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Call for papers: ‘Modernity in the Middle East’

From the Deserts of the Maghreb to the Rivers of the Mashriq

Published: 4 Nov 2012

European modern conceptions of national identity, procedural democracy, state sovereignty, market liberalism, and separation of church and state, have been globalized as dominant ways of practice and subjectivity. In Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Turkey alternative conceptions of politics are being developed. The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ was not a singular flourishing, but part of a complex pattern of contested politics in the region. This volume explores alternative political pathways that have been negotiating modern conceptions of democracy with traditional cosmologies of meaning and engagement.

In the realm of culture, dominant conceptions of the experience of modernity have likewise been stubbornly Eurocentric. The hegemonic narrative of development that has prevailed in the post-Enlightenment western world holds that European culture has been the wellspring of technological innovation and civilizational progress, a template for the rest of the world to emulate. This reading of history ignores, among other things, the multi-directional exchange of knowledge and culture across the Mediterranean, between Europe and the Islamic World. This volume interrogates the meanings of ‘modernity’ for the societies of the region, across historical and contemporary settings.

We seek contributions that focus on contemporary developments in the region. The past, particularly developments in the wake of the collapse of Western and Eastern empires is relevant, but our primary interest is in understanding the present. We seek contributions that directly address what it means to live in the region in relation to contested layers of meaning and practice. We are interested in essays that explore how we might better understand both different ways of being modern and different ways in which the modern and the traditional, the tribal and the postmodern, intersect.

We particularly invite papers that respond to one or more of the following questions:

  • In what ways might recent political developments in the region signal a re-interpellation of the meanings of democracy?
  • What are the limits of the ‘Arab Spring’? Can it be more than a rerun of modern democratic pluralism?
  • How have Middle Eastern societies responded to the challenge of being modern in its different political, cultural, economic and ecological manifestations?
  • To what extent has the experience of being modern been tied to the threat of colonialism or foreign intervention in the region?
  • Is it useful to see the experience of ‘modernity’ in the region in terms of the dialectic of the modern and the tradition; or as a negotiation between European versus non-European ways of being modern?
  • Are there ways in which the complex intersections of modern, traditional and customary life can offer creative ways forward rather than lead to a conflict-ridden clash of ontologies?

The volume will simultaneously be published as a book and an edition of Arena Journal. The first deadline for submissions in April 2013.

Download the above information in PDF form

Please direct submissions and any questions to:

Arena Journal
2 Kerr Street, Fitzroy
Editors: