SUMMARY:This panel offers a critical rethinking of some of the received categories of political economy, in particular debt, land, law, and development, through three key historical moments of transformation throughout the fin de siècle Ottoman realm. The backdrop for these papers is the Ottoman and Ottoman-Egyptian debt crises culminating in the bankruptcy and the Caisse de la Dette Publique in the 1870s. Generally regarded as merely having led to unprecedented European financial control, debates have frequently revolved around the extent to which this helped or hindered ‘development’ in the Middle East. By contrast, these papers do not take the categories of political economic analysis for granted. Instead, each considers how ‘internal’ dynamics played out and new forms of power materialised in these spaces, creating the very conditions for the emergence of received conceptual demarcations, including ‘development’ itself.
Four papers explore interlocking questions of debt, land, law and development. The first paper examines the role of joint-stock infrastructure companies in transforming land from an exhaustible source of surplus to an objective political economic “field” which could be infinitely developed. In Egypt, railroad corporations were the first to promote “land development” schemes. More generally, the paper questions the assumption that Egypt’s independence hinged on ending, rather than the perpetuation and institutionalisation, of its debt crisis. A second paper on famine and debt in Ottoman Anatolia in 1887-93 examines how political economy and political ecology intersected during the Anatolian famines. Often examined separately, it ties the Ottoman debt crisis to the new forms of debt experienced by cultivators and the new property regimes that undergirded them. The third paper re-examines transformations in the political economy of nineteenth century Sudan in light of the critique--and conceptual repository--offered by a messianic insurgency, namely the Mahdiyya. Moreover, it shows how British colonial policy around “land development” was impacted by the spectre of Mahdist resurgence and geared towards counter-insurgency through the production of future-oriented subjects. The final paper explores the genealogy of the Suez Canal Company to study the social, economic, and legal transformations that gave rise to corporations as paradigmatic means of colonial government in the second half of the nineteenth century. Taken together, the papers offer a cross-regional perspective, showing how practices around debt, land, law and development--and the conceptual distinctions generated--were themselves products of new forms of power unfolding in the late nineteenth century.
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(University of Michigan)
Matthew Ghazarian is a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley. He completed his Ph.D. in Columbia University's Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, African Studies, where he studied the history of capitalism, environmental history, and...