Are the People Backward? Algerian Symbolic Analysts and the Culture of the Masses

  • Thomas Serres UMR Développement et Sociétés
  • Tristan Leperlier Centre Européen de Sociologie et de Science Politique
Keywords: Algeria, Culture, Crisis, Postcolonialism, Symbolic Analysts


This article studies representations of the Algerian population promoted by francophone intellectuals in a context of longstanding crisis and uncertainty. Borrowing the category of symbolic analysts from Robert Reich, it looks at the way in which novelists, scholars and journalists try to make sense of a critical situation by diagnosing the culture of the Algerian population as deviant or backward. Aiming to encourage social and political reform, these actors try to understand the characteristics of their "people", often by pointing to their so-called pre-modern or passive behaviors. This article analyzes two aspects of this activity: first, attempts to determine who is responsible for the ongoing crisis, and second, the reproduction of cultural prejudices in a context of increased transnationalization. Moreover, it argues that one can interpret the political and intellectual commitments of these analysts by drawing on the triad concept of "Naming, Blaming, Claiming", which as been used to study the publicization of disputes.

Author Biographies

Thomas Serres, UMR Développement et Sociétés

has a PhD in political science from the EHESS. He is currently an associated researcher with Développement & Sociétés in Paris and an Adjunct professor at UC Santa Cruz.  His research focuses on the politics of crisis and transnationalization in Algeria.


Tristan Leperlier, Centre Européen de Sociologie et de Science Politique

obtained a PhD from the EHESS in sociology and literature. He is associated with the Centre Européen de Sociologie et de Science Politique and his research focuses on Algerian writers and intellectuals, especially during the civil war.