Scholarship, Service, Solidarity

Message from the MES president

Trump’s presidency recalls past eras of US militarism and anti-Muslim bigotry, but also presents new political and scholarly crises and opportunities for people and scholars of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). MES scholars have been responding by forging new resources and connections. A scholarly collaborative of Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, Arshad Ali, Evelyn Alsultany, Sohail Daulatzai, Lara Deeb, Carol Fadda, Zareena Grewal, Juliane Hammer, Nadine Naber, and Junaid Rana has developed the “Islamophobia is Racism” syllabus. This is an excellent online resource for teaching and studying issues of Islamophobia, which they have thoughtfully redefined as anti-Muslim racism to address intersections of domestic and global politics. MES members do crucial service elsewhere as well, speaking among Palestinian colleagues to assess and enact the AAA’s proposed efforts to share scholarly resources with occupied Palestinian libraries and universities. For students and scholars interested in MES’s activities and resources, and seeking collaborative opportunities with MES in general, we sponsor the AAMIDEAST listserv, maintained by the independent Task Force for Middle East Anthropology. The listserv serves as a venue for discussion, as well as for sharing information on publications, CFPs, conferences and job positions. We look forward to connecting across AAA to share solidarity and critical will.

—Emilio Spadola  

Anthropology Matters!

For the 2017 AAA Annual Meeting, the program committee sought panels that confront policy, address the different ongoing conflicts in the region, and tackle some of the more controversial issues. MES is also sponsoring an invited session that addresses the Israeli Occupation, which enters its 50th year in 2017, “Military Occupation and the Colonial Present: Lessons from Palestine/Israel.” Through this and other panels, we will continue the conversation on BDS and draw connections between struggles in the region and those elsewhere. 

With the aim of building bridges between MES and non-Middle East anthropologists, we will offer a special session, “Anthropology in a Precarious Present”; organised by Fadi Bardawil, this session will address anthropological contributions to contemporary scholarly and policy challenges within and beyond the MENA. As the theme highlights, the rise of boldfaced anti-immigrant bigotry and misogyny links MES’s concerns with those of numerous other sections.

—Sami Hermez, Program Committee Chair

2016 Distinguished Scholar Award

Established in 2006, the biennial Middle East Section Distinguished Scholar Award honors an anthropologist of the Middle East who has made substantive contributions to the field through teaching, research and service to the profession.

In 2016, the award recipient was Suad Joseph, distinguished research professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California Davis. Joseph’s ethnographic research in Lebanon exploring the family, gender, citizenship, women’s organisations, and subjectivity blazed a trail for Middle East anthropology and feminist theory. Joseph’s leadership has been vital to many professional institutions, including the Middle East Studies Association, the Arab American Studies Association, the Association of Middle East Women’s Studies, and of course the AAA, where she founded the Middle East Section. Joseph has demonstrated unwavering dedication to mentoring young scholars, and to ensuring that her work has an impact beyond the academy, particularly on NGOs, social movements, and government.

Initiatives for Junior Scholars

Among several initiatives for young scholars, each year we recognize the academic excellence of undergraduate and graduate students through a Student Paper Award. The 2016 winner was Valerie Giesen (Columbia University) for “‘At Least I’ve Done Something!’ Living with Integrity: Ethical Engagements in Israel/Palestine.” Giesen’s paper is a rich exploration of how Israeli women volunteering with Machsom Watch—a group that protests Israel’s Occupation of the West Bank—struggle to sustain their ethical commitment to doing what they can, even as their very work at the checkpoints consistently unsettles their moral sense of self. A summary of Valerie’s paper can be found in our MES column on the AN website.

Younger members have asked the MES to organize sessions on how we can think of and undertake ethnographic work in the Middle East as the region becomes increasingly inaccessible. The 2016 special session, “Dislocations: Accessing and Defining the Field in Today’s Middle East,” began what will hopefully be an ongoing fruitful exchange on this question. Our members have also contributed to a teaching resources page on the MES website, with syllabi for undergraduate and graduate courses, film lists, and other materials. We also run a Facebook page for students undertaking anthropological work in the MENA and Central Asia, to share research and information, as well as to connect with colleagues.

Giulia El Dardiry (giulia.el-dardiry@mail.mcgill.ca) is contributing editor for the Middle East Section.

 El Dardiry, Giulia. 2017. “Scholarship, Service, Solidarity.” Anthropology News website, May 19, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.428

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