Andrew Delatolla is a final year doctoral candidate in the department of International Relations at the LSE. He holds an MA in Intelligence and International Security from King’s College London, a BA in Political Science from Concordia University in Montreal, and a BFa in Drawing and Painting from OCAD University in Toronto. His research interests include sociological perspectives of state formation, state building, and development with a focus on 19th and early 20th century Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria.

What is your PhD about?

My PhD investigates the state in the Middle East as a product of a Western standard of civilization, subject to an understanding of the modern state constructed from Western histories of state formation. I argue that the scholarship on the modern state and modern state formation do not properly examine the sociological histories of the non-Western world, thus raising issues regarding practices of statehood and the way the state is defined. For example, the state is often measured through typologies that consider the state as strong, weak, failing or failed. Such typologies reflect a conception of statehood that has been constructed from Western experiences of state formation, establishing a global standard. However, this standard does not take into account colonial oppression, pacification, and the impact of knowledge and practice production as meaningful experiences that impact conceptions and practices of the statehood in the former colonies and global peripheries. This project examines the process of state formation in the non-West, particularly in the Middle East, and the local perceptions of statehood by considering the impact of imperial modernisation and colonialism on institutions, social order, and knowledge production. In doing so, it focuses on the socio-political developments in the Syrian provinces of the Ottoman Empire throughout the nineteenth century, followed by an analysis of the French Mandate of Lebanon and Syria (created in 1920 and ratified in 1923) until independence (Lebanon in 1943 and Syria in 1944).

How did you end up writing about this topic?

I wound up writing about the state in the Middle East because of intersecting interests in domestic politics, history, culture, and international relations – and a fascination with the region due to deep – and sometimes problematic – personal reasons. As a student of political science and international relations, I have always found it frustrating that the post-colonial state is subject to the same framework and points of inquiry as states in the West. I think to a certain degree, there is no escaping the language we use, because language and knowledge is limited, but we can begin to point out the flaws with the tools we currently use in hopes to create better ones.

Why is your research important?

I would like to think that this has important theoretical and policy implications. First, it challenges certain ideas of statehood by considering the populations’ perceptions of the state as it was being built; second, it considers the state as a form of continued pacification developed through imperial modernization and colonialism, which is replicated in knowledges and practices of development and state building; and third, I would like to think that some of my conclusions could open up new avenues to think about the emergence and role of non-state actors in the Middle East, the international state system and the role of post-colonial states, and domestic politics in the Middle East.

How are you investigating this?

I have primarily relied on archival documents, dispatches from foreign consuls and ambassadors, documents (letters, protests, newspaper articles) written by Middle Eastern social and political leaders, and travel and diplomatic diaries, but also literature from this period, this is triangulated with secondary source histories.

You’re on the verge of finishing your thesis. What has been the most fun part of writing a PhD?

In hindsight, the most fun I have had working on the PhD is now. Tying up the loose ends and seeing the project (slowly) come together has been the most exciting part. But, this period has also been the hardest and most frustrating.