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Reckoning with Race, Gender, Class and Imperialism: New Approaches to Southwest Asia and North Africa (or, the Middle East)

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Organizer: Mariam Rahmani

Co-Organizer: Parisa Vaziri

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Since the advent of the study of the so-called “Near East” during the rise of European imperialism as chronicled by Said’s Orientalism (1978), the study of cultural production of Southwest Asia (or, the Middle East) and North Africa in the West has seen major changes. If Orientalism (defined here as the creation of an exotic Near Eastern Other at the level of discourse and militarily enforced reality) is part and parcel of the very origin story of Comparative Literature, the proliferation of postcolonial studies in the 1980s forced the field to move beyond its pretensions to apoliticism and reckon with the real effects of power and perspective.
While studies on the effects of Western imperialism on Southwest Asian and North African countries now abound, rarer are studies attending to violence that take into account the sedimentation of intra-regional power dynamics, and premodern, and thus precolonial, forms of violence—or modern forms of violence (e.g. binary gender, the heterocouple, etc.) whose shape may not be exclusively, or even predominantly, modeled on the West. Does the virtuous posture of postcolonial theory, which takes colonialism as its starting point, dissolve the violence of precolonial sociality through its exaltation of the East-West binary and the reproduction of orthodox narratives about Western modernity? How do scholars today approach the ruptures in time and space enshrined by postcolonial thought by attending to shifts in hierarchies of human difference in the long duree? How might the disentangling of “modernity” from occidental result in a more complex understanding of power?
This panel seeks to bring together new approaches to the study of Southwest Asia (the Middle East) and North Africa in order to facilitate conversation and debate among various temporal, geographic, disciplinary, and theoretical spaces. Young scholars or those established scholars pursuing new projects or directions are especially welcome. Possible topics might include, but certainly are not limited to:
Race as an analytic term in Southwest Asia/North Africa
Legacies and histories of Indian Ocean World slavery
Constructions of gender and sexuality
Blackness and anti-blackness in Southwest Asia/North Africa
Critiques of history and Western historiography
The current state of postcolonial studies
Translation and Untranslatability
Questions of the archive
Global modernisms and modernity

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