BRISMES Annual Conference 2020 University of Kent, Canterbury, 29 June – 1 July 2020

Knowledge, Power
and Middle Eastern Studies

The deadline for submissions to the BRISMES 2020 conference is 6.00am (GMT) on Monday 25 November 2019.

The British Society for Middle Eastern Studies and the University of Kent’s School of Politics and International Relations invite proposals for the 2020 Annual BRISMES Conference on the theme of Knowledge, Power and Middle Eastern Studies.

In light of growing calls in many different parts of the world to decolonize academia and knowledge production more broadly, the organizers of BRISMES 2020 encourage the submission of papers that critically engage with the implications of this movement for the field of Middle East Studies.

The colonial origins of the term Middle East and the historical imbrications of area studies with the exercise of colonial and imperialist power were highlighted many decades ago in the work of Edward Said, amongst others. More recently, the Arab uprisings provoked calls among some scholars and activists to fundamentally rethink prevalent approaches, derived from so-called universal paradigms, particularly in the social sciences. We invite participants to reflect on the concept of decoloniality and practice of decolonization of knowledge and pedagogy in relation to the study and teaching of the Middle East. For example:

• What does decolonization mean? What are the purported advantages or alleged disadvantages of decolonization – and how do these affect BRISMES and Middle East Studies more broadly?
• Has the field of Middle East Studies been exceptionally resistant to engage with movements and calls for decolonization? What can we learn from movements to decolonize knowledge production in other academic fields and/or regions of expertise?
• What are the practical, political and ethical implications of decolonization moves for the nature of critique, the production of knowledge as well as its dissemination?
• To what extent do colonial legacies structure the way we study, teach and think about the Middle East, including choice of epistemology, methodology, concepts, topics, language of scholarship and who we cite?
• To what extent do postcolonial, settler colonial, feminist, queer and other critical theoretical approaches enable the decolonization of knowledge production?
• How have movements to decolonize the curriculum impacted upon the teaching of Middle East-related subjects?
• In what ways do universities and the wider political economy influence the production of knowledge about the Middle East? What forms of knowledge and types of research projects receive funding, and are thus encouraged, and which others are unsupported and thus marginalized? How does this determine the possibilities for decolonizing knowledge?
• What are the implications of increasing limits on academic freedom, particularly in the region, alongside the tightening of immigration rules and denial of visas to scholars coming from the region for the types of knowledge being produced?
• Does decolonization pose a challenge to academic writing on or in the Middle East? Does it ask us to write differently? Does it mean an end to the Middle East as an object of study?

We are particularly interested in providing space for scholars to reflect on their experiences and challenges of writing about the Middle East while adhering to the disciplinary/academic/institutional requirements of their universities. We encourage contributions by scholars of all levels of experience, but particularly doctoral students and early career researchers to submit papers and panel proposals on this theme.

The movement to decolonize academia also raises questions around the boundaries between activism and scholarship. Similar questions were raised during the 2019 BRISMES AGM, where a majority of BRISMES members voted to endorse the call to boycott Israeli universities, launched by Palestinian civil society in 2004, as a means of pressuring Israel. In the course of the debate, questions were raised about the objectives of scholarly associations such as BRISMES and whether they should be concerned with political issues, in addition to questions surrounding the appropriateness of an academic boycott. Hence, BRISMES 2020 provides an opportunity to continue to discuss the ethics and practicalities of professional and political solidarity and activism and their relevance to academic work. In this light, we ask:

• In what ways can activism inform the study and teaching of the Middle East and vice versa?
• What are the relationships between decolonization as a political project and as an intellectual project?
• What are the possible dangers of linking activism and scholarship?

We encourage proposals that critically engage with the conference theme, in all its dimensions and from all perspectives. In addition, we warmly invite complete panels, roundtables discussions or individual paper proposals on any topic related to the Middle East and North Africa. Our aim is to foster dialogue between scholars, practitioners and activists concerned with the region from all disciplines and all approaches. Please submit proposals for individual papers, complete panels, and/or roundtable discussions.

The main working language of the conference is English. However, this year, for the first time, BRISMES would like to experiment with the inclusion of a limited number of panels in non-English languages spoken in the Middle East region. If you would like your panel to be considered for a non-English language slot in the programme, please indicate this in your submission.

Please note that paper abstracts must not exceed 250 words and must be received by 6.00am (GMT) on Monday 25 November 2019 in order to be considered.

Further instructions for submissions can be found here.