Talk: Twilights and the Weathering of State Dreams: A Social History of the ‘Director General’ in Lebanon (1960-2020)

On Monday May 22, 2023, the Beirut Urban Lab (BUL) held a talk titled “Twilights and the Weathering of State Dreams: A Social History of the ‘Director General’ in Lebanon (1960-2020)” with Pierre France, Senior Researcher at the Orient-Institut Beirut. This discussion was moderated by Mona Fawaz, Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at the American University of Beirut and Research Lead at BUL, and featured discussants Myriam Catusse, Regional Director of the Institut Français du Proche-Orient (IFPO) and Wissam El-Lahham, Political Scientist and Lecturer at Saint Joseph University of Beirut. 

About the Talk

The Lebanese public sector—or rather the diverse and more or less autonomous administrations referred to as the state, bureaucracy or public sector—is rarely approached from a socio-historical or anthropological point of view. Most of the time, the literature adopts a functional and structural point of view, searching for indicators of corruption instead of conceptualizing it through local variations, historicity, everyday practices and, most of all, individuals. In this presentation, Pierre France will focus on one actor among them, the apparent primus inter pares: the Director General. As shown by the coverage of the recent departure of some historical Directors Generals and the tributes paid to these unlikely “exemplary civil servants,” these individuals have retained power against all odds (at least until recently). In this communication, France will trace the history of these ever-present keepers of the state, and, perhaps even more so, of the possibility of a future state. How has such discourse on exemplary/neutral individuals in a flawed/sectarian system emerged and evolved? What are the underlying sociological and historical dimensions of that system, such as the evolution of their sociological profiles and careers from 1950 to 2020 and their bureaucratic practices?

Watch the full video of the talk here.