Radical Increments: Toward New Platforms of Engaging Iraqi Studies
27-28 February, 2015
The rift between theory and application in Iraqi studies has grown over the past three decades, with Iraqi scholarship curtailed at home due to geographic isolation during the Iraq-Iran war, dearth of funding and faltering of infrastructure during the embargo years, sectarian violence in the post-2003 phase, and funding sources in the west channeling knowledge to achieve strategic geopolitical ends. The result in many cases has been the production of scholarship on Iraq that falls short of looking closely at informal networks of practice and their relational dynamics with the state and civil society.
Moreover, until the army of the Islamic State (IS) seized control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June 2014, scholars interested in the literature and culture of Iraq were inevitably drawn to Baghdad—the capital city, the fabled city, the Round City, the city of The One Thousand and One Nights—the seemingly timeless epicenter of Iraq’s history, culture, and power. It is now possible to ask if the capital city was ever as central to the making and maintenance of Iraqi national identity as it was once assumed to be. As Baghdad’s central authority diminished amidst the violence and fragmentation of the 2003-2014 decade, what became of the distinct expressions of ‘Iraqi culture’ associated with the city? Why do individuals and communities that are linguistically, religiously, administratively, and now geopolitically severed from the influence of the national center continue to identify as ‘Iraqi’?
`Radical incrementalism` is a process wherein existing frameworks of knowledge are not paradigmatically changed but rather modified, extended, or repositioned to allow for new possibilities of application and action. Applying this conceptual framework, the conference encourages the creation of new platforms of engagement with the current Iraqi debacle, platforms that may generate a provisional meta-framework for the making of `engaged theory` tailored specifically for the Iraqi case.
We seek to create an informed space to address the following questions in a manner that bears practical utility. Possible questions include:
--Can we chart out new Iraqi social formations in the midst of the dismantling/departure of old ones? For example, what is the relationship between centers and peripheries of cultural production in post-2003 Iraq? How does regional literary and artistic output negotiate its identity as the centrality of Baghdad diminishes?
--How do we theorize for the coming of the cultural, political, and religious margins to the center and vice versa, such as the upward mobility of the migrant Shi‘i communities of the Sadr City [former Saddam City] near Baghdad, the political marginalization of former Ba‘th Party affiliates, etc.?
--What new lenses can we use to examine the informal communities of practices that defy the former homogenized characterizations of Iraqi society of the 20th century?
--How do we approach the study of Iraqi minorities, especially ones that are on their way to becoming endangered or fully displaced from the former nation-state after the infiltration of IS, such as Iraq’s Christian and Yezidi communities?
--What Iraqi communities, cultures, and practices are at the interface between the Global North and South or Western and Eastern processes and ideas that could make innovation in theorizing about Iraq possible (for example, how do we characterize the differences between the U.S. and Russian influences on the articulation of Iraqi modernity)?
--Are there intermediary bodies that are slowly shifting institutional power strategically and progressively (might Kurdish government and cultural sphere fall under such scrutiny)?
--How do environmental concerns, global and local, figure into the new socio-political equation in Iraq (the revival of the Iraqi marshes in the south, petroleum politics, etc.)?
In sum, how close can we get to providing functional maps of how the Iraqi people are acting--or might act--with each other locally and transnationally to create relational engagement between state, civil society, and the private sphere?
Submissions from various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences are invited. We especially welcome contributions that endeavor to theorize for practical course of action on a collective scale. Please send abstracts of 200 words to Professors Muhsin al-Musawi of Columbia University (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Yasmeen Hanoosh of Portland State University (email@example.com) by November 25, 2014. We will be in touch shortly thereafter to confirm participation. If your abstract is accepted, please ensure that your paper is prepared with an eye towards publication, as selected papers will be chosen to contribute to a special issue of the Journal of Arabic Literature. We expect almost completed papers by the time of the conference (Feb 27-28). Participants are requested to ensure their personal or institutional funding for their trip and lodging.
Professor Muhsin Al-Musawi
Professor Yasmeen Hanoosh