Tag Archives: urban studies

Research Roundup December 2021

This research roundup includes some exciting recent work in fields that have been previously unexplored, as well as work from the past few years which I wasn’t previously aware of.

Elfeituri, Nada. 2020. Tribalism as urban planning: The role of non-state actors in governing Benghazi’s peripheries. DPU Working Paper 204. (online)

The persistence of tribalism in countries of the Middle East and North Africa has posed a challenge to researchers and practitioners seeking to understand the political and social drivers of change in the region, particularly after the 2011 revolutions which saw the collapse of many governments and a resurgence in the prominence of tribal networks. The presence and role of tribal structures in cities – one of many non-state actors attempting to fill the governance gap – has increasingly become a key element in how they function today, particularly in planning, service delivery and security.

The accepted binary that places tribalism as a nomadic or rural practice – one which diminishes in settled and urban populations – is no longer adequate to understand developments occurring in the social, political and spatial arenas of these cities. Tribal networks have evolved and adapted over the years, both influencing and being affected by state policies and laws. Studies that attempt to understand tribal phenomena outside of anthropology tend to look at the relationship between tribe and state without examining how this relationship plays out in urban areas.

This research aims to reconceptualise the notion of tribalism in the MENA region in order to understand contemporary urban tribal practices, by looking at the tribe and the urban rather than the tribe and state alone. It will first establish a framework of understanding tribalism that builds on Ibn Khaldun’s conception of the Arab tribe as a form of social solidary, placing this within the notion of precarious urbanism. It will then look at the case of urban tribalism in Libya, analysing the relationship between tribalism, the state and the city, in order to understand why tribalism persists and what impact it has on city planning today. This will be explored in depth by analysing the current role of tribalism in Benghazi’s peripheral areas.


Elfeituri, Nada. 2021. The “Solidere” Effect and the Localisation of Heritage Reconstruction in Post-war Transitions, Libya. In Historic Cities in the Face of Disasters: Reconstruction, Recovery and Resilience of Societies (The Urban Book Series), 301–316. (paywalled)

In the wake of mass urban conflicts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the most pressing question has been how reconstruction can be achieved on a large scale. Cities such as Benghazi, Aleppo and Mosul have witnessed widespread destruction that will take billions of dollars and decades to repair. With such a momentous task, many governments in the region appear to be looking towards the “Solidere” model of reconstruction that was applied in downtown Beirut after the Lebanese civil war, a model built around “disaster capitalism” in which new laws facilitate the role of private companies to lead the process. While there have been countless criticisms of the effect that this process had in Beirut, the region offers few other examples of successful reconstruction projects. Indeed, with the current climate of authoritarian rule, it is the central governments rather than residents themselves who have decision-making power to shape the reconstructed city. These decisions are driven not only by economic opportunities but by socio-political strategy, namely what should be forgotten and what will remain in the post-war city. Within this process, the efforts of citizens and local actors—often the first to initiate reconstruction of their neighbourhoods—are often overlooked or ignored. There have been increasing calls for more locally led reconstruction processes that are driven by people rather than profit, within the wider shift towards more participatory processes in urban development. These processes can be seen as more inclusive and sustainable than the “Solidere” model of reconstruction, but there is limited literature regarding how these local mechanisms operate in reconstruction contexts in the MENA region, and how they can fit into wider political processes. The aim of this chapter is to investigate local reconstruction efforts and how they play out in heritage centres. It focuses specifically on the case of downtown Benghazi’s reconstruction in Libya after the 2014 civil war. It will conclude by attempting to answer the question of what place local reconstruction should have in national visions of urban redevelopment in cities affected by conflict.


Musbahi, Moad. 2018. The Sahara Is Not a Desert: Re-Mapping Libya, Unravelling the State. The Funambulist No. 18 (Cartography & Power). (online)

This map shows Libya in the moment prior to the 1935 Franco-Italian agreement that decided the demarcation of the southern border. / Istituto Geografico Militare (1926), photo by Moad Musbahi.


Bertazzini, Mattia Cosma. 2019. The economic impact of Italian colonial investments in Libya and in the Horn of Africa, 1920-2000. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science. (online)

This dissertation examines the micro-level effects of Italian colonial investments in Libya, Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, and sheds light on both their short and long-term impact. It focuses on two flagship projects, launched by the dictator Benito Mussolini during the 1930s, namely the construction of a modern road network in the Horn of Africa and the settlement of Italian farmers in Libya. The contributions are twofold. First, this thesis focuses on types of colonial investment that have not been studied before, while looking at a group of colonies that have previously been neglected by the cliometrics revolution in African economic history. Thus, it enhances our understanding of the effect of colonialism in general and, on Africa, in particular. Second, by exploiting a set of quasi-natural experiments from the history of Italian colonialism to explore the micro-effect of specific policies, this thesis also contributes to the economic geography and development literatures that have looked at the determinants of agglomeration and productivity in developing countries. It is structured around three substantive chapters. The first one studies the effect of Italian road construction in the Horn of Africa on economic development and shows how locations that enjoyed a first-mover advantage in transportation thanks to the Italian road network are significantly wealthier today. The second substantive chapter assesses the effect of Italian agricultural settlement on indigenous agriculture in Libya at the end of the colonial period and pinpoints an adverse effect of Italian presence on Libyan productivity. Finally, the third substantive chapter studies the effect of the expulsion of Italian farmers from Libya after World War II and finds a reduction in agricultural commercialization in affected districts following the shock.


Simona Berhe and Olindo de Napoli, editors. 2022. Citizens and Subjects of the Italian Colonies Legal Constructions and Social Practices, 1882–1943. Routledge.

This forthcoming book features several chapters concerning Libya: “Subjecthood, Citizenship, Autonomy, Independence? Legal Status and National Claims in the First Decade of Italian Occupation in Libya (1911–1920)” by Federico Cresti, “The System of Differences: Justice and Citizenship in Libya (1911–1922)” by Alessia Di Stefano, and finally “Rights, Mobility and Identity: Colonial Citizenship in Libya in the Twenties”, by Simona Berhe.

Article: Exported Urbanity in 1970s Libya

Sometimes I come across studies on topics I never even knew could be topics. Here, an essay examining the models  of urbanity ‘exported’ to Libya by Croatian architects working on the naval base in Khoms (الخمس), Libya.

Smode Cvitanović, Mojca, Smokvina, Marina, Kincl, Branko. 2016. “Maritime Ports as the Testing Field for a New Urbanity. Centroprojekt Zagreb Design for Naval Base Homs, Libya, 1976.” In Urban Planning in North Africa, ed. Carlos Nunes Silva, Routledge, pp. 145–155. [Link to partial preview]

“Drawing on experience gained through the modernization of their own country after the Second World War, Yugoslav experts made their mark applying their expertise in many African and Asian countries, thereby taking part in the creation of those continents’ modern societies in the years that followed. A large field of expertise was as a consequence applied including civil engineering, architecture, and urban planning. A specific professional sector among Yugoslav ‘exports’ was the design and construction of port facilities. Depending on the developments adjacent to the ports, different expertise in urban planning and architecture was needed within this multi-disciplinary task. Architectural developments, as support to a port facility, were usually planned in empty areas and without a previously established analogous architectural or urban typology in the local tradition. This chapter follows the particular case of the Naval Base Homs (Khoms, Al-Khums) in Libya which received a significant contribution of urban and architectural design, the task having been assigned to the Centroprojekt Zagreb company in the mid-1970s. The chapter examines the models of urbanity ‘exported’ by Croatian architects engaged in a task whose primary function was to support the adjacent port facility.”

Article: Italian colonisation and the walled city of Tripoli

An article on the Italian period and its impact on the old city of Tripoli, available online:

Mia Fuller (2000), “Preservation and self-absorption: Italian colonisation and the walled city of Tripoli, Libya,” The Journal of North African Studies 5/4, pp. 121-154.

“Scholars periodically return to the study of how French administrators and architects handled the urban settings of North Africa – the ones they found and the ones they founded – beginning with the occupation of Algiers in 1830. Italian occupation of Libya began much later, in 1911, but in the 32 years of their effective rule, Italians had sufficient time to be both destructive and constructive in significant ways. Nonetheless, only a handful of scholarly efforts have been devoted to Italian architectural and urban policies in Tripoli;
and very few of those have been concerned with the walled city at all…”

Article: La transformation administrative des espaces septentrionaux Libyens

With apologies for the long silence on this blog, we get back on track with this article:

Tomaso Palmieri, “La transformation administrative des espaces septentrionaux Libyens au lendemain de la répression de l’Italie fasciste (1934-1940)” [The administrative transformation of the northern Libyan spaces on the eve of the fascist Italian repression], In Le rôle des villes littorales du Maghreb dans l’histoire, RM2E – Revue de la Méditerranée édition électronique 3/1 (2016), pp. 101–114.

Happily, the article (in French) is freely available online at the following link: http://www.revuedelamediterranee.org/index_htm_files/Palmieri_2016-III-1.pdf

Article: The Arab city and municipal administrative modernity: Tripoli (Libya)

For those who read French, here is another essay by Nora Lafi about the history of Tripoli. It is freely available online.

Nora Lafi, “Ville arabe et modernité administrative municipale : Tripoli (Libye actuelle), 1795-1911.” [The Arab city and municipal administrative modernity: Tripoli (Libya), 1795-1911] Histoire urbaine 1, no. 3 (2001), pp. 149-167.

Abstract: This paper aims both at presenting a short bibliographical essay on Arab towns and, from the case of Tripoli (Libya), at examining the matter of the administrative modernity of such towns. The role in this process of modernization of the various traditional institutions of urban government is studied with the help of new archives, mostly local. A presentation of the machîkha al-bilâd – the cheikh albilâd (chief of the town) and its jamâ’a al-bilâd (town council) – as an organization of municipal kind is proposed in this paper, and the forms of a possible comparatism with Ancien Régime European towns are explored. The 1867 Ottoman municipal reforms (tanzimât) are then studied in the context of the inheritance of traditional forms of urban government.

Article: Italian rural centres in colonial Libya (1934-1940)

The Built Utopia: The Italian rural centres in colonial Libya (1934-1940) | L’utopia costruita: I centri rurali di fondazione in Libia (1934-1940), ed. Vittoria Capresi, Bologna (2009).

The Built Utopia is a bilingual English-Italian ‘guide’-book to Italian colonial architecture in Libya. As the author notes in the chapter ‘A guide to travel, a search to deepen’, “this volume provides a comprehensive description and introduction to the architecture of the newly founded rural centres in Libya, created by Italian architects during the Fascist colonial occupation. The period analysed, from 1934 to 1940, includes the starting point for the construction of the rural centres, 1933-1934, which saw the establishment of the first centres for the political, religious and administrative management of the territory. The project for the last centre was designed in 1940, but it was never constructed due to the outbreak of the Second World War. Particular attention is given to two key dates, 1938 and 1939, which marked the stages of mass colonization with the transfer of rural Italian families to the coast of Libya.”

The book is available online in PDF form at the above link. A review of the volume can be found in Libyan Studies 42 (2011), p. 160.

Book: Urbanization and urbanity in the Libyan Fezzan

During this month we will focus on the Fezzan, Libya’s southern region. This region is covered by so little Western journalism that a Twitter account was started simply to produce reliable information from and on it: the Fezzan Libya Media Group. It would be beneficial to focus on the Fezzan from an academic perspective, too. Like other parts of Libya, the Fezzan has interesting people, cultures, and histories. So to start off with, another open-access publication:

Villes du Sahara: Urbanisation et urbanité dans le Fezzan libyen [Cities of the Sahara: Urbanization and urbanity in the Libyan Fezzan]. ed. Olivier Pliez. CNRS Éditions (2003).

The book is divided into three sections, which discuss “the cities of the Fezzan between the State and crossroads”, “local dynamics framed by the State”, and “towards a Saharan urbanity”. An essay by the same author, also on urbanization in the Fezzan (also in French) titled “An urbanity without a city?” , is also available online.