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Anthropology of the Middle East and North Africa

Into the New Millennium

Edited by Sherine Hafez and Susan Slyomovics

Publication Year: 2013

This volume combines ethnographic accounts of fieldwork with overviews of recent anthropological literature about the region on topics such as Islam, gender, youth, and new media that are of particular relevance for understanding the "Arab Spring" of 2011. It addresses contemporary debates about modernity, nation building, and the link between the ideology of power and the production of knowledge. Contributors include established and emerging scholars known for the depth and quality of their ethnographic writing and for their interventions in current theory.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Public Cultures of the Middle East and North Africa


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-13

This volume had its origins in a two-day conference organized by Sherine Hafez and Susan Slyomovics in April 2010 at the Gustav E. von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES) of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), when a group of scholars convened to tap into the recent contributions to the field of the anthropology of the MENA. We thank the staff of the Center, Mona ...

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Introduction: Power and Knowledge in the Anthropology of the Middle East and North Africa

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pp. xiii-xxiv

The third millennium opened to a decade of transformation in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). From Tunisia to Egypt to Iran, to Libya and Syria and beyond, riveting images of revolutionary Tunisians, Egyptians, Iranians, and others captured the world’s attention, as young and old, women and men, changed forever the course of their countries’ history. Revolts calling for the end of ...


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1. State of the State of the Art Studies: An Introduction to the Anthropology of the Middle East and North Africa

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pp. 3-22

In both everyday and academic discourse, as noun or adjective, the phrase “state of the art” has come to mean “incorporating the newest ideas and most up-todate features” (Oxford English Dictionary online). The first usage, dated to 1910 according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was recorded in Gas Turbine, an engineering manual authored by H. H. Suplee, who issued this laconic observation: “In the present state of the art, this is all that can be done.” ...

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2. Occluding Difference: Ethnic Identity and the Shifting Zones of Theory on the Middle East and North Africa

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pp. 23-46

Not so long ago, in the late 1970s, the Middle East was in an oil boom, on the brink of the Islamic revolution in Iran, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and a decisive military coup in Turkey. Ruling regimes were facing powerful new challenges in consolidating their power bases and boundaries. The wars in Lebanon had destroyed Beirut as the financial center of the Middle East and ...

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3. Anthropology’s Middle Eastern Prehistory: An Archaeology of Knowledge

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pp. 47-61

What makes anthropology in the Middle East possible? For a generation, the answer has been complicity with power as anthropologists focused on power (and the powerless) in a paradigm of multidisciplinary area studies that Title VI of the National Defense Education Act of 1958 linked to power-focused disciplines. However, modern anthropology arrived in the Middle East under an older model of area studies with a different agenda and reference group, not on the coattails ...

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4. The Pragmatics and Politics of Anthropological Collaboration on the North African Frontier

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pp. 63-77

Collaboration has emerged as a salient metaphor for describing the ethnographic method in general, and the anthropology of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in particular. It simultaneously calls forth a colonial history, where anthropology all too often functioned as the handmaiden to imperial rule (Asad 1973; Lucas and Vatin 1975), as well as a postmodern fantasy of post-authorial ...

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5. The Post–Cold War Politics of Middle East Anthropology: Insights from a Transitional Generation Confronting the War on Terror

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pp. 79-102

How can we assess the state of Middle East anthropology today? One way is to turn the ethnographic lens on Middle East anthropologists themselves, to examine how we think about and do our work in relationship to the broader politics in which our field is embedded—the politics of our discipline, of academia, and of national and international relations. And so, like many ethnographies, this one ...


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6. Anthropology of the Future: Arab Youth and the State of the State

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pp. 105-123

The Arab Spring began in January 2011 in Tunisia, and moved quickly through Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria, with rousing applause from many corners of the world. It was a ringing indictment of authoritarian governments, corruption, unemployment, inadequate educational institutions, and the lack of political will on the part of Arab national leaders to address the real and urgent ...

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7. The Memory Work of Anthropologists: Notes Toward a Gendered Politics of Memory in Conflict Zones—Sudan and Eritrea

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pp. 125-144

A salient method of anthropologists in dealing with the military and civil conflicts of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has been memory work.1 It has become an indispensable approach to reading the conflicts of the last fifty years or so. Memory work in the ethnography of conflict situations is one way of reading the slippery “truth” of violent encounters and generating theoretical ideas ...

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8. Rejecting Authenticity in the Desert Landscapes of the Modern Middle East: Development Processes in the Jiddat il-Harasiis, Oman

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pp. 145-164

Nomads throughout the Middle East have been viewed through a lens of romantic attachment or, latterly, uncomfortable disdain and disparagement. For decades they have been subjected to state-sponsored as well as international settlement efforts in the name of modernity, progress, and more recently environmental protection. Peoples who move have challenged the neocolonial ...

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9. Notable Families and Capitalist Parasites in Egypt’s Former Free Zone: Law, Trade, and Uncertainty

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pp. 165-184

Al-Sawy stationery store on Gumhurriya Street in Port Said is notable for its tall ceilings and dark wooden shelves stacked neatly with a vast assortment of office supplies.1 The proprietor is a small man in his seventies dressed neatly in a suit, standing behind the glass display case, who thoughtfully regards each request before retrieving it for the customer and placing it alongside the register. ...


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10. Will the Rational Religious Subject Please Stand Up? Muslim Subjects and the Analytics of Religion

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pp. 187-201

Despite the critical impact of Said’s Orientalism (1979) on scholarship dealing with Muslim and Middle Eastern cultures and practices, deeply seated assumptions that revolve around conceptions of difference and rationality still persist today. Whereas Said’s work has urged scholars to think beyond cultures as “watertight compartments whose adherents were at bottom mainly interested in ...

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11. Defining (and Enforcing) Islam in Secular Turkey

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pp. 203-221

The place and role of Islam in the public sphere has long been an issue of in-tense contention in Turkey. This conflict finds persistent expression in the media, political and public discourse, as well as in private conversations and religious discourse. The debate about religion in Turkey has tended to crystallize around several key points of conflict: the nature of religious education, the presence ...

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12. Shari'a in the Diaspora: Displacement, Exclusion, and the Anthropology of the Traveling Middle East

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pp. 223-238

How is the Middle East “present” in today’s world? The question began to interest me as I followed the burgeoning anti-Muslim debates in Europe and North America sparked by the 9/11 terror attacks. The Middle East and its people, labeled “Muslims,” are increasingly visible on other continents, particularly in Shari'a controversies—debates over how much of “their religion” “we” can accept in “our” societies. ...

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13. A Place to Belong: Colonial Pasts, Modern Discourses, and Contraceptive Practices in Morocco

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pp. 239-257

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has often been portrayed in popular and scholarly discourses as a homogenous entity comprised of countries linked together through culture, ethnicity, and religion. Places as far west as Morocco and as far east as southwest Asia have been included in or excluded from the region in its various definitions. Charles Lindholm points out that “in terms ...


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14. “Our Master’s Call”: Mass Media and the People in Morocco’s 1975 Green March

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pp. 261-283

On 16 October 1975, at 6:30 in the evening, the king of Morocco, Hassan II, ad-dressed the nation via state television and radio regarding Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the then Spanish-occupied Western Sahara. The address fol-lowed more than a year of extraordinary diplomatic action by Morocco to secure recognition of its claim, including sending left-wing emissaries to convince ...

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15. The Construction of Virtual Identities: Online Tribalism in Saudi Arabia and Beyond

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pp. 285-299

For the contemporary anthropologist, the word “tribe” is often a reference to the past, where its forms and settings were studied extensively, frequently in combination with the idea of state formation. However, in the twenty-first century, it seems that the “old” tribe no longer fits and is excluded from the process of building national identities. Especially from the official perspective of countries ...

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16. Youth, Peace, and New Media in the Middle East

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pp. 301-322

The current situation in the Middle East brings to light the increasing role of internet technologies in shaping the dynamics of societies and politics at the local, regional, and international levels. Indeed, new media accelerate the building of bridges among a plurality of identities (national, ethnic, religious, social, economic, and cultural). This chapter explores the results of a study on the Iranian ...


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pp. 323-365

List of Contributors

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pp. 367-370


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pp. 371-387

E-ISBN-13: 9780253007612
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253007469

Page Count: 414
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Public Cultures of the Middle East and North Africa