Tomas Aclan profile

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Tomas Aclan

Brunel University London (2023)


Dr Maria Kastrinou


Beyond The State: State Resistance & The Culture of Autonomy in Barbacha, Algeria


Can people today live without the state? ‘Beyond The State’ is an anthropological project about the culture of the autonomous commune of Barbacha in Algeria, ethnographically exploring citizenship, non-state spaces and emancipatory social movements.

The commune of Barbacha aims to become autonomous from the state via the revival of traditional democratic practices. Barbachians are Amazigh, an indigenous Maghrebian Maliki Sunni community. Since independence, Arabisation policies, state violence and precarity have prompted the reemergence of colonial discourses pitting the Amazigh against Arabs, resulting in repeated ‘Berber Springs’ (1980, 1988, 1991, 2001, 2012, 2019) where the Amazigh escalated their demands for autonomy. In 2001, Algerian Amazigh resorted to the thajma’th - pre-colonial democratic village assemblies - to replace state institutions, nevertheless, research posits that traditional forms of Amazigh political organisation have been superseded by political parties (Maddy-Weitzman, 2022). In contrast to this national trend, in 2001, Barbacha replaced state courts with village tribunals. Following what Barbachians claimed were fraudulent elections in 2012, they reinstituted the thajma’th to contend with an eventually supplant state institutions (Tarlacrea, 2014).

Barbachians identify as Amazigh and Arab, and although they aim to dissolve state power, consider themselves Algerian citizens, participating in both indigenous and state politics. Rich with political, postcolonial and indigenous discourses, Barbacha offers a paradoxical case study. Barbachians inhabit seemingly contradictory modalities resulting from the autonomic process, and articulating these is the main aim of the project. What does belonging mean in Barbacha? How do Barbachians identify as Amazigh and Arab? How do they consider themselves national and non-state subjects? How do they negotiate participation in state and anti-state politics? This project will conduct the first ethnography of Barbacha to research how traditional democratic practices and autonomic goals have resulted in Barbacha’s social life, and what this can teach us about identity, citizenship and autonomy.