Middle East Studies

The Notion of Arab Culture in the Colonial Present

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

12 p.m. – 1 p.m.

McKinney Conference, Watson Instittue 

Register for lunch by emailing CMES@brown.edu, required.

Speaker: Mayssun Succarie, Cogut Postdoctoral Fellow in International Humanities and Modern Arab Culture and Society

This talk problematizes the relationship between culture and development in the development studies literature by examining how the notion of “Arab Culture” is being mobilized by dominant political and economic groups in the contemporary period in two fundamentally contradictory ways.

In macro-level policy discourse, Arab Culture is predominantly presented as an impediment to development, and something that needs to be developed. This is the basis of Orientalist discourses of “cultural gaps” and “cultural lags” that legitimate and demand external interventions in Arab society and economy in the first place. However, at the micro-level, Arab Culture is often reconfigured as an asset through which these external interventions can create and extract economic value.

In this process, Arab Culture is economized (through its commodification), at the same time as development strategies are culturalized (both through the promotion of artisanal micro-enterprise for the poor and embrace of large scale tourism based economies for elites.).

These contradictory invocations of Arab Culture are mobilized by local, national and international elites for different audiences at different steps of the development process; and at key moments, these invocations are also strongly contested from below.

The paper’s analysis is based on an ethnographic study of a single development organization, the Education for Employment Foundation working in Aqaba, Jordan.

Middle East Colloquium