International Workshop – Rethinking Political Agency in the Middle East: Engaging Political Anthropology

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This workshop intends to bring ethnographic research in the Middle East into conversation with anthropological debate on political agency. There is a number of reasons for combining these two bodies of literature. The recent political turmoil in the region provides a wealth of material for contemporary debate and fine-grained ethnographic comparison: about the nature of political change; about the comparability of post-colonialisms; about the performance of power and the exercise of sovereignty; or the new kinds of structural dependence that emerge when nominal “independence” coincides with the orthodoxy of neo-liberal economics. However, lured by the spectacular clarity of political demonstrations and acts of violence that have dramatically upset Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, many Middle East scholars and political analysts have, with few exemptions, missed the complexity of political change in the region. With this workshop, our first aim is to bring together a group of junior and more established scholars who have been seeking, in diverse ethnographic sites and in hitherto isolated fashion, to bring the theoretical insights of recent anthropological work on political agency to bear on the study of political change in contemporary Middle East. Our second aim in holding this workshop is to bring together scholars whose research in the Middle East has sought to develop alternative ways of thinking about political action and political subjectivity, and whose work has thereby come to envisage forms of agency that cannot be fully explained by traditional analytics such as “pouvoir-savoir” and sovereignty. We believe the time is ripe to set up an organic and ground based political anthropology of the Middle East so as to test and expand existing accounts of political agency that have sought to go beyond the limitations of the Foucault-Agamben canon.

(See the Programme here)