The Minority Experience in the Middle East:
New Anthropological Perspectives, Washington, DC, 24-25 May 2012
Thursday May 24th, 1:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Friday May 25th, 9:00 am - 3:00 pm
Institute for Middle East Studies
Elliott School of International Affairs
The George Washington University
CALL FOR PAPERS
Today’s anthropology calls for adopting a more consciously critical stance on the Middle East that would be more heedful to the risk and dangers of essentialism. As Jane I. Guyer (2004: 517) has recently noted, “indexing everything to Arab culture and Muslim religion leaves out of the equation ‘hybrid identities, diasporic existences, minorities, and marginal communities’” (Navaro-Yashin 2002: 74). Her caution bears significant politico-ethical implications about the minority peoples under question. A major purpose of this workshop is to make a contribution to the development of our scholarly research and analytical skills for studying diverse human experiences of modernity in the Middle East.
A common goal, then, is theoretical engagement with the concept of “minority.” The participants are encouraged to view “minority” as a “product of particular ideological, social, political and economic processes” (Cowan 2001: 156), rather than as a self-evident entity or a legally defined social status that describes the timeless standing of a group in the margins of a population. This entails a careful study of “minoritization,” a process that emerges at the intersection of totalizing and particularizing effects of the nation-state. A source of inspiration for this project is a recent collaborative work edited by Veena Das and Deborah Poole, Anthropology in the Margins of the State (2004). “The margins of the state,” as Das and Poole describe, is a contested socio-political site for “people considered insufficiently socialized into the law,” where they are “managed” and “pacified” through technologies of power ensuring both consent and coercion. In this light of thinking, our questions are pertinent to all marginal communities, coded as foundational elements of a ‘nation’, and yet at the same time marked as racially and culturally different from the national identity. However, this is not to portray minorities as victims of structural violence in a reductionist manner. On the contrary, we will be equally attentive to ways in which marginalized peoples negotiate with the sovereign power and the mainstream society over their identities, rights, and living conditions. Hence, we will take up various examples of such negotiations posing at times serious challenges to the hegemonic cultural, legal, and economic grammars of the Middle Eastern states.
The workshop seeks contributions based on recent ethnographies and ethnohistorical research, with insightful findings that could broaden the scope of our anthropological thinking on the complexities of the social experience of modernity in Middle Eastern societies. Conceptual papers engaged in comparative analysis to reveal the peculiarities of minority experiences in the region are also welcome. Possible questions for presentations might include:
• How can we study the processes of marginalization and minoritization in the Middle East as they are closely linked to the totalizing/ particularizing effects of the nation-state? How is the minority status contested between state and social actors?
• How do minorities negotiate their identities, rights, and economic conditions? Which modes of claim-making collective subjectivities emerge in various contexts? What are the strategies of survival for different marginal groups and individuals, who either consider themselves as (part of) a minority, or conversely deny the status of being ‘minor’?
• What is the significance of rights language for the marginalized communities of the Middle East (for a similar question addressing women’s subordination and feminist movements, see Brown 2000)?
• How do minorities make sense of the ‘national history’ of their country? As they imagine and negotiate their future, how do they seek to reconstruct the past with their own historical accounts ridden with narratives of violence and suffering?
• What are the dynamics of strategic essentialism in the Middle East? Is it possible to reconcile the claims of cultural particularity (e.g. ethnic, linguistic, religious/sectarian differences) with the imperative of universal human rights?
• Which ways and agents of representative politics are available to Middle Eastern minorities?
• How can we take the class dimension into our account when we study the minority politics of recognition in the Middle East?
• How can we critically approach minority movements claiming authenticity and purity at the expense of intra-communal differences?
Please send a 300-400 word paper proposal, along with a bio or curriculum vitae by 7 March 2012 to the workshop organizer, Guldem Baykal Buyuksarac (firstname.lastname@example.org). Selected participants will be notified by 15 March 2012 and required to submit their papers by 15 May 2012. Full manuscripts will be included in an edited book proposal following the workshop.
Participants’ travel and accommodation (one-night’s stay in DC) expenses will be covered. Further details will be sent out in April 2012.
Guldem Baykal Buyuksarac
Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for Middle East Studies
The George Washington University
1957 E Street, NW, Suite 512
Washington DC 20052
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