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Some Panels from the Upcoming Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association

[Image from website of MESA] [Image from website of MESA]

The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) will be holding its 43rd Annual Meeting in Washington DC this weekend, 1-4 December. Over a span of four days, scholars and researchers from across North America, the Middle East, and beyond will present their work via an impressive and diverse array of thematic panels (see complete program here).

In order to highlight some of the panels, below is a list of MESA 2011 Annual Meeting panels in which one or more Jadaliyya Co-Editor is involved in as an organizer, presenter, and/or discussant. However, to appreciate the full spectrum of topics, themes, and disciplines represented, we encourage you to browse the entire program. All information, including registration information, can be found by clicking here.

Professional Development Workshop: Conducting Fieldwork Amidst Arab Revolutions and Beyond
Friday, 2 December, 10am

We often find ourselves lost or unprepared when we begin fieldwork for the first time. Starting fieldwork in the Arab world in the context of the Arab revolutions of 2011 makes this process even more complex. This panel will bring together academics who have recently completed fieldwork and have been involved in critical discussions around these issues. The panel hopes to give students basic tools and advice to equip them as they enter their field site now or in the future.

  • On Lebanon: Ziad Abu-Rish (History)
  • On Saudi Arabia: Rosie Bsheer (History)
  • On Morocco: Loubna Hanna Skalli (International Development)
  • On Egypt: Jessica Winegar (Anthropology)
  • Chair: Sami Hermez (Anthropology)
  • Discussant: Bassam Haddad (Political Science)

Cotton, Canals, and Chemicals: Environmental Perspectives on the History of Bilad al-Sham
Friday, 2 December, 2pm

This panel brings together four papers on the environmental history of greater Syria, ranging in time and place from 17th-century Cilicia to 1930s Damascus. A central concern of the panel is the interaction between ecology and human settlement. How do environmental dynamics influence human societies? One paper in this panel especially takes up this question by examining the impact of the Little Ice Age in Ottoman Cilicia. Of course, the relationship between the environment and humans is far from unidirectional; humans play critical roles in shaping their environments and their local ecologies. The panel foregrounds the colonial dimensions of these issues with examinations of French mandate authorities' cotton cultivation and river canal schemes as well as the chemical and medical impact of Syrian nationalist rural development programs. A final issue addressed in these papers is the symbolic purchase of the environment as it relates to its inhabitants. How did ecologies function as discursive markers for articulating differencec Whether in the vilification of Cilesian nomads as barbarians or the French colonial and Syrian nationalist agreement on the backwardness of the peasant, environmental factors played crucial roles in the delineation of notions of propriety. While each paper makes a specific contribution to the historiography of greater Syria, the collective historiographical contribution of the panel concerns presenting the environment as constitutive of and constituted by human society.

  • Malaria and the Mountains in Ottoman Cilicia: Pastoralism, Settlement and Development, 1600-1900
    by Chris Gratien - Georgetown University
  • Contesting Cotton: The Production of Agricultural Space in French Mandate Syria
    by Elizabeth Williams - Georgetown University
  • Fighting Insects and Tarbushes, Too: Rural Development and the Ecology of Class in Late 1930s Syria
    by Samuel Dolbee - New York University
  • Discussant: Sherene Seikaly - American University in Cairo

The "Humanitarian" Present in Israel/Palestine: Forensic Architecture, Estrangement and Lawfare

Saturday, 3 December, 8:30am

This panel addresses the intersection of conflict, space, and law. The unifying theme is humanitarianism (a normative concept ostensibly attentive to the human vulnerabilities as such as well as a body of international law—i.e., the Geneva Conventions) which is subjected to critical analysis to probe the “humanitarian” present as it impacts upon politics in Israel/Palestine. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza exemplify the problems and vulnerabilities of “statelessness” in the international order, as well as the impact of perpetual conflict and recurring war. Consequently, there is a double-edged character to international humanitarian law (IHL) in both exacerbating and legitimizing Palestinian suffering, and as a reference for asserting Palestinian rights.

  • Israel/Palestine as a 21st Century Lawfare Laboratory
    by Lisa Hajjar - UC Santa Barbara
  • Forensic Architecture and the Politics of War Crime Investigation
    by Eyal Weizman - Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Spectres of Estrangement: The ‘Ungovernable’ Camp and the Figure of the ‘Irreconcilable’ Refugee
    by Nasser Samuel Abourahme - Palestine Institute for the Study of Democracy

Rethinking State Formation: Changing Variables, Alternative Frameworks

Saturday, 3 December, 11am

How do we understand the workings of state formation in the modern period? The last decade of scholarship has featured an explosion of theories and narratives that have attempted to tackle this question. While studies of globalization and transnationalism have repeatedly declared the death knell of the state, scholarship on state formation in the Middle East continues to be characterized by a dominant trend of positing “the state” as an ahistorical and stable monolith. Steering away from paradigms that privilege generalized and linear trajectories for the “life of a state,” this panel adopts a historical and cross-disciplinary perspective that examines the multiple, on-going, and dynamic processes that undergird state formation. The papers comprising this panel highlight the role of specific legal and economic arrangements as well as urban and cultural modernization plans, along with the attendant political, economic, and religious socialities, as part and parcel of state-building process. As such, this panel represents the increasing turn towards focusing on particular sites of institution building to reveal the micro-practices of state formation. It examines a variety of socio-political developments in four different Middle Eastern states during the 20th and 21st centuries: Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Yemen.

Collectively, these papers contribute to our understanding of both the material and discursive construction of the state and the nature of the relationship between these two related processes. More specifically, the analyses advanced in this panel show that state formation is a continuous process informed by both historical legacies and contemporaneous strategies. This contrasts sharply with much of the literature that has taken “the state” for granted, relied too-heavily on path-dependent explanations, or simply disregarded the legacies that constrain state elites in their policies. The panelists also challenge arguments that posit state formation, economic development, and nation building, to name a few, as separate and distinct “spheres.” We argue that not only are such practices interrelated and contingent, but that their analytical separation does the political work of obscuring exploitative political, economic, and social arrangements. Alternatively, we break from the constructed boundaries that ghettoize knowledge production on state formation into predetermined types (e.g., authoritarian, confessional, Islamic, secular, resource-rich, and resource poor). We thus offer a comparative perspective that is simultaneously attentive to specificities while advancing broader understandings of state formation.

  • Institution Building, Social Conflict, and State Formation in Lebanon: 1943-1975
    by Ziad M. Abu-Rish - UCLA
  • State and Citizenship in Saudi Arabia's Urban Development Plans
    by Rosie Bsheer - Columbia University
  • Fiscal Reform, Sovereignty and Economic Subjectivity in Neoliberal Yemen
    by John G. Warner - CUNY Graduate Center
  • Renegotiating Elite Bargains in (Re)Building the State: Turkey's Constitutional Challenge
    by Asli Bali - UCLA
  • Discussant: Steven Heydemann - Institute of Peace

Palestine Now: Solidarity and Self Determination in the Post-Oslo Context

Saturday, 3 December, 5pm

This panel focuses on the theory and practice of international solidarity with Palestinians in the post-Oslo context. It takes as its central critical concern the efforts to develop social movements outside the occupied territories that have responded to initiatives launched by Palestinian non-governmental organizations inside the occupied territories. To this end, the panel seeks to theorize the principles that underwrite international advocacy of Palestinian rights. Panelists will also historicize international campaigns and solidarity practices that instantiate the current modalities of activist politics in the post-Oslo period (2001-2011).

If Palestinian solidarity movements in the pre-Oslo context were characterized by a rather simple affirmation of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, since the signing of the Oslo Accords, this position has been rendered impossible by the emergence of the pseudo-Palestinian state in the form of the Palestinian Authority and the ideological, social and ever-increasing geographical fragmentation of the Palestinian national movement. This situation has generated responses both inside and outside the occupied territories that have found expression in the Right of Return Movement, International Solidarity Movement (ISM), Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), and Free Gaza. These movements remain grounded in the principles of international law, namely the Palestinian right of self-determination, but are ambivalently positioned in relation to nationalist politics in general and are skeptical of the mechanisms of state structures. These movements and others have also given form to global social justice practice whose formal and informal networks have yet to be understood as the foundations of a new politics of international solidarity.

In order to elaborate a theory and practice of this new politics, panelists will consider the following questions among others: What have been the main issues around which international groups have organized their solidarity with Palestinians? What narratives and images are central to international solidarity? What are the structures of relations that characterize international solidarity? To what degree is international solidarity with Palestinians international?

  • Internationalizing Gaza
    by Salah D. Hassan - Michigan State University
  • Solidarity After the Revolution
    by Sherene Seikaly - American University in Cairo
  • Palestinian Representation, Diaspora, and BDS
    by Noura Erakat - Georgetown University
  • The Politics and Principles of North American Cultural Boycotts: An Historical Comparison between Contemporary Israel and Apartheid South Africa
    by Thomas P. Abowd - Tufts University

The Politics of Archiving in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Palestine

Sunday, 4 December, 11am

How is an archive produced? What are the ramifications for the kind of history that is written, both in terms of content and the conceptual frameworks deployed? This interdisciplinary roundtable poses these questions as a point of departure to critically engage with theories of the archive that have been lately emerging within the field of Middle Eastern Studies. Moreover, the recent investments by countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates in creating a "national archive" indicates a push for a central depository of patrimony, as it were, as part of ongoing, state-driven efforts at national and cultural production. Yet what happens in those cases when state control over such information is necessarily dilutedu This roundtable is an epistemological exploration of the politics of archiving for four countries where "collections of knowledge" [such as they are] do not necessarily adhere to conventional notions of a central archive: Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Among other things, this roundtable will examine the relationship between archive production and the stakes involved in constructing and disseminating particular historical narratives. It will do so by highlighting how researchers are approaching their work in these sites in innovative ways and the lessons that can be drawn from their experiences. What, in their work, constitutes an archive and what in turn does an archive constituten It will open a much-needed discussion about when an archive becomes a "national" archive, as opposed to a National Archive. Is a National Archive even necessary, in the case of Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Further, what are the implications when the historical documents that had comprised an archive, for example, Iraq or Palestine, appear in the colonizing country's state archives.

  • On Lebanon: Maya Mikdashi - Columbia University
  • On Iraq: Zainab Saleh - Columbia University
  • On Saudi Arabia: Rosie Bsheer - Columbia University
  • Organizer: Nadya Sbaiti - Smith College


Click here for the complete MESA 2011 Annual Meeting Program.

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