The Berber identity movement in North Africa was pioneered by the Kabyles of Algeria. But a preoccupation with identity and language has obscured the fact that Kabyle dissidence has been rooted in democratic aspirations inspired by the political traditions of Kabylia itself, a Berber-speaking region in the north of Algeria. The political organisation of pre-colonial Kabylia, from which these traditions originate, was well-described by nineteenth-century French ethnographers. But their inability to explain it led to a trend amongst later theorists of Berber society, such as Ernest Gellner and Pierre Bourdieu, to dismiss Kabylia's political institutions, notably the jema'a (assembly or council), and to reduce Berber politics to a function of social structure and shared religion. In Berber Government, Hugh Roberts, a renowned expert on North Africa, uncovers and explores the remarkable logics of Kabyle political organisation. Combining political anthropology and political and social history in an interdisciplinary analysis, Roberts challenges the excessive emphasis on kinship and religion in the study of the Maghreb.
He instead explores the political structures and processes of the Kabyles, examining the organisation of the Kabyle polity and its intricate frameworks of law, political representation and self-government. Additionally, in a pioneering account of Kabylia's relations with the Ottoman Regency, he provides the first in-depth historical explanation of the genesis of the Kabyle polity as this existed at the moment of the French conquest of the region in 1857. In thus grounding the explanation of Kabyle political organisation in a resolutely historical analysis spanning the Ottoman era, Berber Government offers a radical alternative to previous paradigms and lays the foundation of new way of understanding the complex place and role of the Kabyles in Algerian political life from the pre-colonial era to the present day.
Hugh Roberts is the Edward Keller Professor of North African and Middle Eastern History at Tufts University. He previously held the position of Director of the International Crisis Group's North Africa Project and is the author of The Battlefield: Algeria 1988-2002.
Chapter 1: Introduction: Considering Kabylia Chapter 2: Perspectives on Berber politics Chapter 3: The Kabyle Economy: Leqbaiel and Igawawen Chapter 4: Pre-Colonial Kabylia: Forms of Settlement Chapter 5: Kabyle Law Chapter 6: The Kabyle Polity Chapter 7: Pre-Colonial Kabylia and the Regency: Religion and Political Development, 1510-1624 Chapter 8: The Rise and Fall of the Lords of Koukou Chapter 9: The Reconstitution of Greater Kabylia after 1630