Keynote Speakers 2019

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Professor Mona Harb

Professor of Urban Studies and Politics, American University of Beirut

Mona Harb is Professor of Urban Studies and Politics and Chair of the Department of Architecture and Design at the American University of Beirut. She received her PhD in Political Science in 2005 from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques at Aix-Marseille (France). She is the author of Le Hezbollah à Beyrouth (1985-2005): de la banlieue à la ville (Karthala-IFPO, 2010), co-author of Leisurely Islam: Negotiating Geography and Morality in Shi’ite South Beirut (Princeton University Press, 2013, with Lara Deeb,), co-editor of Local Governments and Public Goods: Assessing Decentralization in the Arab World (Beirut: LCPS, 2015, with Sami Atallah), and of more than seventy-five journal articles, book chapters, and other publications. Her ongoing research investigates local governance and displacement, as well as urban activism and oppositional politics. Harb is the recipient of grants from IDRC, Ford, LSE-Emirates, EU-FP7, Wenner-Gren, ACLS, and the Middle-East Awards. She serves on the editorial boards of IJMES, Environment and Planning C, IJURR and CSSAME, and is a trustee of the Arab Council for the Social Sciences. She is the founder and co-editor of the Cities Page on Jadaliyya e-zine. She served as the coordinator of the AUB graduate programs in Urban Planning, Policy and Design, and as Associate Dean of her faculty. She provides professional advice on urban development issues for several international organizations (ESCWA, WB, EU, UNDP).

Professor Harb’s keynote is entitled: “Crafting Oppositional Politics amidst Urban Governance Ills and Radical Urban Planning Imaginaries: Learning from Beirut”

Abstract: In this talk, I present an interdisciplinary research framework developed over the past two decades I have spent investigating processes of spatial production in Beirut and other Lebanese cities. The framework is grounded in critical urban studies and political sociology and incorporates two interrelated tracks. The first examines institutions and governance processes that elaborate and implement urban policies and programs. I ask: who governs cities and regions, and how? What is governed and not governed, when, and for what ends? What tools and strategies are used to justify and operationalize actions? What networks of actors are privileged or excluded? The second studies how different groups of people perceive and experience urban policies, and how they craft spatial practices that align with, parasite, negotiate, circumvent, or contest such programs. While I do denounce the ills of neoliberal governance—namely high inequality and ecological costs, I also seek to document and learn from the everyday encroachments of people—without reifying those. Namely, I interrogate the conditions under which urban negotiations and contestations possibly lead to seeds of mobilization and collective action that may disrupt hegemonies. I argue that the imaginary of a radical urban planning practice that produces tangible institutional and spatial scenarios that advance more inclusive and livable commons plays a determining role in generating a much-needed “utopianism” that may enable oppositional politics.

I illustrate this argument through three stories. The first narrates the production of a pious leisure economy in south Beirut and how it diversified urban geographies in the city; the second explores how the Syrian refugees “crisis” reshuffled local urban governance arrangements in ways that amplified hybrid institutional setups generating high levels of inequality and precarity, and where people’s abilities to adapt and sustain are largely restricted but not rescinded; and the third reports on the Beirut Madinati municipal campaign experience which did not lead to an electoral win but was experienced as a victory. While the first two stories indicate how people’s spatial practices readjust spatial production processes, even partially, the latter story highlights the role of imaginative and radical urban planning in challenging hegemonic politics, and producing hope and utopianism that expand oppositional politics.


Professor Salman Sayyid

Professor of Social Theory & Decolonial Thought, University of Leeds

Salman Sayyid is based at the University of Leeds, where he holds a Chair in  Social Theory and Decolonial Thought and is the Head of the School of Sociology and Social Policy. Previously, Sayyid was Professor and the inaugural director of the International Centre for Muslim and Non-Muslim Understanding, in Australia.   He has held academic positions in London, Manchester and Adelaide. Professor Sayyid is a political theorist, whose work engages with critical theory and the politics and culture of the Global South.  Sayyid’s major publications include: A Fundamental Fear (a book despite being banned by the Malaysian government is now in its third edition), A Postcolonial People (co-edited), Thinking Through Islamophobia (co-edited with Abdoolkairm Vakil) and Recalling The Caliphate (a Turkish and an Arabic translation of this book has just recently been published).  Sayyid is the founding editor of an inter-disciplinary peer-reviewed academic journal ReOrient.   He is also a frequent contributor to national and international media.

Professor Sayyid’s keynote is entitled: “Post-Disciplinarily and the Challenge of Middle Eastern Studies”.

Abstract: The challenge to Middle Eastern Studies is not merely practical.  It is not only the conditions in the region that make it difficult to sustain the belief that research and scholarship transcend politics – the suppression of critical intellectual activity in the region seems to strike at the heart of the academic endeavour.  Nor is it only about questioning the correct balance between the demands of scholarship and for policy prescriptions.  The challenge is also philosophical.  The international student-led campaign organised around the slogan “Why is My Curriculum White?” has drawn attention to the way in which the contemporary production of knowledge has been established in university departments and academic disciplines.  If asked why the curriculum is white, one answer would be because the curriculum is based on the truth.  Another answer would be that the disciplines that we teach were the products of a world that is no longer what it was and that we need to come to terms with that.  The relationship between the colonial-racial order and the formulation of concerns and protocols that helped to establish Middle Eastern Studies and its cognates have been the subject of fierce polemics for almost forty years.  In one corner are those who see, in the desire to conduct business as usual on behalf of the discipline, the last vestiges of privilege and power.  In the opposite corner are those who believe that their venerable discipline has been invaded by “identity politics” or “political correctness” or “postmodernism” or whatever may be the current designation of the latest threat to the civilizing mission as we know it.  The critique of Orientalism has been instrumental in generating a postcolonial (and decolonial) analytics primarily outside the field of Middle Eastern Studies.  The defence of the discipline and disciplinary boundaries involves a process of an active forgetting of the way in which the production of knowledge is contained in pathways, research clusters and academic departments.  In this lecture, I will suggest that a lack of discipline does not imply a lack of rigour, significance or creativity; rather, a recalling of how the discipline came to be is necessary to ensure its future in a world which is increasingly post-Western.