EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


One hundred years of European anthropology in and on the Middle East: 1900-2000

Location Dept. Arch Anth LT2
Date and Start Time 20 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Nefissa Naguib (University of Oslo) email
Susanne Dahlgren (Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies) email
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Short Abstract

The proposed workshop will be concerned with European ethnographic engagement with the Middle East from the late 19th century.

Long Abstract

Early European ethnographies of the Middle East have been criticised: for focusing only on men, lineages, pastoralists and Islam, and for making such biased foci a platform for generalisations about the region as a whole. Today, scholars question the relevance of the mere regional concept of 'Middle East'. The workshop will be concerned with European ethnographic engagement with the region from 1900, a point in time that marked the end of one imperial rule – the Ottoman – and the continuation of another – the European. It is a moment that represents considerable Western presence: Russians, Germans, Italians, French and the British sent exploration teams to the deserts; tourism was started, maps were drawn; and an extraordinary ethnographic production was unfolding. The colonial enterprise brought European anthropology to the periphery by negotiating a place for knowledge about places, peoples and cultures to distinguish coloniser from colonised. Examination of these translations and interpretations that we find in a hundred years of anthropological production on the region offers a form of intellectual longue durée: What role did ethnographic material play in Europe's 'civilising mission'? How did European scholars seek to engage their colonial subjects in their scientific enterprise? How was the practice of fieldwork transformed in colonial and war-zone settings? In the interplay between coloniser and colonised how did these practices and beliefs intervene in perceptions of the places, peoples and cultures? In today's world, how do development consultants, aid workers and terrorism specialists reproduce the old Orientalist scheme? Ultimately the aim is to develop a fuller picture of developments in anthropological history and to look to the future of European anthropology on the Middle East.

Discussant: Ruba Salih


Colonial photography and Cyprus: the case of John Thomson

Author: Nicos Philippou (University of Nicosia)  email
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Long Abstract

In 1878 Cyprus re- emerged from obscurity to acquire new political significance when control of the island shifted from the Ottoman Empire to the British. The event created significant new curiosity about Cyprus in Europe and especially in Britain. This thirst for information about Cyprus would be satisfied by, among others, a number of British and European traveller photographers most important of which is, probably, John Thomson. It is Thomson's photographs of Cyprus taken in the autumn of 1878 that this paper examines. Thomson's work is rather popular among contemporary Cypriot institutions, like banks and cultural foundations, which publish them in glossy coffee table books, calendars and diaries. This contemporary consumption of Thomson's images is a rather uncritical one and his photographs are merely seen to function as a window to late 19th century Cyprus. It is my aim to show that Thomson's photographs are much more than documents of Cypriot things past; they are in fact the product of complex political, ideological and cultural concerns of his time and would fit in the greater scheme of the attempt of the British Empire to assert its control over the new acquisition. Thomson shared his contemporary dominant perceptions about photography which bestowed the medium a special status as scientific and value free method of documentation and his writings reveal a preoccupation with racial types and the quantification of external characteristics which relate to ideas about the readability of physiognomy, the assessment of collective characters and a colonial anxiety about colonised group loyalties. His Cypriot portraits reveal a preoccupation with classification and typicality and his photographic subjects appear subjected and 'feminised'. While expressing his Philhellenism he did not fail to express his cultural and class superiority by emphasising decay and backwardness and ignoring Cypriot elites; justifying, this way, British presence on the island on the promise of salvation. Finally, while influenced by Orientalist discourse, Thomson appears to have adopted an ambiguous gaze when assessing Cyprus as a geographical, historical and cultural territory and his writings read like a constant juxtaposition of a post- Ottoman and 'Oriental' present and a glorious 'Occidental' past.

Colonial feminism revisited: tracing the methodological genealogies of 'the Muslim woman'

Author: Susanne Dahlgren (Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies)  email
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Long Abstract

In her classic study "Women and gender in Islam" Leila Ahmed outlined the idea of colonialism in the guise of feminism. While her interest centred round officials and missionaries in colonial service during the course of the European colonial missions in the Middle East, the idea of feminism as a 'colonial project' bears contemporary relevance, too. Proponents of post-colonial feminisms have pointed out how the white-middle class-heterosexual feminism has dominated politics of feminism with a universal claim for validity.

Since anthropological gender studies in and on the Middle East successfully moved out from the harem and victimizing no more is the issue new approaches to studies of genealogies of gender, sexualities, families and intimate relations as well as political-economic analyses have emerged. As historians and anthropologists deconstruct fixed typographies persisting in such notions as family, kinship and society and the newness of phenomena linked to modernity is increasingly questioned, women's studies in and on the Middle East still face the problem of abstraction, generalisation and compression. This is in particular pertinent to studies that discuss women's attachments with religion and in particular in their different ways in engaging into 'the morality of being a good Muslim'. To the background of my anthropological fieldwork in the Yemeni town of Aden on 'making a good Muslim' I will discuss recent anthropological literature on women's engagement in the emerging public sphere. I will ask, how much we can abstract and generalise without falling to the pit of homogenising experiences and intentions and thus end up in reproducing such notions as the 'Muslim woman' or the 'Islamic activist'.

Anthropology of Turkey: Scholars, Ethnographies and Representations

Author: Hande A. Birkalan-Gedik (Goethe Universität, Institut für Kulturanthropologie und Europäische Ethnologie)  email
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Long Abstract

I aim to reflect upon the past and the present of anthropology of Turkey. My paper examines the ethnographies of native and foreign scholars, focusing on the "language" in textual production, "audience" in the textual reception, and "representativeness" of the anthropological texts. It is a critical reflection of long-standing hegemonic dualities, differentiations, and hierarchies.

The 'shawaya' of Northern Syria as a subject of European classification, ethnography and administration

Author: Katharina Lange (Zentrum Moderner Orient)  email
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Long Abstract

In the late 19th and early 20th century, European travelers and, with the beginning of the French mandate after the First world war, administrators who came to Northern Syria, contributed to the geographic, archaeologic, politic as well as ethnographic knowledge about this region.

Today, if one looks at publications on local history in Northern Syria, one notes a perceptible interest by local historians in these ethnographic writings, especially information pertaining to the classification and description of groups, their social boundaries, genealogies and historical origins - although at the same time, European travelers of the time may be generally regarded as "Orientalists" who pursued a political (colonialist) agenda.

Ethnographical writings on the tribal population of the upper Syrian Euphrates valley illustrate this point. For example, Max von Oppenheim (1860-1946), the well-known German traveler, who with his entourage traveled through the area several times (1893, 1911, 1939), took notes on the ethnography of the steppe areas east of Aleppo as well as the Syrian Euphrates valley, part of which were published in his well-known book "Die Beduinen" (1939). In Oppenheim's notes which are to be found in his private archives, the tribal population of these areas, classified as "shawaya" (semi-sedentary, small livestock herders), are distinguished from the fully nomadic "true Bedouin" to which Oppenheim attributed both a more authentic lifestyle as well as certain "noble virtues" such as honesty, courage, and generosity (cf. Nippa 2000), assuming that the Shawaya tribes had "lost" these virtues with increasing sedentarization. A similar view to Oppenheim's was then taken by the French mandate authorities who sought to accelerate the Shawaya's sedentarization through their tribal policies.

The proposed presentation aims to trace how Oppenheim's perceptions of the "Shawaya" were influenced not only by his own "aristocratic" bias in favor of the great bedouin tribes, but also by his practice of ethnography (e.g., the role of his employees who actually collected the ethnographic data, as well as local interlocutors who provided the information); secondly, I will discuss how the category of "shawaya" was perceived by contemporary French mandate officials and which policies were subsequently geared towards the tribal groups identified as "shawaya"; thirdly, some examples will be given to show how members of these groups today interpret their "shawaya" identity, and how they relate to the historical processes of classification by Europeans in the first half of the 20th century described above.

Fredrik Barth's basic data of the Middle East

Author: Nefissa Naguib (University of Oslo)  email
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Long Abstract

"The frequent assertion that anthropology is an art as well as a science might depend precisely on the unsystematic or unreflecting way in which we accumulate part of our basic data" (Barth 1966:x-xi).

"This quotation is taken from the preface to Robert Pehrson's monograph The social organization of the Marri Baluch. The book was complied and analysed by Barth from field notes provided by Pehrson's wife Jean Pehrson. It provides a point of entry into the paper which associates itself with Barth's naturalist approach to anthropology in the Middle East. Drawing on his Darwinian approach of 'watch and wonder' in the Middle East the paper explores the particular in order to discern generalisations and processes. Using material from the West Bank in Palestine and peasant women's 'engagements with the world' the essay will attempt to probe Barth's modes of 'basic data'.

The Middle East in Sweden

Author: Annika Rabo (Stockholm University)  email
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Long Abstract

Anthropology on, and in, the Middle East has never been particularly strong in Sweden. But in the last decades, due to a large migrant population with roots in the Middle East, research in cultural and religious studies as well as the social sciences, with a focus on the 'Middle Easterners within' has proliferated. In this paper I will delineate the variety of research conducted and describe some of the topical foci. I will argue that although post-colonial theory is lauded and bowed to, this research produces what I will call neo-Orientalist images of the Middle East 'out there' as well as the 'Middle Easterners within'. Although transnational perspectives have had a deep impact on the social and cultural sciences, little of this is reflected in research on the 'Middle Easterners within'. Instead this research is typically conducted within a very Swedish national context.