Meet Zina Akrout, laureate of the 2020 Max Lazard award
- Actualité Sciences Po © Zina Akrout
Zina Akrout is a graduate student in the Master’s of Public Policy at the School of Public Affairs and has been awarded the Max Lazard Prize to carry out her project “Berbers of Tunisia”. Interview on her journey so far, distinctive for her unbounded curiosity and in its strong international dimension.
You completed your undergraduate studies in the dual degree between Sciences Po and UCL. Can you tell us why you chose this programme and what was your experience?
Zina Akrout: I chose the dual degree between Sciences Po and UCL firstly for the curriculum, which requires students to major in a humanities discipline and a European language (French, German, Spanish or Italian depending on the student's background, abilities and choice), which are studied intensively throughout the four years of the degree at both universities. I was highly looking forward to this dual experience and learning from different perspectives. I was also able to tailor the degree based on my personal choices and interests. I chose to spend the first two years on Sciences Po’s Menton campus to be able to study MENA-related courses in addition to Italian (*as of 2020, Italian is no longer offered in Menton) with a specialisation in International Law... I also very much enjoyed going from Sciences Po’s multidisciplinary way of teaching to the more Anglo-Saxon approach at UCL. There, I took Public Policy courses and was able to take specific classes in disciplines such as Urban Politics and Political Geography and also language courses at the same level as Modern Languages students. Overall, the programme was a wonderful experience not only academically speaking but also on a personal level as both settings led me to meet people I can call friends for life and offered great extracurricular opportunities and support.
You took an exchange semester at Bocconi University during your Master's in Public Policy at Sciences Po. Due to the sanitary crisis, your experience abroad was quite different than expected. Can you tell us how the exchange was carried out? How did the experience nonetheless complement your Master's studies overall?
ZA: I chose to spend the final semester of my Master's at the School of Public Affairs on an academic exchange at the Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi in Milan, Italy. It was indeed an odd time to be in academic exchange and especially in the north of Italy, a region that was tremendously impacted by the sanitary crisis and made quite the headlines. The university closed at the end of February, just two weeks after the start of classes, and switched to online learning immediately. They were very good at adapting to the situation and managed to use online resources and digital tools to ensure the teaching could continue remotely, provided people had space, internet connectivity, and the mindset to do so! The exchange allowed me to take more management and sustainability-related classes to complement my curriculum and to see how Bocconi's "business-school" way of teaching differs from that of Sciences Po’s School of Public Affairs. I highly recommend to Master’s students in the future to consider an academic exchange during their gap year or for their last semester, as it is an enriching experience and an option that is not well known!
You recently were awarded the Max Lazard prize for a project entitled "Berbers of Tunisia". Can you tell us about it?
ZA: This project is more of a personal one: as a Franco-Tunisian citizen, I am deeply interested in Berber heritage and identity. My goal is to carry out a field research trip to learn and explore Berber heritage and identity in Tunisia. The Berber community in Tunisia is very much in the minority and has expressed concerns over the lack of official recognition of its identity and culture. I would, therefore, like to conduct a sociological survey on the Berber identity and the feelings of Tunisian citizens of Berber descent to analyse how they apprehend their culture, their integration and their potential revendications. This research would be combined with a field study to map the different existing initiatives for the protection and promotion of Berber culture in Tunisia (mainly in South East Tunisia). This topic is dear to my heart, and I am very grateful to have been awarded the Max Lazard Prize to help me realise this project.
What form will the project take? When do you plan to carry it out?
ZA: The perception and study of the Berber identity in Tunisia are very different from that of other countries in the region and hardly addressed nowadays. I hope to be able to gather enough information and knowledge for this research that could be reusable for those concerned by the matter or interested in the subject. It is mostly a personal and not a professional project, but I intend to go as far as possible in the research and reflection and hopefully bring a modest contribution to giving a voice to people who remain little heard by their government and other groups. Any cultural heritage deserves to be analysed and somehow studied.
The project will most likely culminate into an article and a video report - depending on if the people interrogated agree to be filmed. If individuals prefer to not speak on camera, I may decide to turn this project into a photo exhibition (virtual or physical) with descriptions.
I hope to carry out this project this summer, government measures vis à vis the sanitary crisis in France and Tunisia permitting. It also depends on the availability of individuals I hope to interview. If it is not possible this summer, I plan to carry out the field research trip next winter!
What are your plans for the future after your graduation?
ZA: At the moment I am still completing my MPP in Digital, New Technology & Public Policy at Sciences Po, and am studying Food Geography at the Sorbonne. After finishing my Master's thesis for that curriculum, I hope to start a career in food policy, and more specifically in the food-tech sector.
Interview by the Sciences Po Editorial Team.
More about the Max Lazard Award
“This grant has been active at Sciences Po since 1956 and has adapted to contextual changes and university reforms by knowing how to cultivate its fund: the thirst for intelligence and the passion for discovery…” - Gérard Wormser
We owe this philanthropic fund to Max Lazard (18765-1953). Max Lazard left his job at his family’s bank to become a volunteer social worker and write a thesis on unemployment. He assisted Albert Thomas during the first world war and later became an activist for civic and political education in Europe. It is with this open mind and the desire to confront oneself with the world, combined with sincere intellectual and personal curiosity that the jury selects laureates for this prize, awarded annually since 1956.
The laureates of this prize receive financial support up to 3,000 euros depending on the cost of their project and are offered the possibility to publish an article or dossier in the “Sens Public” journal - subject to acceptance by its scientific committee.