The elusive governance: power relations and identity strategies around Islam in colonial, anticolonial and post-colonial practices

Leading researcher: Mário Machaqueiro
Research group: Circulation and Place-Making
Type of project: Researcher contract
Status: Concluded
Keywords: Power relations | Identity strategies | Islam | Europe | (anti and post) Colonial practices

Main institution: CRIA
Participant institutions: n.a.
Funding: FCT
Reference: CONT_DOUT/119/CRIA/4038/10779/4/2008
Starting date: 01-07-09

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The presence of Islam in Europe nowadays is one of the central objects of the politics of migration – and I understand here „politics” in its multidimensional meaning, as a process of identity construction of plural citizenships, as a regulatory intervention of states into the management and configuration of that process, but also as a „scientific” framing of migrants” behaviour in that twisted crossroad where social sciences are articulated with state power apparatus, purveying these with legitimation devices for „public policies”. In Europe, the current „problematic” feature of migrant Islam is mainly due to the crossing of several factors: (1) the tensions and contradictions resulting from the „normal” identity friction between dominant social communities in host countries and ethnic minorities of exogenous origin, or minorities that, being endogenous, are still perceived as „external”; (2) the globalised depiction of „Muslim world” as the „new enemy” of the „West”, replacing the „former enemy” of Cold War, a depiction fuelled by the strategic need of projecting into a big „otherness” the identity anxieties caused by contemporary forms of insecurity (unemployment and precariousness of labour ties, urban violence, global and local terrorism, etc.); (3) the emergence, at the world-system level, of integrist movements belonging to the galaxy of „Islamic fundamentalism”, some of them with na activity that can be traced back to the first decades of the twentieth century, but that only recently, and thanks to the resources available under globalisation, acquired the means to challenge the dominant self-images in Western countries and to counteract them with a symbolic alternative of na equally global scope; (4) the historical memory of several encounters and dis-encounters between Europe and Islam, from alAndalus to the Crusades, from the Ottoman incursion into Central Europe to the „European” (essentially British and French) colonisation of the Islamic regions of Africa and the Middle East, from anti-colonial emancipations to the post-colonial protraction of a „Western” colonialist strategy, particularly conspicuous in Palestine and the Persian Gulf. It is, therefore, this complex and global picture that defines the background for my research project. Since it is impossible to embrace, in a solitary effort, all the dimensions of the Islamic issue, I will focus on a perspective that today occupies more and more the political agenda, but also the agenda of scientific research – in one of those „coincidences” where science meets state power interests. That perspective has been known under the designation of „governance of Islam” (Maussen 2007), na expression that covers the strategies of relation between core powers of European countries and ethnic communities in which Islam performs a crucial role for identity cohesion. The concept „governance” suggests that „ruling” a specific group or community is a complex set of regulations and social practices among which the state apparatus is only a piece, yet decisive as the main source of legitimation (Treib et al. 2005). By drawing into the picture both „rulers” and „ruled”, the holders of law-enforcement and the recipients of regulative procedures, „governance” is inextricably linked to the notion of power relations between dominant and subaltern actors. On the other hand, power relations may be better understood if we bring to the surface their deep structure, composed of identity competitions around the preservation, protection or expansion of one”s „self”. Being so vital, identity competitions are inherently conflictive and its tensions are not supposed to be erased, even when mechanisms of negotiation intervene. Considering the legacies of colonialism in the modern and post-modern world, we can give the concept of „governance of Islam” a double meaning. It applies both to current public policies, which are „monitoring” those immigrant communities that present a strong ethno-religious identity, and to policies through which coloniser countries used to deal with colonised Muslim populations. Such double meaning of the word „governance” raises the need of questioning the relations of convergence and contrast between these two policies. Hence, it forces us to think on the continuities and discontinuities between both of them, the way the past has built the present and remains ingrained in it. Such concern runs throughout the guidelines of my research project. This project lies on the following assumption: the analysis of the ongoing processes that lead to spotlighting the Muslim communities in some European countries as „problematic”, and, therefore, a suitable target for special „governance”, will be much improved if it is conceived under a historical or diachronic perspective. In other words, such analysis should integrate the knowledge of past narratives and, in particular, the memories of those pasts that insist on being present – thus moulding our current representations. In this sense, the history of colonialisms and their effects is especially in order. Therefore, I would like to locate my research within it. The governance of Islam will not be examined, however, through the more conventional angle, which I also believe to be the least enlightening, that such theme usually summons: na analysis of juridical-institutional and administrative procedures, which leaves the underlying structural processes untouched, namely those that result from identity representations, constructions and strategies. On the contrary, such procedures, as well as the textual productions they gave birth to, will be read as nothing more than symptoms or traits of those inner processes. Beyond considerations of time-frame, one needs also to deal with the space-frame in which colonial and post-colonial experiences took place. In fact, both frames are interconnected. When dealing with identity phenomena, one has to move toward a multidimensional approach to identity strategies and identity building, a point of view which is able to catch the social construction of identities in its different scales, local, regional and transnational, understanding it as the articulation of periphery, semi-periphery and core processes in the world-system (Wallerstein 1979). Besides this multi-spatial approach, there is also the need to take into account the multi-layered temporalities that cross the cultural and social building of identities, believing that only in this way will we begin to accept and perceive the inner complexity of identity communities (Hall 1996). This kind of approach, applied to the study of colonial and post-colonial contexts, brings with it a demanding comparative methodology, as, for instance, the governance of a particular community in a particular colonial framework must be explained in its different levels of inscription, all of them inter-related: one has to understand how the global scale of the world-system interacts with the local regional scale, and how this one impacts upon the larger one, but also upon the middle level in which the nation-state stands. A stratified geopolitical view is required so that we may detect the several modalities by which individual subjects and groups deal with issues of identity empowerment, humiliation, smashing, or hegemony. In fact, the study of the kind of governance Portuguese authorities were forcing upon Muslim communities during the colonial rule perfectly illustrates what I have just stated. One cannot properly understand this rule without taking into account the position Portugal occupied in the hierarchy of the world-system. Being this position one of a semiperipheral country trapped into a double condition of „modernity” and „backwardness” (Santos 2002), Portuguese identities could not but reflect that intermediate condition, always swaying between megalomaniac self-images of imperial designs, and shameful, depressing or self-debased representations, the former compensating the last in a symbolic and rhetoric strategy. One of the purposes of my research project is precisely to uncover the effect that identity predicaments due to Portuguese semiperipheral place had on colonial policies addressed to Muslim communities in Guinea and Mozambique, considering the fact that colonialist authorities, ideologists or missionaries had always recognised the strength of the Islamic influence and the prospect of its superiority, which threatened to overturn the Catholic (Portuguese) ascendancy over the African populations (Macagno 2006: 89-91; Machaqueiro, forthcoming b).

Researchers from CRIA

IDNamePositionProjTitleProject typeStatus
pub133*Mário MachaqueiroResearcherproj195*The elusive governance: power relations and identity strategies around Islam in colonial, anticolonial and post-colonial practicesResearcher contractConcluded
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