Digital Theses Archive


Tesi etd-09302018-221059

Type of thesis
E-mail address
An interdisciplinary "bottom up" study of EU gender policies in Tunisia: towards an agency-based approach.
Scientific disciplinary sector
SCIENZE POLITICHE - Politics, Human Rights and Sustainability
relatore Prof.ssa LORETONI, ANNA
Membro Prof.ssa LUCARELLI, SONIA
Presidente Prof.ssa HENRY, BARBARA
Membro Prof.ssa BENDANA, KMAR
  • Arab Spring
  • ENP
  • EU international Actorness
  • Euro-centrism Grounded Theory Methodology
  • Tunisia
  • Women's Agency
Exam session start date
My research investigates the approach adopted by the EU in supporting women’s rights and empowerment in Tunisia in the periods before and after the 2011 uprising. In particular, it aims at understanding if the EU has incorporated the active role of Tunisian women’s agency in its gender policies towards the country. <br>Accordingly, the policy frameworks that I take into account are the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership – also known as the Barcelona Process (1995), the Union for the Mediterranean (2008), and especially the European Neighbourhood Policy – ENP (2004), where Tunisia has always been considered the “bon élève” among the Southern neighbourhoods. The gender dimension of these policy frameworks is investigated through a ‘bottom-up’ approach. The research builds in fact on the assumption that “most scholarship and policy discourse about European Foreign Policy (EFP) remains too self-absorbed, looking at Europe through European eyes in a well-shaped European mirror” (Mayer 2008: 8). A large number of studies and research on EFP adopt an ‘inward oriented’ and an ‘inside-out’ look, while neglecting the ‘outside-in’ perspective (Keuleers et al. 2016). The latter consists in analysing a foreign policy from the standpoint of the recipient country or region.<br>Moving from this assumption, the research chooses to adopt a ‘bottom-up’ and ‘outside-in’ perspective. Accordingly, it investigates the EU approach to supporting women’s rights and empowerment in Tunisia starting from this country, where an extensive field research (made up of in depth semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and documentary analysis) has been carried out between November 2016 and November 2017, before embarking in the fieldwork in Brussels (December 2017).<br><br>Methodologically speaking, the work relies on the Grounded Theory (GT) methodology, which overturns the way the role of theory and concepts is usually considered in social research, by introducing the idea that theory should be a result rather than an antecedent of empirical work (Strauss and Glaser 1967). Following this methodology, the work critically discusses the background knowledge and the literature review in the light of the main findings coming from the fieldwork.<br>At theoretical level, the work is included into two main fields of study. On the one hand, it fits within the studies on the European Union Foreign Policy (EUFP), that can be divided into norm-based approaches (Manners 2002; Nicolaïdis and Withman 2013; Birchfield 2013), and approaches that are critical to the “Normative Power Europe” concept (Hyde-Price 2006; Seeberg 2009; Youngs 2004; Martin 2011; Diez and Risse 2010; Bicchi 2006; Cebeci 2012). On the other hand, it builds on the reflections developed within the branches of ‘development studies’ (Malhotra and Schuler 2005, Oxaal &amp; Badel 1997, Alsop et al. 2006; Ibrahim and Alkire 2007). In particular, it combines the reflection of Amartya Sen (1992) with those proposed by post-colonial feminist scholars (b. hooks 1984; Mohanty 1986; Spivak 1999) on the concepts of agency and empowerment. The main theoretical challenge of the research is to put into dialogue these two fields of studies, in order to understand if the EU has incorporated the active role of Tunisian women’s agency in its gender policies towards the country. <br>The research is located into (international) political theory, but works in an interdisciplinary way, by borrowing insights from anthropology (in particular the branch of ethnography), political philosophy, sociology, and political science.<br>With regard to the structure of the thesis, this dissertation mirrors the steps of the GT methodology. In this sense, it is rather unconventional: first, it details the analysis of the empirical data, and subsequently it provides a theoretical interpretation of the evidences gathered. More precisely, the dissertation proceeds as follows:<br>The first chapter introduces the context and the main elements of the research. It starts from a historical overview of Tunisian women activism, by underlying their variety, as well as their common battles, achievements, and challenges (first part). Then, it follows with an excursus on Euro-Mediterranean relations, starting from the Barcelona Process in 1995 and focusing on the ENP (2004) and its revisions, by dealing in particular with EU-Tunisian relations (second part). Finally, it deals with the issue of gender within EU policies in the Mediterranean, and specifically in Tunisia (third part). <br>The second chapter deals with methodological considerations. The first part addresses the questions raised by the fieldwork experience: disciplinarity (and the boundaries between the different disciplines underlying this work); positionality and role of the researcher; as well as methods and methodology (to dealing with the diverse material collected). The second part explains how these questions have led to the choice of a particular methodology, namely the GT, which is detailed. <br>The third chapter regards the data collection and analysis. In the first part, the processes of collecting and analysing data (following the GT methodology) are explained. In the second part, the results of the data analysis are divided and extensively described into four macro-areas, namely: ‘Critical issues related to the EU approach before 2011’; ‘Critical issues related to the EU approach after 2011’; ‘Improvements within the EU approach following 2011’; ‘Potential improvements to be realised within the EU approach’. In the last part, the results are ‘moved’ to a higher level of abstraction, by constructing the conceptual categories of ‘EU international actorness’; ‘Euro-centrism’; ‘Agency’; ‘Empowerment’. <br>The fourth and the fifth chapters linger on these categories, by critically discussing the background knowledge and the literature review. The fourth chapter deals with the first two categories. The first part presents the debate around the so-called ‘EU international actorness’, by discussing the concepts of ‘civilian’, ‘military’, ‘realist’ and ‘normative’ power emerged within European Foreign Policy (EFP) studies. The second part moves from the ‘euro-centrism’ that has characterised this debate. Firstly, it shows how both literature and research in this field has paid very little attention to “non-Europeans’ perceptions, interests and world-views” (Lucarelli 2014: 2). Secondly, it discusses how EU policies in the neighbourhood have remained largely euro-centric in two main respects: on the one side, the interests and security-based approach; on the other, the human rights (HR) and democracy support model (Huber and Paciello 2017). The discussion focuses on the latter, with particular reference to the period after the 2011 uprising, on which the majority of empirical material has been collected. In this perspective, the analysis of the actors, the substance, and the instruments characterizing the ENP frame for supporting women’s rights and empowerment in Tunisia confirms the presence of a largely ‘top-down’, technocratic, and euro-centric approach. <br>The fifth chapter addresses the categories of ‘Agency’ and ‘Empowerment’, by discussing how this largely ‘top-down’, technocratic, and euro-centric approach has consequences in terms of empowerment of Tunisian women’s agency. The first part describes the concepts of ‘Agency’ and ‘Empowerment’, by focusing on the debate on their interconnections and differences. To this aim, it engages with the literature provided by the so-called ‘development studies’, which has shown how agency emerges in opposition to ‘top-down’ approach to development (Malholtra and Schuler 2005). The second part draws on the distinction developed by Amartya Sen (1999) between Realised Agency Success (RAS) and Instrumental Agency Success (IAS), to elaborate how only the second one – which is reflected in a ‘bottom-up’ approach to development – could really improve women’s condition in a ‘durable way’. The chapter takes therefore the EU as a (international) ‘social arrangement’ (part of the so-called ‘opportunity structure’), and investigates how much does it promote IAS in its gender policies towards Tunisia. It shows that such policies neglect the process aspect of agency, thereby failing in empowering Tunisian women as “agents of change, rather than passive recipients of dispensed benefits” (Sen 1999: 12). In this way, the chapter puts together the four theoretical categories derived from the analysis of the empirical material, by stressing their multiple interconnections and leaving the discussion on them to the general conclusions of the thesis. <br>