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Contesting Narratives, Locating Power (Lund Conference)

Making Connections

[image from unknown archive] [image from unknown archive]

1.     What is your view of the recent protest/revolutionary movements in the region in the past 3 months?

Obviously, these are amazing and inspiring developments. To have masses of people in the streets again after so many years, fighting to overthrow not only the dictators but the authoritarian, corrupt and unjust regimes over which they preside, has been a wonder to behold. It is too early to know how this will all turn out, and of course things will develop differently in different countries; but whatever happens, the political and social stasis of recent decades has been broken, which will inevitably have important national, regional and global consequences.

    2.     What are the implications of these movements for the (study of the) region, for your discipline, for your research topic(s)/agenda(s)?  

Those political scientists who have had a lot to say (useful and otherwise) about the durability of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa may now have to scramble to revise their thinking and models so as to account for these popular movements for democracy and socioeconomic justice. I am a historian, so these developments do not as directly or immediately affect my research agenda; indeed, from a long-term historical perspective it always seemed likely that eventually this bankrupt sociopolitical order would crack, though when and how and with what consequences could not be predicted. (Watching Egypt after January 25th I kept thinking of 1919….) I hope that good research will be forthcoming on how and why people mobilized in these struggles, often engaging in forms of collective action that have older roots but also new features.

3.     What opportunities do you see today in terms of setting a pedagogic agenda that goes beyond old paradigms? Or that goes beyond assessing dominant paradigms? (and is any of this necessary in the first place?)  

The popular uprisings across the Arab world this year can and should affect our pedagogical agendas. I am not sure a wholesale revision of our paradigms is required, assuming we have been doing a reasonable job of things until now, which I think (or would like to think) has generally been the case in recent years, as scholars of the region have assimilated and deployed more critical and productive approaches. But the uprisings enable – perhaps require – us to tell a somewhat different story about the modern and contemporary Middle East, one that more effectively highlights transformations and developments and struggles that were perhaps not always visible in the foreground but that set the stage for what is going on today.

  4.     Even if you’re not teaching the Middle East, how did the emergence of these movements influence what you are (or will be) teaching? Could the study of the revolutionary movements in the Middle East constitute a critical contribution to the disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences?  

I am on leave this semester, but when I resume teaching in the fall I will certainly update my syllabi and teaching to take into account these movements and uprisings. For example, I’ll be teaching (for the first time) an undergraduate seminar next fall on the United States and the Middle East from a historical perspective, and both the US role in propping up many of the region’s authoritarian and oppressive regimes and popular challenges to those regimes and to US hegemony will certainly figure in what I cover, in a new way. I have of course included these themes/issues in my courses before, but they will get more attention now. More broadly, I think we all have a lot to learn from (and about) the uprisings in the Arab world, which eventually could yield important insights for scholars and others.

  5.     Finally, in light of the recent developments, are there new questions, subjects, historic periods, and themes that are important to examine in the study of the region, and might they be replacing other subjects of inquiry?  

As a historian I’d be hesitant to venture an answer too quickly: it will take years before we can really understand what these movements and uprisings really mean for the peoples of the region, and their long-term consequences. But as a first approximation it is certainly tempting to suggest that the stasis of the past three or four decades has been broken (or at least cracked) and that new possibilities are now open which seemed unimaginable just a few months ago. So we will all need to try to keep a close eye on the ongoing struggles for democracy and social justice as they unfold, in all their complexities, specificities and contradictions and with all their victories and defeats, and try to understand what this means for the longer term. And of course, we here in the belly of the beast need to do what we can to support those struggles and to help people understand their implications – and their moral/political involvement and responsibilities.

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