Philanthropy and Development in the Middle East. Actors, Practices and Expertise (20–21st centuries)

Philanthropy and Development in the Middle East. Actors, Practices and Expertise (20–21st centuries)

Malak Labib, Annalaura Turiano
Takes place
From - Until
01.12.2023 -
Connections Redaktion, Leipzig Research Centre Global Dynamics, Universität Leipzig

This special issue centres on philanthropy and its connections with development policies and practices in the Middle East in the 20th and 21st centuries. Moving beyond a state-centred history of development, the aim is twofold. First, to collaboratively investigate the contributions of local and international actors to development knowledge and practices. Second, to delve into the relationship between philanthropy and public development policies during the specified timeframe.

Philanthropy and Development in the Middle East. Actors, Practices and Expertise (20–21st centuries)

This special issue centres on philanthropy and its connections with development policies and practices in the Middle East in the 20th and 21st centuries. Moving beyond a state-centred history of development, the aim is twofold. First, to collaboratively investigate the contributions of local and international actors to development knowledge and practices. Second, to delve into the relationship between philanthropy and public development policies during the specified timeframe.

The term "philanthropy" serves as a unifying concept, encompassing a diverse spectrum of private agents (both local and international, confessional and non-confessional) as well as structures (associations, foundations, trusts) claiming to act in the general interest. Philanthropy can be distinguished from other models of charity, such as the more traditional Christian or Muslim charity, insofar as it has been historically linked to the emergence of a social reform paradigm (al-iṣlāḥ al-ijtimā‘ī in Arabic) at the end of the 19th century. Its specificity lies in its adoption of various tools and objectives of social intervention inspired by ideas of progress and prevention (Fallas, 2023; Singer, 2014; Ibrahim and Sherif, 2008).

This issue invites us to reflect on the interweaving and permeability of public and private action in the Middle East. In doing so, it moves beyond an analysis of philanthropy as a stage preceding the rise of the welfare and developmentalist state. It also challenges the narrative that views the multiplication of private foundations as an effect of state retrenchment since the 1970s. The issue focuses on the Arab-Muslim territories that remained – to varying degrees – under Ottoman tutelage until the first decades of the 20th century. These territories gradually gained autonomy from the Ottoman imperial framework, while remaining subject to various forms of colonial control (from British-controlled and then semi-independent Egypt to the League of Nations mandates in the Levant). The colonial legacy as well as several other factors – including religious diversity, the diversity of political regimes, and the different temporalities of state-building – make the region a pertinent case study for unravelling the interplay between private philanthropy and public development policies. The aim is both to examine specific national configurations and to uncover shared dynamics – as well as the circulation of expertise – on a regional scale.

Adopting a long-term perspective allows a reconsideration of certain chronological frameworks regarding the history of philanthropy and development. Without ignoring the modernization strategies adopted in the framework of the Ottoman empire (Özbek, 2005), and the forms of intervention which defined the 19th century "civilizing mission" (Matasci and Desgrandchamps, 2020), we take as our starting point the interwar period. This enables us to analyse jointly the "germination of development ideas" (Schayegh, 2015) and the emergence of a "scientific philanthropy" aimed at identifying the causes of social problems in order to develop large-scale solutions (David and Tournès, 2014).

The reconfiguration of aid and expertise networks during the era of decolonization and the "global Cold War" represents another key moment. The region became an arena where cooperation and development aid projects – led by international players, in collaboration with local elites – proliferated. These collaborations merit further study in order to question the vision of the developmental state as a homogeneous entity. Finally, adopting a long-term approach enables us to reexamine the transformations engendered by the neo-liberal turn, in terms of the interplay between private initiatives and public policies.

This issue aims to bridge two bodies of literature: studies on philanthropy and benevolent practices, on the one hand, and the literature on what different actors have historically brought together under the term "development", on the other. Philanthropy, its forms and uses have attracted renewed interest in recent years (Duvoux, 2017; Depecker, Deplaude and Larchet, 2018; Topalov et al., 2019). The literature has examined philanthropy in terms of its networks and interactions with public action and has shed new light on the construction of the welfare state and the reconfiguration of public action at the turn of the 21st century (Duvoux 2017; Lambelet 2014; Zunz 2012). With regard to the Middle East, a long-term analysis of state-society relations through the lens of philanthropy remains to be done, despite renewed interest in the history of charity and philanthropy (Ener, 2003; Singer, 2014; Pollard, 2014; Özbek, 2005; Öztürk, 2021; Fallas, 2023).

The field of development history has equally undergone significant renewal over the past three decades. While a number of authors have analysed development as a knowledge-power construct, produced by Cold War Western elites, and targeting the “Third World” as an object of intervention (Escobar, 1995; Rist, 1997), the approach adopted here is more empirical (Cooper, 2010; Hodge, 2016). It draws on recent historical studies that have paid attention to the diversity of actors involved in development projects. Such an approach has been accompanied by a broadening of the chronological framework, enabling an examination of the colonial origins of development practices and discourses, and in particular the proliferation of development programmes in the British and French empires in the post-World War II years. It should be noted that this literature has mainly focused on South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, while the Middle East has remained understudied, despite notable exceptions (Bono and Hibou, 2017; Citino, 2017; Jackson, 2013; Norris, 2013; Seikaly, 2015; Tignor, 1998; Trentin, 2010).

This interdisciplinary issue invites a dialogue between different approaches, methods and conceptual frameworks. It seeks to juxtapose historical studies and analyses of philanthropy from political scientists and sociologists, by mobilizing a wide variety of sources: state archives, archives of associations, foundations, missionary archives, periodicals, and oral sources.

We focus on several key questions: What role do local and international philanthropic actors play in the field of development, and what relationships do they forge? What forms of knowledge, expertise and power emerge from these interactions? How did philanthropic action intersect with the emergence of the developmentalist state, in its various forms, across the region? Finally, if the concepts and practices associated with the developmental state have been subject to increasing critique since the 1970s, what chronology can we attribute to the emergence of a new development regime? And what forms does it take?

To address these questions, we invite papers focusing on the following themes:

Theme 1: Actors, Networks and Power

We aim to examine the links between philanthropy and development policies by analysing the actors, structures and networks forged at the crossroads of the state and private organizations. The objective is also to illuminate the power dynamics underpinning interactions among actors and, more broadly, the links between philanthropy and domination (Monier, 2018; Depecker, Deplaude and Larchet, 2018).

Regarding the interwar era, characterized by the "germination" of development ideas and practices (Schayegh, 2015), we seek to extend our gaze beyond colonial elites, by investigating additional actors and networks instrumental in shaping these practices and discourses (international experts, local political and economic elites, missionaries, and international philanthropic foundations). The post-independence period coincides with the rise of the developmental state model. The Cold War context is pivotal for understanding the repositioning of major American and international philanthropic organizations, which sought to promote economic development in the Third World as a strategy to counter Soviet influence.

We seek to examine these evolutions as well as to explore the role of local philanthropic actors and their connections with international organizations and public authorities during the era of state developmentalism. Additionally, we aim to shed light on the evolving role of philanthropic institutions in the neoliberal context marked by state “privatization” and “discharge” (Hibou, 1999). If the latter involves the delegation of state developmental policies to philanthropic organizations, how does this process provide insight into the reshaping of public action and the reconfiguration of authoritarian regimes in the region?

Theme 2: Tools of Knowledge and Action

Examining the relationship between philanthropy and development policy also requires us to examine issues of categorization as well as the production and circulation of knowledge among political elites, government actors and philanthropic organizations. The focus is on the tools of knowledge and action mobilized by various players.

How did actors conceptualize their actions through various discursive frameworks? How did the emergence of "scientific philanthropy" during the interwar period interact with the rise of development expertise (Bourmaud, 2020; Schayegh, 2018)? What ruptures and continuities can be identified in relation to Ottoman philanthropy? How did philanthropic and international players rethink their intellectual and conceptual frameworks in the era of decolonization? In what ways was the notion of “common good” reworked to reflect the priorities defined by state development policies?

Finally, this section looks at the links between capitalism, philanthropy and development. To what extent have shifts in capitalism influenced the organizational structures and status of philanthropic entities and their relationship with the state? Considering the act of giving as a social investment, the phenomenon of philanthrocapitalism “claims to increase the efficiency of philanthropy by applying market logics, derived from the corporate world, to the charitable sphere" (McGoey, Thiel and West, 2018). To what extent has this capitalist ethic of giving been accompanied by the emergence of new knowledge and practices of development in the Middle East?

Theme 3: Practices and Fields of Intervention

This final theme looks at the links between philanthropy and development in terms of practices, fields and sectors of intervention. In which fields – industrial and rural development, education, food poverty alleviation, environmental concerns, etc. – is it possible to observe these links? And what forms of collaboration and competition have developed between the various players? What relational and material networks are involved in creating philanthropic actions?

Additionally, we seek to reflect on the ways in which these connections have evolved, by examining specific practices and fields of action. How can an analysis of poverty alleviation or literacy promotion initiatives illuminate the changing relations and the power dynamics among public and philanthropic actors over time? What does the “blurring of the boundaries between the public and private spheres” (Ruiz De Elvira, 2019) reveal about the reconfiguration of public action in recent decades? How have these dynamics contributed to shifts in governmentality?

Submission Timeline

Authors are invited to submit article proposals (maximum 4,000 characters) along with a brief biographical note by December 01, 2023. Please send your submissions to Malak Labib at and Annalaura Turiano at Authors can expect to receive responses by the end of the following month.

Final articles, written in English or in French, should not exceed 45,000 characters and must be submitted by May 1, 2024. Detailed information regarding formatting guidelines and the editorial process can be found at

The issue is expected to be published in the autumn of 2025.

Contact (announcement)

Malak Labib, IFAO

Annalaura Turiano, Gustave Eiffel University
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