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Contesting Narratives, Locating Power (Lund Conference)

Teaching the Middle East After the Revolutions: Critical Perspectives

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The ongoing spate of protests and revolutions in the Arab Middle East represent a watershed moment in Middle East Studies. In a vein similar to the to the Islamic revolution in Iran, I believe that following February 2011 it will be impossible to teach the region in the same way. Some of the dominant paradigms that have been challenged by unfolding events on the ground are the supposed division between secular and religious forces in the region, the unified nature of the authoritarian state, and the development paradigm represented by not only IMF packaged economic restructuring but also by reports such as the UNDP's Arab Human Development program. Thus, the internet, female, and education deficits may be closing, but in their closing have promoted revolutionary change rather than reform, stability, and neoliberal marks of modernity. In addition, if we zoom out, these revolutions may represent a change in the ways in which the world studies the supposedly limitless and stable reach of a US led unipolar world.

In this presentation I would like to focus on two questions; 1) Will these revolutions and protests have a an effect on how the Lebanese nation state is situated academically in the region? Will Lebanese exceptionalism survive the revolutions, and what might asking this question reveal about the ways in which the region has been studied abroad. What does the failure of a revolutionary fervor to take hold in Lebanon tell us about the longevity of the Lebanese state and the state of Lebanese democracy? Can we analyze the emerging anti-sectarian protest movement in Lebanon alongside of those that led to revolution in Tunis and Egypt and brutal repression in Libya, Bahrain and Syria? 2) The second question I would like to pose is more concerned with my discipline, Anthropology. What do these revolutions reveal about the state of anthropological research on the Middle East? Anthropologists pride themselves on fieldwork and yet, of the many anthropological tomes published on Egypt in the past decade, most do not address the main components that played important roles in the revolution. Why, for example, was there a plethora of an anthropology of Islam on Egypt and a drought of an anthropology of Labor in that same country? How are the dominant paradigms used to study the region practiced academically (through theoretical interest, funding opportunities, mentor relationships, etc), and how might this practice shift along with the paradigms that have been challenged in 2011?

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