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Society and Culture in the Middle East and North Africa

Society and Culture in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf

With the arrival of Dr Craig Larkin and Dr Charis Boutieri in 2012, The Middle Eastern Studies Programme became more focused on the social scientific study of the societies and cultures of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf.

Their research and teaching are informed by the disciplines of political science and social anthropology and are committed to the methodology of long-term fieldwork (interviewing and participant observation). While their interest in and expertise on the social and cultural realities that inform practices as diverse as child-rearing, military service, urban violence, electoral processes, worship, and leisure are broad, their specific projects focus around the themes of: memory, divided cities, education, language, resistance and democratisation. They argue that it is through these experiences, which social science historicizes and maps onto the frameworks of location, class, gender, that we can gain accurate insight into the most urgent concerns of the settings in question: identity, religion, labour, social justice and political transformation.

Dr Larkin and Dr Boutieri pursue their research agendas individually and in collaboration with scholars from the MENA region, the UK, Europe, and the US. Even though they are methodologically rooted in social scientific thought, they are in constant conversation with other disciplines such as history, cultural and urban studies, international relations, political economy, architecture, and sociolinguistics.

Memory

Dr Larkin’s research on trans-generational memory in post-war Lebanon, challenges notions of collective amnesia and social forgetfulness, instead exploring how war memories are often inscribed, mediated and transformed in and through the lives of subsequent generations.

Based on extensive interviews and social observation of Lebanese youth, in the aftermath of the so called ‘Cedar Revolution’ Larkin demonstrates how civil war memories are embedded and normalised through daily narratives and urban imaginaries (physical sites, spaces and absences) which inform and impact spatial behaviour, social encounters and self/other perceptions. He has recently published a book on this subject with Routledge, Memory and Conflict in Lebanon: Remembering and Forgetting the Past (2012) which raises significant questions concerning the limitations and potentiality of traumatic Postmemory and its impact on identity formation, historical consciousness and future reconciliation.

Dr Larkin is currently interested in expanding the scope of his postmemory research to also examine contexts such as Northern Ireland, the Balkans, and Israel/Palestine. Dr Larkin shortly hopes to offer an MA module that specifically deals with these themes: Memory Politics: Violence, Commemoration and Contestation.

Cities

Dr Larkin continues to research the increasingly important field of urban geopolitics , particulary focusing on Middle Eastern cities of Beirut, Jerusalem, Cairo and Baghdad. For the last five years he has been a research associate of the interdisciplinary ESRC project (2007-2013), ‘Conflict in Cities and the Contested State: everyday life and the possibilities of transformation in Belfast, Jerusalem and other divided cities.’ This collaborative project, involving Universities of Cambridge (Architecture); Exeter (Politics) and Queens Belfast (Geography & Sociology) focuses on divided cities as key sites in territorial and symbolic conflicts over state and national identities, cultures and borders. The ongoing research, maps, working papers, policy reports and major outputs of this project is accessible on its interactive website. In November 2012 a CinC Briefing Paper launch was held at King’s, in co-ordination with the Centre for Study of Divided Societies.

Larkin’s specific research, based on four years ethnographic fieldwork in Jerusalem, is directed towards the politicisation of holy spaces and sites; Palestinian resistance to the Separation barrier; and the rise of the Islamic movement (Northern Branch led by Sheikh Ra’id Salah) within the city. This work has resulted in a number of recent journal publications (link) and a new co-authored book, The Struggle for Jerusalem’s Holy Places: Radicalisation and Conflict which will be published by Routledge in Autumn 2013.

Dr Larkin currently teaches an MA module on urban geopolitics – ‘Divided Cities, Contested States: Urban violence and transformation in the Middle East.’

Education

Dr Boutieri’s long-term research inside secondary public schools in urban Morocco has informed her interrogation of postcolonial policies in education and language and of the continuity of such policies by the neoliberal agendas of international development organizations that provide ‘technical expertise’ to the Moroccan government. 

Boutieri demonstrates that the teaching of Arabic and French in the Moroccan public school system is deeply entwined with the national interest in identity, the national political structure, and the corruption and mismanagement of public resources. She shows how and why the students emerge from secondary education as ‘bilingually illiterate’, what the repercussions are of that situation for employment prospects and for the public school as institution. 

This project will now continue onto a collaborative endeavor with other leading and emergent researchers in the field of education and youth studies titled Contested Classrooms: Education in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf.

The project will begin with an international workshop that took place on 24th May 2013 and will continue with an edited volume based on unique material gathered from classroom ethnographies.

Maghreb Studies

Dr Boutieri is currently working towards a new project that will investigate the meaning and experience of lived democracy in contemporary Tunisia.

Applying an anthropological understanding of political subjectivity and action that follows people in action as they interact with institutions in concrete situations, this project will shed light on political transformation in contemporary Tunisia. It will contribute to and complicate theoretical conversations about democratisation across the social sciences and help dethrone normative understandings of liberal democracy in the public arena that are often prescriptive and self-serving. 

Dr Boutieri has recently established the first UK Maghreb study group, the Maghreb Academic Network (link to a separate page will follow in the near future) with Karima Laachir from SOAS and Michael Willis from Oxford University. While not set on assuming or reifying geopolitical, cultural, or intellectual divisions between Maghreb and Machreq, Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa, Maghreb and Europe, the network aims to create a space for inter-disciplinary discussion on this area and make this space more visible in the UK academic scene.

The network hold inaugural meeting in May 2013.

 

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