25-28 June 2018 | Department of Middle Eastern Studies, King’s College London
The British Society for Middle Eastern Studies and the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at King’s College London invite proposals for the 2018 Annual BRISMES Conference on the theme of ‘New Approaches to Studying the Middle East’.
Middle Eastern studies has been undergoing a quiet revolution over the past decade. As scholars have grappled with explaining unfolding events in the region, the field has seen a heightened level of reflection on theoretical models, concepts, sources, and methodologies, as well as on the politics and ethics of Middle Eastern studies. The Arab Spring and its aftermath have stirred debate about how we study authoritarianism, regime resilience, protest movements, and the interplay between socio-economic and political dynamics. The unprecedented displacement of Syrians has forced us to think in new ways about movement, trauma and health care, refugee education, and the role of transnational networks. The continued expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land has deepened engagement with the field of settler colonial studies.
In political economy, a renewed focus on the global, the historical and the social have encouraged a more sustained dialogue with international relations, history and historical sociology, while historians of the region have been galvanised by the broader turns to ‘world history’ and ‘global international relations’. Anthropology has built on new conceptualisations of female agency in the context of studying Islamism and expanded its focus on sexuality and youth. Deepening engagement with queer studies has given rise to innovative readings of techniques of subjection and the positionality of the critique itself.
Methodologically, new forms of data and ways of analysing are revolutionising what we know and are allowing us to revisit old debates. The adoption of event database analysis has given social movement scholars a pioneering way to study protests temporally and spatially, while the ‘world historical’ turn has challenged methodological nationalism and bolstered multi-lingual, multi-site archival research. New disciplines such as digital humanities have introduced novel methods like e-ethnographies, while advances in text analysis have shed light on how people communicate. Quantitative and spatial methods are providing new insights into primary source material from the region, such as census data, maps, newspapers, economic indicators, and other government statistics. Meanwhile, others have sought to use survey experiments to arrive at generalisable inferences about attitudes and opinions. Within literature and the arts, challenging traditional epistemologies and geographies, exploring disciplinary boundaries and studies on new hybrid genres have stimulated innovative research.
The past decade has also seen growing attention to previously neglected sites. Literature on the Arabian Peninsula has flourished, as access to some countries has become somewhat easier and academic interest has shifted beyond oil and religion. Research on cities has similarly grown in response to the broader shift towards ‘seeing like a city’, while the global turn has encouraged scholars to relocate the Middle East in relation to other regions, such as the Indian Ocean, the Americas or Europe.
Meanwhile, escalating attacks on academic freedom across the region have brought the politics and challenges of academic research back to the fore. The continuing resource gap between Middle Eastern and Western universities further pressures research in the region, even while initiatives to bridge this gap are increasing. The expansion of digitally available sources and the blurring of private-public boundaries in social media has sharpened discussions about the ethics of research, while the growth of cloud-based research data has heightened debates about data security in the context of increasingly intrusive ‘counter-terrorism’ strategies.
BRISMES 2018 offers an opportunity to take stock of, celebrate and foster innovations in the field. We encourage proposals that take up the theme in original ways, exploring not only new approaches, but bringing different new approaches into dialogue with each other, including across disciplines and across regions. We similarly encourage proposals reflecting on the ethical and political challenges facing research in and on the Middle East.
In addition, we warmly invite proposals on any topic related to Middle Eastern Studies, regardless of their fit with the conference’s main theme. Our aim is to foster dialogue between scholars studying the Middle East and North Africa from all disciplines.
Proposals for complete panel sessions are particularly welcome.