SOAS University of London

Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS)

Nathanael Mannone

  • Overview


Nathaneal Mannone
Mr Nathanael Mannone
Email address:
Thesis title:
Between Dissent and Co-optation: An Exploration of film, music, and quotidian humour in revolutionary Tunisia
Internal Supervisors


After my BA in International Studies at Towson University (2009), I completed my MA in Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo while enjoying the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship (2012). My research focused on the intersection of music, activism, and the international news media during the January 14 Revolution in Tunisia. After graduating, I traveled back to Tunisia on a research grant and spent the summer investigating political humour. I came to SOAS in order to build upon my expertise in various fields of Tunisian cultural production, patterns of cultural consumption, as well as the state’s role in, and reactions to, changes within cultural markets.

PhD Research

Analyzing works of music, cinema and everyday forms of humour, this thesis examines the role of cultural production in the lead-up to the 14th January Revolution in Tunisia. Additionally, I focus on the state’s multifaceted apparatuses aimed at mitigating the threat that it identified within the aforementioned cultural products, as well as how artists and producers utilized those (social, legal, and political) structures to a multitude of ends.

Employing textual and discourse analysis on a selection of pre-revolutionary works of cinema and music, I hope to discover in what ways these works reproduced and/or refuted surrounding social structures. While many of these works have been interpreted as allegories within the larger body politic (Gana 2011), other scholars have expressed concern that a metaphorical interpretation obscures the political aspects of the ‘everyday’ social issues depicted therein (Hayes 2000). This thesis therefore, attempts to synthesize both the quotidian relevance of these works with that of an allegorical interpretation, bearing in mind that most critique or commentary of the time could not have been issued overtly because of the governing political structures of the former regime(s).

Conducting interviews with artists, producers, promoters and politicians I  hope to untangle how the various ministries and departments not only punished political dissidents but also, offered tangible rewards to those who would refrain from political (read: counter-regime) discourse. Further, I am very interested in how the aforementioned cultural figures may have both suffered and benefitted (perhaps simultaneously) from government programs and policies.

In addition to the above, this thesis attempts several theoretical contributions as well. In recent studies of cultural production in the MENA region for example, several analysts proffer a view of dissidence that bifurcates productions that constitute meaningful resistance and those that occupy the space delineated as ‘tanafus’ (literally, ‘breathing’), or as we might say in English “breathing room” (Wedeen 1999, Cooke 2007). However, by analyzing a selection of orally transmitted jokes and political cartoons circulated both in print and online, while taking into account recent surveys of performativity, the distinction between ‘tanafus’ and meaningful political action begins to break down. Further, by incorporating Bourdieusian theories of capital transformation and specifically how the news media, government censors, and even academic studies can act as mechanisms of consecration for cultural producers (see: Bourdieu 1983, 1993, 1998), I explore how the dissident character of a work or product is very much determined during its reception, further problematizing the tanafus-resistance interpretation of cultural production.

PhD Conferences

  • June 13, 2014 Organizing Committee, “From the Speech to the Act: Performativity on the Margins.” The Second Annual Postgraduate Conference of the Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies. SOAS, University of London, United Kingdom.
  • May 16 – 17, 2014 “Speaking Truth to Power and Naming Names: Comedic Critique in the Aftermath of 14 January,” as part of the Panel, “Re-ordering Society” at the international conference: The Tunisia Revolution: Origins, Course, Aftermath. St. Anthony’s College, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.
  • March 27 – 29, 2014 “Beyond Tanfus: Performativity and Quotidian Humor in Revolutionary Tunisia.” Presented as part of the panel, “Reality as Fiction: Comedy, Literature, Theatre, Film” at the international conference: Creative Resistance: Political Humour in the Arab Uprisings. University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany.
  • October 18, 2013 “For Whom do We Produce? Reflexivity and Questions of Consecration in Contemporary Cultural Studies of the Maghreb.” Presented as part of the panel, “The State of the Field” at the Maghreb Academic Network biannual meeting, Kings College London, United Kingdom.
  • September 13, 2013 Host/Presenter, “Roots and Sprouts: By Achref Chargui and Friends.” Concert held in Acropolium de Cathage, Tunis, Tunisia.
  • July 8-11, 2013 “Violence and the ‘Laughing Chorus:’ Quotidian Humor, Intertextuality, and Epistemic Violence in Tunisia.” Presented as part of the panel “Through Dido’s Eyes: Avenues of Revolution in Intertextuality.” British Comparative Literature Association (BCLA) XIII International Conference: Migration, University of Essex, United Kingdom.