This book is the outcome of the authors’ workshop ‘Governance beyond the Center: Informality, Institutions, and Contested Power Structures in Authoritarian Contexts’ that took place in Berlin at the beginning of 2012. Interested in current transformations challenging the Arab world, the workshop brought together international scholars with various disciplinary backgrounds to discuss preliminary assessments of transformations in the Middle East and conceptual frameworks of political and social analysis. The empirical observation that the current events in the Middle East originated in places far from national capitals—as was the case in Tunisia, Syria, and Libya—encouraged us to analyze areas and institutions ‘where the presence of the state is limited, highly contested or intertwined with forms of power and governance that are at odds with the Weberian ideals of state and bureaucracy’ (see Stepputat in this volume, p. 25). The contributions to this volume discuss the question of how local institutions, agents, and their practices contest and shape the authoritarian state and its centrally institutionalized modes of governance. Building on this, our second leading question inquires how and why these processes transform or perpetuate authoritarian rule.