Across the Middle East, public discourse is dominated by talk of a yearning for change, transformation and development in a variety of vocabularies that advocate for multiple ways of envisioning a better future. More than two years after the spark of the Arab uprisings, the political results of which remain unclear, and amid distinct political and economic transformations in the region from Turkey to Iran to Morocco, the desire for change continues to be articulated. Within this context, this panel takes as its focus intensified discourses and practices of self-making. We focus on the ideas of self-formation and improvement in their broadest sense, attentive to the ideals and imaginings of progress and development, both personal as well as that of the community and state. We seek to explore pious and non-pious, regulatory and non-regulatory forms of self-making as they overlap and relate to each other, such as those involving body-making, education, entertainment, sport, fashion, and consumption, as well as to interrogate the ways that these techniques are themselves constituted and debated.
The panel will examine various practices of self-formation in an effort to extend the debate on the trope of self-cultivation (Mittermaier 2012 cf. Schielke 2010). In doing so, we seek to further our understanding of enjoyment, pleasure and desire in the ways they relate to self-making and personal development. Desire is central to our understanding of agency, subjecthood and self fashioning (Hafez 2011, Mahmood 2005, McNay 2000, Moore 2011). Papers will explore the ways that desire is situated to the conditions in which it emerges, conditions shaped by creating new lifestyles and patterns of consumption, as well as new ways of being and engaging with the world (Rofel 2007). This panel will pay close attention to the ways that desire is felt, cultivated, directed and articulated in processes and goals of self-making as well as how desire relates to public life.
By speaking to a major trend in the anthropology of subjectivity, this panel asks how different methodologies and locales may inform the interrogation of the self and shed light on the emerging politics of the Middle East by training our analytical gaze on narratives and practices of self-making. Our theoretical aim is to understand the ways in which desire and discipline is perceived, built and experienced in the lives of the individual. What is the relationship between desire and agency and how should we understand their significance in relation to subject-formation? How might attention to subjectivity illuminate our understanding of processes of self-improvement? How can a gender analytic illuminate our analysis of desire and self-making? How do practices of self-improvement relate and chafe with the state? How does neoliberalism shape conceptions and itineraries of self-development? What are the broader factors that stimulate hope, and what are the possibilities of change that hope opens up? How might a comparative conversation serve to further theoretical discussions of the religious and the secular? How might thinking about ethnography as a practice of self-formation for the anthropologist shed light on the subject?
Nermeen Mouftah, PhD Candidate in NMES, University of Toronto, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sertaš Sehlikoglu, PhD candidate in Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge, email@example.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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