EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


The Future of the Anthropology and Anthropologists of the Contemporary Middle East and Central Eurasia (The Anthropology of the Middle East and Central Eurasia Network)

Location A-007
Date and Start Time 03 August, 2014 at 09:00


Pedram Khosronejad (Oklahoma State University) email
William Beeman (University of Minnesota) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

We call for papers which discuss the role and future of anthropology and anthropologists of the Middle East and Central Eurasia (Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, China)

Long Abstract

In spite of the difficulties of the terrain, it seems that students of the social sciences, especially anthropologists and ethnographers, are increasingly developing research projects and carrying out fieldwork on different aspects of modern and contemporary societies in the Middle East and Central Eurasia. The recent long wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and the rest of MENA countries, and increasing political, religious, and ethnic clashes in the different regions of the Middle East and Central Eurasia, signal that more geopolitical changes in these regions are forthcoming. Under such present conditions of conflict and transformation, anthropologists have plenty of work to do, and may yet contribute to a better understanding of complex problems and their resolution. Given these considerations, we call for papers which discuss the role and future of anthropology and anthropologists of the contemporary Middle East and Central Eurasia(Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, China).

This proposal is a special panel for EASA Network of the Anthropology of the Middle East and Central Eurasia(Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, China) (AMCE)

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On the Eastern Periphery of the Muslim World: fieldwork in Xinjiang, Northwest China

Author: Ildiko Beller-Hann (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores the achievements, possibilities and limitations of empirical research among the Uyghur, Turkic speaking Muslims in Xinjiang, one of the largest and most conflict-ridden regions of China.

Long Abstract

Situated in the far north-western corner of China, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has been attracting increasing scholarly attention internationally ever since the region became accessible for researchers in the early 1980s. Like the rest of China, this vast area has been targeted by a variety of "reform" policies and is presently undergoing rapid transformation. The Uyghur, a 10 million strong Turkic-speaking Muslim minority who constitute the dominant indigenous group in Xinjiang, have been included in the Chinese polity for centuries but continue to retain very close cultural affinities with the Turkic-speaking Muslims of Central Asia. Their persistent resistance to Beijing's aggressive integrating and homogenizing policies (comparable to that of the Tibetans) renders social science research very sensitive. In spite of the difficulties (which will be documented in the paper) research on and in Xinjiang is pursued today with more vigour than ever; some speak about an emerging "Xinjiang Studies", comparable to "Modern Tibetan Studies". Only by focusing on less sensitive topics such as kinship and social support can anthropologists gain access to the field and attempt to evade political constraints on research, which are unlikely to diminish in the foreseeable future.

Iranian merchants' business strategies between Iran and Hamburg: a historical ethnography

Author: Sonja Moghaddari (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies)  email

Short Abstract

Hamburg hosts one of the oldest Iranian migrant communities dating back to the late 19th century. In a diachronic perspective, this paper examines how Iranian merchants manage transnational capital resources to strive for success through changing political and economic conditions.

Long Abstract

The city of Hamburg hosts several important Iran-related commercial institutions, such as the European-Iranian bank of commerce. Not only the close economic relations between Germany and Iran account for this fact, but also the longstanding commercial activities of Iranian merchants whose migration to Hamburg dates back to the late 19th century. This paper is concerned with the transnational business strategies through which Iranian entrepreneurs have been able to establish and maintain an important position in international trade with Iran. In particular, it aims to point out how they keep up transnational business activities between Hamburg and Iran throughout shifting political and economic conditions. Building on Aihwa Ong's recast of Bourdieu's conception of capital to the study of transnational migration, the paper complements her thoughts with an ethnographic examination that focuses on Iranian entrepreneurs' professional strategies in situations of political and economic change.

Based on archival research and oral history alongside classical ethnography, two case studies situated between the 1960s and today show how the Iranian entrepreneurs' management of transnational capital resources is influenced by, and engages with historically built systems of global inequality. Identifying the limits to upward social mobility the businessmen experience, the paper shows how the entrepreneurs keep up their businesses thanks to the flexible combination of capital resources in several transnational social fields. The chance and the challenge of changing conditions lay in the shift in symbolic classifications that facilitate or limit the migrants' efforts for upward social mobility.

On the outskirts of Dubai: Bedouin villagers in a rapidly changing world

Author: Anne Kathrine Larsen (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)  email

Short Abstract

This paper addresses the methodological challenges anthropologists face when trying to understand people’s conduct in relation to a contingent future. The focus is on Dubai nationals of Bedouin background and how multi-temporal fieldwork may reveal the interplay between people’s outlook and choices.

Long Abstract

While The UAE has not experienced the violent clashes present other places in the Middle East, the country is still affected by the impact of global forces rapidly transforming the society. This has among others resulted in a huge immigrant population as well as an increasing number of tourists. The indigenous population faces great challenges when preparing themselves for the future, which is hard to predict due to economic fluctuations and the great social and cultural transformation of their country. While anthropology has a long history of studying underdog groups in society, this paper will focus on the elite minority population of Dubai, and more specifically on the Bedouin population living in a desert village outside Dubai City. In order to understand people's ideas of well-being, it is necessary to map their views of the future and their role and position in the development of the country. This creates certain challenges for an anthropological study. In order to see how the villagers interpret and react to the changes taking place in their environment, fieldwork has been conducted off and on for a period of 14 years. This enables the anthropologist to follow people over time, to listen to their aspirations and options when planning for the future, and to see which choices are actually being made. The paper will especially focus on younger women, and their attempt to create a personal career by balancing and challenging the different demands on them as modern women in a rapidly changing environment.

Woman in modern Georgia: family breadwinner or housewife? How has the place of woman in Georgian society changed after the collapse of the USSR?

Author: Natallia Paulovich (Polish Academy of Sciences )  email

Short Abstract

Under the influence of socio-economic situation in Georgia the role which women play in the family undergo changes: many women actually are breadwinners but also cary for members of the family at home so put their career and taking care for other members of the family at the center of identity.

Long Abstract

Traditionally women in Georgia were involved in bringing up children and caring for families while men were breadwinners and performed only supportive role in bringing up children and keeping domestic economy. Now many women actually are breadwinners. Such position of contemporary Georgian women is largely depend on the current socio-economic situation in the country caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the civil war during this period. It is the women who begin to earn money for all of their families while men wasn't able to deal with the "post-war syndrome" and lose a job. These problems of early 90s joined a factor of high unemployment in the country what again resulted mainly on men. In such circumstances women are working hard to support their families outside of home but also putting a lot of energy in caring for the members of the family at home put their career and taking care for other members at the center of identity claiming that these two spheres allow them to express themselves. That allow me to talk about these women as possessing agency. Activities of women (in the home and outside it) are becoming a key point of cultural production and social reproduction which allow these women to move between the household and the public sphere. I came to this statements through fieldwork in Ozurgeti, Georgia, using as a research methods participant observations and in-depth interviews.

The anthropology of the Middle East and its refugees

Author: Leonardo Schiocchet (Austrian Academy of Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

As its subject shifts to “the suffering”, refugeeness becomes a point of inflection for contemporary anthropology, especially in the Middle East, given both its blaring empirical reality and its liminality – between the whims of particular nation states and the universal claims of Humanitarianism.

Long Abstract

In a recent article at JRAI, Joel Robbins addressed the pivotal shift from an anthropology of the savage to one of the "suffering subject". The current accent on political, religious, ethnic, and gender minorities reflects the contemporary world's ubiquitous political expression of civic contestation. Didier Fassin notes that as its subject shifts from "the other" to "the public", anthropology itself becomes more public. Subaltern studies have long pointed toward the postcolonial nature of the world today. Inspired by these analyses, I suggest that, far and wide, minority struggles today reflect unique processes of settling ethnic, religious, political, and economic disputes, as subjects struggle between national citizenship and post-national political representation.

The Middle East has been a prominent arena for such civic struggles, as evidenced, for instance, by the Green Revolution in Iran, the so-called Arab Spring, the 2011 Turkish elections, and the war in Syria. For anthropologists, questions of governance, belonging, and policies emerged as central in these cases, thereby reinforcing anthropology's growing public role. In these examples, relations between human rights and national belonging are at the core of the debate. My paper suggest that refugeeness is a point of inflection for contemporary anthropology, especially in the Middle East, given both its blaring empirical reality and its liminality - between a practical existence bound to the whims of particular nation states (and so-called post-national "apolitical" agencies) and universal claims of humanity. This discussion is informed by my ethnography on Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, Latin America, and Europe (2005-2014).

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