Revisiting the Middle Classes of Eastern Mediterranean Port Cities
European University Institute, Florence
19-20 September 2008
We are seeking proposals for papers willing to revisit, expand, challenge and invigorate the discussion on Eastern Mediterranean port bourgeoisies. Initiated in the mid-1980s this discussion focused on some of the "classic hybrid Eurasian port cities of the nineteenth century", and approached the emergence of bourgeoisies in the Eastern Mediterranean as a corollary of the incorporation of the Ottoman Empire –as a periphery– to the core of the world economy. More than twenty years on, there are few historians nowadays willing to subscribe to class formation and the emergence of a single bourgeoisie in Eastern Mediterranean port cities as a mere product of increased trade. The abandonment of this explanatory model has nevertheless been accompanied by an unwillingness to examine class formation and class relations altogether. Although there has recently been a notable surge of interest in the study of non-European middle classes as well as of Eastern Mediterranean port cities, most historians working on the field of the Eastern Mediterranean rarely treat port cities as sites where power was articulated and exercised, where classes were formed, lived, and contested, and where bourgeoisies asserted their class hegemony. The conference therefore aims at bringing these two critical, but so far parallel, historiographical trends together.
Following recent historiographical trends but without ignoring the achievements of the previous generation, we therefore welcome proposals on any port city of the Eastern Mediterranean during the long nineteenth century, until about the aftermath of the First World War. We approach the " Eastern Mediterranean" as a historically defined social and economic space spanning from the ports of Trieste in the West to the ports of Odessa and Alexandria in the East. Class is the focus point of the conference, but class formation is not taken as a given historical development waiting to happen. Rather, research on the "middle classes", or "bourgeoisies", of these ports is an opportunity to rethink its usefulness as a category of analysis for the Eastern Mediterranean historical realities. Questions we would like contributors to address include:
· the ways, sites and character of port city bourgeois hegemony and its contestation; the harbour and quay as distinctive sites of changing economic practices, middle class cohesion and conflicting labour relations;
· the interplay between class and other aspects of identity (such as gender, religion, ethnicity and occupation), and how these different aspects of identity infuse each other and structure power relations in the ports of interest;
· the relationship between state and class, namely the impact of governance (central and municipal) on middle class identities;
· the relation between older and newer forms of social ordering, in particular the relation between class and community and the functioning of class as both an intra-communal form of social differentiation and an inter-communal form of identification;
· the emergence of the 'social' itself as both a discursive category and a demarcated field of collective action in Eastern Mediterranean port cities ; its constitution through and its interaction with discourses on the "middle classes" and "middle-class" practices (such as philanthropy).
Although our emphasis is on a close analysis of the particular workings of class in the various Eastern Mediterranean port cities, we would also like to think about possible new integrative frameworks of analysis. Port cities have recently been identified as one of the most promising fields in the attempt to connect social history with global history. We therefore hope that an examination of middle classes inhabiting a maritime environment comprised of port cities that belonged to different administrative entities (whether to centuries-old empires or to emerging nation states), will allow us to place Eastern Mediterranean experience within a global history context.
The conference will take place at the European University Institute in Florence in September 2008. Applicants are welcome to send abstracts of about 350 to 500 words by the end of January 2008. Authors will be notified by the end of March 2008. Papers will be circulated in advance in order to facilitate discussion among participants and it is expected that the conference will lead to a publication of an edited volume. For information and submission of abstracts please contact
Paris Papamichos Chronakis (University of Crete)
Dr. Athanasios (Sakis) Gekas (European University Institute)
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