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Lecture | Contemporary History and International Relations Research Seminar (CHIRRS)

Lineages of the Islamic State: An international historical sociology of State (de‐)formation in Iraq

Wednesday 10 October 2018
Contemporary History and International Relations Research Seminar (CHIRRS) year 2018 - 2019
Van Wijkplaats
Van Wijkplaats 2
2311 BX Leiden


Existing accounts of the Islamic State (IS) tend to rely on orientalist and technicist assumptions and hence insufficiently sensitive to the historical, sociological, and international conditions of the possibility of IS. The present article provides an alternative account through a conjunctural analysis that is anchored in an international historical sociology of modern Iraq informed by Leon Trotsky's idea of ‘uneven and combined development’. It foregrounds the concatenation of Iraq's contradictory (post‐)colonial nation‐state formation with the neoliberal conjuncture of 1990‐2014. It shows that the former process involved the tension‐prone fusion of governing institutions of the modern state and the intermittent but steady reproduction, valorization, and politicization of supra‐national (religious‐sectarian) and sub‐national (ethno‐tribal) collective identities, which subverted the emergence of an Iraqi nation. The international sanctions regime of the 1990s transformed sectarian and tribal difference into communitarian tension by fatally undermining the integrative efficacy of the Ba’ath party's authoritarian welfare-state. Concurrently, the neo‐liberal demolition of the post‐colonial authoritarian welfare states in the region gave rise to the Arab Spring revolutions. The Arab Spring however elicited a successful authoritarian counter‐revolution that eliminated secular‐nationalist forms of oppositional politics. This illiberal neoliberalisation of the region's political economy valorised the religionisation of the domestic effects of the 2003 US‐led destruction of the Iraqi state and its reconstruction on a majoritarian basis favouring the Shi’as and hence transforming sectarian tension into sectarian conflict culminating in IS. Thus, IS is, the paper demonstrates, the result of neither an internal cultural pathology nor sheerly external forces. Rather, it is the novel product of an utterly historical congealment of the intrinsically interactive and multilinear dynamics of socio-political change.


Kamran Matin is associate professor of International Relations at Sussex University, UK, where he teaches international theory and history, and Middle Eastern Politics. Matin’s research interests include Marxist historical sociology, international theory, nationalism, and Middle Eastern history. He is the author of Recasting Iranian Modernity: International Relations and Social Change (Routledge, 2013) and co-editor of Historical Sociology and World History: Uneven and Combined Development over the Longue Durée (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), and several articles on Iranian history, political Islam, and postcolonial theory. He is member of the management committee of Centre for Advanced International Theory (CAIT) at Sussex University, and steering committee of Middle East and North Africa Centre at Sussex (MENACS), and the chief editor of Palgrave’s Minorities in West Asia and North Africa.


CHIRRS (Contemporary History and International Relations Research Seminar) brings together historians, area specialists and international relations specialists to address 20th century topics from Brexit to the Muslim world and from French decolonization to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

If you would like to attend the seminars or to be added to our mailinglist please send an email to chirrs@hum.leidenuniv.nl.

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