Call for special issue: “Ruins of the Welfare State: Material Legacies of a Socialist Middle East”

ESMA – Egypte, Soudan, mondes arabes – invites authors to submit abstracts of 400 words and short bios. Guest editors and Editorial Board members will select the abstracts and ask for full research articles of 8,000 words maximum (notes and references included), that will be submitted to peer-review.

Other formats, such as Research Notes (5000 words max), papers for the Sources and Materials Section (4000 words max), or Book Reviews can also be submitted. Please specify in your abstract to which section you submit.

Abstracts and papers can be submitted in English, Arabic or French.


Receiving & selecting abstracts: Deadline April 4, 2022

Receiving papers V1: September 1, 2022

Reviewing & Modifications (V2, V3): September-December 2022

Editing and Publishing: February 2023

Please submit abstracts directly to the editors:

Carl Rommel

Giedrė Šabasevičiūtė

Ruins of the Welfare State: Material Legacies of a Socialist Middle East.

In many parts of the world, the second half of the 20th century was defined by the rise and consolidation of welfare states. Across the Middle East and North Africa, nationalist, and socialist revolutions of the 1950s and 1960s ushered in the expansion of state bureaucracies in line with prevailing ideals of egalitarian and prosperous societies. Over the years, a colossal infrastructure of buildings emerged to cater for the various needs of these welfare states, such as cultural palaces, theaters, youth centers, schools, hospitals, government offices, trade unions, bus depots, factories, and state-run consumer and producer cooperatives.

The emerging welfare state institutions gave rise to new aspirations of consumption (Bier 2011), expanded bureaucratic procedures, standardizations, practices of documentation (Ayubi 1980), and more generally produced a wide range of dreams, expectations, and images that redefined the meaning of the state and its relationship with the people (Labib 2019, Meijer 2015). Since the neo-liberal turn of the 1990s, many of these spaces, institutions and routines have lost their original purposes, and they have been redesigned to fit newly emerging needs of the market economy, public private partnerships (PPP), and new public management. Yet, although deserted and in a decrepit state, material remains of the welfare state are still with us today, as forceful reminders of bygone eras.

This special issue aims to explore the material afterlives of the welfare state in Egypt, Sudan, and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. It asks how remains of welfare-states that once existed – buildings, infrastructures, institutions, documents, standards, procedures – have come to cater for newly emerging needs of a market society, private investments, individual actions, dreams, imaginaries, affect, and memories. Building on Ann Stoler’s perspective on “imperial debris” (2008) and Yael Navaro-Yashin’s theorization of the affective agency of “ruination” (2009), the issue invites contributors to think of remains of welfare states as “ruins”, i.e., as entities from bygone eras that have an agentive power in shaping (and being reshaped in) the present. Taking Stoler’s and Navaro-Yashin’s thinking in a slightly new direction, the ruins that we consider are material and infrastructural as well as institutional: on the one hand buildings, public spaces and the urban fabric that still stand and matter; on the other hand, standards, procedures, and practices that give Middle Eastern states their various “effects” (Mitchell 1991).

The issue invites empirically based case studies that probe questions such as the following:

  • Under what conditions are material sites and remains of socialist pasts left to decompose or repurposed to fit new technologies emblematic of the “smart state” (Ramon 2012)?
  • How are such ruins appropriated and reshaped by individual, collective and governmental actions?
  • What types of leisure and affective, economic or ideological attachments do they generate?
  • What is the significance of the architectural properties of these spaces, and what types of practices, movements, and affects do they allow?
  • How do materiality and infrastructures that remain reshape the attachment to the state and its mythologies?

All in all, the special issue intends to empirically explore socialist legacies in the region by studying its material effects in the present. It also welcomes contributions on historical studies revising the so-called turn of the 1990s, e.g., by exploring different timelines and developments of various aspects of welfare states in different countries. While studies exist on how different political projects seep into one another in the fields of political economy (Vannetzel 2017) and historical imaginaries (Salem 2019), there is a lack of understanding of how the socialist past informs the neo-liberal present on the infrastructural and institutional level. The issue is premised on an understanding of the present as composed of different layers of temporality that are redefined to fit the needs and subjectivities of the present. It seeks to problematize common-sense understandings of historical changes in terms of linear succession of distinct eras, and to instead underline the layered composition of materiality, times, lives, and worlds.

Cited works:

Bier, Laura, 2011. Feminisms, Modernity, and the State in Nasser’s Egypt (Cairo: American University Press).

Graham, Janice E., Christina Holmes, Fiona McDonald, Regna Darnell. 2021 The Social Life of Standards. Ethnographic Methods for Local Engagement (Chicago: Chicago University Press).

Labib, Malak, 2019. Re-shaping the “Socialist Factory” in Egypt in the Late 1960s and 1970s. Blog for Transregional Research.

Meijer, Roel, 2015. The Quest of Modernity. Secular Liberal and Left-wing Political Thought in Egypt, 1945-1958 (London: Routledge).

Mitchell, T. 1991. The Limits of the State: Beyond Statist Approaches and their Critics. American Political Science Review, vol. 85, no. 1, pp. 77-96.

Navaro-Yashin, Yael, 2009. Affective Spaces, Melancholic Objects: Ruination and the Production of Anthropological Knowledge. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 1–18.

Nazih, Ayubi, 1980. Bureaucracy and Politics in Contemporary Egypt (London: Ithaca Press).

Ramon, Gil-Garcia, J., 2012. Towards a smart State? Inter-agency collaboration, information integration, and beyond, Information Polity, Vol. 17, no. 3-4, p. 269-280.

Salem, Sara, 2019. “Haunted Histories. Nasserism and the Promises of the Past,” Middle East Critique, Vol. 28, 261-277.

Stoler, Ann L. 2008. Imperial Debris. Reflections on Ruins and Ruination. Cultural Anthropology, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 191–219,

Vannetzel, Marie, 2017. “The Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘Virtuous society’ and State Developmentalism in Egypt: the Politics of ‘Goodness’”, International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement, 8, 220-245.

About the Journal

Egypte Soudan Mondes Arabes (ESMA) is a journal promoting empirically grounded research in social sciences on contemporary Egypt and Sudan, as well on other countries in the MENA region. 

Created in 1990 by the CEDEJ in Cairo (French Center for economic, legal and social studies and documentation), the journal has recently become a trilingual publication in French, English and Arabic.

The title has been changed from Egypte Monde Arabe to Egypte Soudan Mondes arabes, in order to emphasize the connected histories that bind together these societies, economies and cultures through multiple networks of exchanges and circulations. By referring to the “Arab worlds” in a plural form, the title also stresses the plurality and heterogeneity that characterize the social worlds constitutive of the MENA region, and which embrace many non-Arab people and features.

The journal aims at enhancing the production of knowledge on these societies, supporting fieldwork research and publicizing the work of junior as well as more senior scholars. We invite papers from social scientific fields (sociology, anthropology, political science, geography, urban studies, history, political economy, legal studies, development studies etc.) that contribute to a better understanding of social challenges and transformations, and bring in new theoretical inputs.

The Journal is available in Open Access on the Open Edition platform:, in full access two years after the date of publication. Before that, there is a paywall period during which articles are in limited access on

Governance and Peer-review process

The director of CEDEJ, Prof. Agnès Deboulet, is the Chief Editor. The Editorial board includes about 30 leading scholars of all nationalities (anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, historians, geographers…) on the region, among whom Reem Saad, Neil Ketchley, Elena Vezzadini, Barbara Casciarri, Mohamed Bakhit, Giedre Sabaseviciute, Richard Jacquemond, etc.

The articles are submitted to a double-blind peer-review process. It means the identities of the authors are concealed from the reviewers, and vice versa. Papers are typically sent to a minimum of two expert reviewers (one member of Editorial board, one external reviewer) to assess the scientific quality of the paper. The Editorial Board is responsible for the final decision regarding acceptance or rejection of articles.

Editorial Board members are not involved in decisions about papers that they have written themselves or that have been written by family members, close colleagues or students whom they are supervisors. Any such submission is subject to all of the journal’s usual procedures, with peer review handled independently of the relevant Editorial Board member. More information on types of peer review.

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