From the Ottomans to the Asads: Crisis, Space, and State Formation in Syria

Daniel Neep, Georgetown University

Why do states assume different spatial forms? Rationalist approaches explain varying outcomes in terms of material considerations (e.g. ease of projecting power from the center) or balance-of-force equations (social resistance to state penetration). Culturalist approaches, on the other hand, maintain that ideas about society determine the spatial shape of the state. However, neither approach adequately explains the spatiality of state projects in modern Syria, where state geographies defy both materialist and culturalist predictions. To solve this puzzle, I construct a theoretical model that posits the importance of crisis narratives and crisis responses in the spatial reconfiguration of the state. I examine episodes of crisis in Syria from the 19th and 20th centuries to show how, even through periods of rapid shifts in state agents’ cultural understandings and material interests, the dynamic of crisis and spatial fix provides a consistent explanatory lens for the specific empirical spatial form adopted by the Syrian state from the Ottomans to the Asads.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 74. Space, Materiality, and State-Society Relations in the Middle East and Beyond