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Conference Papers Year : 2007

The Ottoman Municipal Reforms between Old Regime and Modernity: Towards a New Interpretative Paradigm

Nora Lafi
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The object of the present paper is to try and insert into discussions about the rich bibliography on the Ottoman municipal institutions some nuances, pertaining both to recent reflections on the circulation of reform models and to new researches on the historical roots of the ottoman urban old regime. The aim is then to reconsider the interpretation of the Ottoman urban reforms of the second half of Nineteenth century in this new interpretative scheme, which takes into account with a different perspective both the heritage of previous forms of urban governance and the meaning of the circulation of reformative models. The intent is also, once the general frame has been submitted to an effort of complexity, to confront some other arguments on modernity in an Ottoman context. If modernisation came in a different way that it has often been assessed, what does it mean for the content of the concept of modernity? This is why I will also try in this paper to discuss the limits of the Ottoman urban modernity and their causes.
The present research relies on various case studies, taken in the Arab Provinces of the Ottoman Empire, from the Maghreb to the Middle-East, but does in no way pretend to cover the whole geographical field. The intent is rather to use case studies often taken on the margins of the Empire to discuss some commonly accepted assertions about the functioning of the Empire as a whole and about its relationship to administrative modernity. The aim is to try and go further the “importation” paradigm which often sums up the process of modernisation of the Ottoman bureaucratic apparel. The stake is, from a study of the evolution of the forms of urban government, to discuss and challenge the excessive importance of a vision of an only imported modernity into what is often implicitly or explicitly considered as the empty space of pre-reform urban government. Through a study of what I call the urban Ottoman old regime (the use of this term being based upon a comparative method with Western European historiographies –not the importation of a content, but the use of a concept), my intent is to try and propose some revisions into the interpretation of the reforms themselves. The purpose is also to discuss the thesis presenting municipalities as essentially extraneous to the urban Ottoman situation before the reforms. There were in my opinion forms of urban government shaping a system of old regime urban government, based upon the prerogatives of the merchants and their assemblies, sometimes some forms of urban nobility, and the administrative role of guilds in the urban order. These forms served as a base for reforms which cannot thus be read as extraneous anymore to the previously existing urban society and have to be interpreted differently. But this assertion is not intended to close debates. Instead, I conceive it as a methodological proposal, and as a way to bring new elements into debates about the relationship between Ottoman societies and modernity. It is also a way to shift discussion towards other fields. If modernity came as a reform of an old regime (and not as a mere creation), many questions do remain about the factors that sometimes blocked its implementation: communal caesurae, colonial influence, nationalisms.
Une étude sur l'interprétation des réformes urbaines ottomanes de la fin du XIXe siècle
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halshs-00146210 , version 1 (14-05-2007)


  • HAL Id : halshs-00146210 , version 1


Nora Lafi. The Ottoman Municipal Reforms between Old Regime and Modernity: Towards a New Interpretative Paradigm. First Eminönü International Symposium, 2007, Istanbul, Turkey. p.448-455. ⟨halshs-00146210⟩


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