Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Karen Strassler

Committee Members

Mandana Limbert

Miriam Ticktin

Hèla Yousfi

Subject Categories

Social and Cultural Anthropology


Feminism, Gender, Law, Citizenship, Affect, Violence, Justice


Taking a historical and ethnographic approach, this dissertation examines citizenship as a historical, political, and ethical problem in Tunisia during a turbulent yet hopeful time of transition. It examines changes in the conceptualization of citizenship from one that is construed as a favor to one that is rights-based, and the political, ethical, and material effects of that shift in both official and popular discourses. I home in on the central and sometimes uneasy role feminists play in articulating and consolidating that discursive, legal, and affective transformation in citizenship by mediating between different legal and moral frameworks and attempting to reconcile competing demands for state reform through the curbing of its power and arbitrariness on the one hand and for accountability that required more state intervention on the other. Overall, this dissertation examines how citizenship and gender justice in Tunisia were being reconfigured and the central role feminists, the law, and affect played in such a process.

I ask, Which forms of suffering and violence are recognized and made legible under the new conditions of the post-revolution moment wherein citizenship was shifting toward global human rights? How did feminists mediate between multiple moral and legal frameworks, discourses, and institutions as they sought to standardize the law and rid it of arbitrariness and sentiments on the one hand, and a messy reality that required the mobilization of specific kinds of affective dispositions on the other hand? Can the human rights framework in its focus on the victim’s individual suffering address the legacy of the dictatorship that produced gendered, economic inequalities? How might calls for accountability for crimes unwittingly end up reproducing a strong interventionist state and reinforce its carceral logics when the law has been for so long a tool for systemic violence under the dictatorship?

To address these questions I follow a group of feminists who are part of the Coalition to End Violence Against Women (CEVAW) who paradoxically call on the state and invoke law, including its punitive tendency, to fight against neoliberal, structural, spatial, and patriarchal gender violence when these institutions themselves are inherently masculinist. I home in on what I call “sites of citizenship”—protests, NGO meetings, shelters for battered women, legal training workshops, social media, and the courts-- in which discussions and debates over citizenship and the law and negotiations between feminists and the state took place. I make two interrelated arguments about the reconfiguration of citizenship and gender justice in light of the dialectic of law and violence. First, I argue that the remaking of citizenship under the transition to democracy entailed not only the reform of laws, policies, and institutions, but also the reshaping of affective dispositions, moral orientations, and political subjectivities. Second, I argue that in their role as mediators deploying a law-centered approach to gender justice, CEVAW feminists were unwittingly reproducing and reinforcing the carceral logics of the state as they sought to respond to wide-spread revolutionary demands for accountability and an end to impunity that strengthened state power.

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