make visible about experiences of the post-revolution state? What labor goes into claims-making at the municipal level, and what are its consequences? Departing from the existing literature on municipalities in the Arab world which frames them as inefficient and often corrupt administrative entities bound to elite capture, and on decentralization that focuses either on the incentives of politicians to decentralize or the effects of decentralization post-fact, this paper argues that ‘municipal encounters’ make visible a mode of statecraft ruled by expectation. Citizens except the municipality to provide services while simultaneously accusing it of being incapable of service provision. In that sense, municipalities are not pre-constituted categories of territorial organization; rather they are continuously produced through the expectation of service delivery. The result is a new mode of politics the material basis of which is a new mode of territorial organization that breaks away from the confines of the ‘police state’. To make this argument, I rely on participant observation of 25 participatory planning sessions across the Tunisian territory, 20 interviews with secretary generals and presidents of municipal councils as well as a chronicling of the changes at the municipal level since the 2011.