NEW RESEARCH PROJECT: Relations in the Ideoscape: Middle Eastern Students in the Eastern Bloc (1950s to 1991)

The political post-war order in the wake of the Second World War, the division of the world into the so-called Western powers led by the USA and the so-called Eastern Bloc led by the Soviet Union can also be seen as an international “order of knowledge”. The Cold War and the East-West conflict have so far been mostly examined as a political and potentially military conflict between the US and the SU. Yet, the “system competition” has always also been a “knowledge competition”, and not only in the field of military technology. Competing paradigms in world history, for example, stood against each other, classes and their struggles on the one hand, the history of civilizations on the other, to name just one striking example. Sociological and political studies and aesthetics in the broadest sense were other fields where East-West competition regarding fields of knowledge was strong. It follows that the relations forged within the two blocs were of great importance.

The manifold and complex relations within the blocs, especially those within the Eastern Bloc, which were shaped also as relations of knowledge within its metropolises and between these and numerous countries of the so-called Third World, have so far remained largely unexplored. Above all, the Eastern Bloc is a space created by a common ideology, an “ideoscape” (Appadurai). The complex relationships which were forged through the mobility/migration of students from the Middle East and North Africa to the Eastern Bloc have often been highly persistent, far beyond the end of the Cold War. The political topicality and high relevance of such a relationship is in some cases obvious today.

With the opening of the archives in Russia and other countries of the former Eastern Bloc (Poland, Lithuania, Czech Republic, GDR), research is now possible on the high number of mostly Arab, but also Iranian and Turkish students who received scholarships between the 1950s and 1991 to study in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc. Relations with the so-called Third World consisted largely not only of “educational development aid” but were also fed by mutual interests that went beyond a one-sided transfer of ideology and education. In many cases this was also evident in the student movements of that time, the Iranian, Palestinian and others, which mobilized in the West, i.e. in West Germany and other states. The students who went back to their home countries brought back not only newly acquired knowledge and expertise but also relations or rather a web of relationships. What did they do with their knowledge and their relationships? How did these work to constitute (or challenge) the ideoscape of the Eastern Bloc? Which shifts and turns did they take throughout their lives? The last witnesses to these times need to be interviewed, their life stories recorded.

For Africa and Latin America research has already begun. This project will focus on the knowledge mobility and knowledge relations of students from the Middle East and North Africa. In particular, we will focus on the humanities and social sciences (history, oriental studies, political sciences/international relations/international law, sociology, art/painting, ballet, opera). 

The OIB cooperates in this project with the historical institutes of the Max Weber Foundation in Warsaw and Moscow.

Birgit Schäbler OIB

Research Project: History Writing at Lebanon’s Universities // Dynamics of connectivity under the impact of reform, innovation and political change

© Jonathan Kriener

By Jonathan Kriener

In the winter term of 2010/11, postgraduate students of sociology at the Lebanese University (UL) protested against its newly established Doctoral School for Humanities and Social Sciences. The campaigners claimed that the reform was designed to functionalise graduate studies merely to serve the globalising labour market. Maybe it is not by coincidence that the campaign started with a boycott of the entrance exams to the Doctoral School. In the exams, foreign language skills were tested; skills which, on average, are less developed among the constituencies of the two March 8 parties who supported the protest. Following the protest, a government decision exempted one of the five local branches of the Institute of Social Sciences from the new system. During the academic year 2014/15, however, the new regulations for doctoral studies were finally adopted by the entire Institute of Social Science. Continue reading

Research Project: Negotiating Differences: Pluralism, interreligious dialogue and European organisations in Lebanon

Danish-Arab Interfaith Dialogue meeting in Saida, November 2017.
© Stefan Maneval 2017

By Stefan Maneval

 

When the Lebanese Adyan Foundation set out to produce a textbook aiming to foster acceptance of religious and cultural diversity, it was planning to create one volume for all religious communities in Lebanon. This goal turned out to be too ambitious – the religious leaders of the various Muslim and Christian communities involved in the project did not find enough common ground to create a single volume to include them all. Instead, two volumes – one for Christians and one for Muslims – were issued in a slipcase in 2017. Continue reading

Research Project: Revolutionary Arabesque: Palestinian Groups and the West German Radical Left, 1967-1979

Article in Shu’un Filastiniyya, the magazine of the PLO’s Palestine Research Center, in April 1974

In April 1974, the magazine of the PLO’s Palestine Research Center, Shu’un Filastiniyya, dedicated an eight-page article to “the left” and “the solidarity movement with the Palestinian revolution” in West Germany. The author listed a variety of groups in the Federal Republic that supported the Palestinian cause, from the “League against Imperialism” to the “Marxist Student League Spartakus.” In the article, readers were not only provided with detailed information about the radical left in the country, but also with the historical trajectory of its relations to Palestinian groups. The text depicted, for instance, how the expulsion of Palestinians from West Germany in the wake of the attack on the Israeli team at the 1972 Summer Olympic Games had created a moment of pro-Palestinian mobilization in the radical left. Continue reading

Research Project: “Women on the Streets!” A genealogy of food riots in the Middle East, 1734–1943

Ever since the beginning of the ill-labelled Arab Spring, crowds, collective action and popular contentions have become the core of scholarly scrutiny as well as political and public discourses. Yet, the genealogy of popular participation and urban popular contentions in the Middle East remains obscure on an empirical as well as an analytical level. This research project by OIB research associate Till Grallert aims to close this gap by establishing the genealogy of a specific contentious repertoire, the urban food riot between the 18th and 20th centuries in the Eastern Mediterranean. It provides empirical traces of the commonly invisible commoners, the Everyman and—even more importantly—the Everywoman of Middle Eastern urban societies during the emergence of the paradigm of modernity. The very focus on food riots provides a unique glimpse into this otherwise invisible poor majority of society, who did not leave material traces of their own, but surface only when they contested the hegemony of the ruling (and record-keeping) strata. Continue reading

Research Project: Lebanese Diasporic Village Communities and their Practices of Reproduction and Community Development

Inauguration of the Lebanese-Canadian House in Batroun in the presence of the three initiators from Halifax, hosted by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigration Gebran Bassil within the agenda of the Lebanese Diaspora Energy Conference 2017 © Marie Karner 2017

In May 2017, the Lebanese-Canadian House was officially inaugurated as part of the Lebanese Diaspora village in the historic centre of Batroun, a coastal city in North Lebanon. Three successful businesspersons who live in the Canadian City of Halifax (Nova Scotia) secured funding for the renovation works and curated the exhibition inside the house. The initiators are also highly engaged in Halifax’s Lebanese community in roles such as the “Lebanese Honorary Consul for the Maritimes” or the “President of the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce”. The honorary consul is one of the well-known property developers with roots in the Lebanese village of Diman. While the first immigrants earned their income as peddlers, today’s so-called “Diman developers” are highly involved in the emergence of Halifax’s skyline thanks to their large investments and influence in planning decisions. Continue reading

Research Project: The Financialisation of Home in the Middle East // A study of Lebanon’s mortgage markets: Tracing regulatory changes

The Lebanese real estate and banking boom as visible in newly finished projects in the Corniche an-Nahr area, Beirut © Marieke Krijnen

This project by OIB postdoctoral fellow Marieke Krijnen focuses on the increasing interconnections between real estate and finance in Lebanon. Real estate has always been dependent on the financial sector for loans, but the financial sector itself has become increasingly involved in real estate development, with its own subsidiaries and active investments. The financialisation of real estate is part of a larger movement towards the financialisation of the economy, which began during the 1980s when the capitalist system increasingly created money out of money in order to grow in the face of stagnation and inflation. Academic interest in the interconnections between real estate and finance increased massively following the global financial crisis in 2008, which was caused, in part, by the volatility that secondary mortgage markets had created. Continue reading

Research Project: Voyage Toward an Impossible Exteriority // Crossings of European Philosophy and Arabic Rhetorical Theory

Sarah Doebbert Epstein spent a one-year postdoctoral fellowship at the OIB, from October 2016 until the end of this month, to develop the core of a book on the basis of ongoing research in a new area she terms ‘comparative critical thought’. Engaging trends in continental philosophy and Arabic theory, as well as their intersections, this book project considers the work of moving between the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of ‘philosophy’, while interrogating Eurocentric conceptions of those limits. It thus opens a critical conversation, in which a new ethical/political opening towards the other is at stake. The goal of the book is to begin articulating a new type of critical intervention that could arise from between critical tropologies of thought and their mutual (linguistic/historical) displacements. Continue reading

Research Project: SCRIPT // Source Companion for Research on Islamic Political Thought

As a tool for understanding how the heritage of political thought in the Middle East developed during its intellectually most productive periods, SCRIPT will offer access to a vast and varied literature, in Arabic and Persian, which flourished in the Islamic world from Andalusia to India from the 12th to the 16th centuries. Addressing local sovereign rulers or referring to local sovereign rule, this literature conceptualises legitimate rule and discusses the structure and ideal organisation of the polity. The online publication platform SCRIPT collects entries in English and Arabic (English translations are provided), exploring the historical context and conceptual significance of 65 source texts on political philosophy, political advice and administration. Continue reading

Research Project: Higher Education and Citizenship in Egypt // An anthropological critique of the crisis narrative

Emtpy classroom, October 6 University, Egypt, in 2012. ©Daniele Cantini

This project looks at the configurations of society, legitimacy, knowledge and power in Egypt, from the vantage point of the higher education sector, which Daniele Cantini has been researching since 2007. It focuses on the university as a fundamental institution in the contemporary configuration of knowledge and power – what universities are for, how they will be funded, what they will produce – in combination with the recent anthropological interest in global assemblages, in this case higher education as a ‘glocal’ technology of governance. Continue reading

Cluster: Processes of Transformation in Urban and Rural Societies

A miller in Nahr Ustuwan, Lebanon © Stephen McPhillips

The projects in this research cluster share a focus on the effects of change, transformation and long-term development in both urban and rural societies of the Middle East since 1500. They aim to shed light on the constitutive fabric of urban-rural relations in the political, administrative, economic and cultural life of Middle Eastern societies. With a particular emphasis on often overlooked and marginalised groups and settings, such as the Bedouin or rural areas in general, we counter the widespread neglect of a wide range of non-urban and non-elite actors in scholarly research as well as in political analysis. Continue reading

Cluster: Power and Legitimacy

Anonymous Venetian orientalist painting. The Reception of the Ambassadors in Damascus, 1511 (Louvre Museum, public domain)

The convergence of power and the legitimacy of rule or order of the state and society is an ubiquitous phenomenon. As such, it has occupied political actors as well as authors continuously throughout history. Authority and political order also rely on discursive strategies for the generation of their legitimacy, and thus are intricately intertwined with knowledge production more generally. Continue reading

Cluster: Higher Education as the Subject and Object of Critical Discourse

Billboard in Cairo, 6th October Highway © Daniele Cantini

The importance of universities can hardly be overestimated. Their numbers have grown massively, as have the number of the people enrolled in them relative to the total population worldwide. They exert multiple functions in the production and dissemination of knowledge. Moreover, they are ascribed the role to evaluate and certify knowledge in
the form of professional and scholarly status, curricula, as a basis for policies and more.
As universities themselves have a share in the definition and proclamation of social
problems and goals, they can easily turn into contested terrain in the claim for the right
interpretation of social phenomena and the right ways to address them. Unrest on university campuses, dense security regimes and long closures in the aftermath of political change in several Arab countries testify to that, as well as the continued control over teaching and research activities. Continue reading

Cluster: Culture, Art and the Public Sphere

Monique Bellan (right) and Nadia von Maltzahn (left) in the “Salon Room” of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, November 2016

Projects in this cluster share an interest in the political character of innovation in cultural
production, of forms of articulation and of publicness. In particular, this cluster deals
with processes of transformation of existing aesthetic, political and social orders, as
well as with the reflection, and possibly the theorisation, of artistic practices. The role
of institutions in shaping identities – and be it by rejecting the institution – is central to
the analysis. Continue reading

Research at the OIB

Researchers at the OIB, 2016

How is research at the OIB organised?

The OIB conducts and supports research on (and in) the Arab region and the wider Middle East. Research addresses historical and contemporary matters, and shares the commitment to a systematic study of primary sources, regional agents, local conditions, discursive contexts and methodology. This provides a common conceptual framework for the work in and between the academic disciplines represented at the OIB, such as the history of the Middle East, Islamic studies, Arabic studies, social sciences, anthropology and cultural studies. Continue reading