ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
(Hello from my finally-set-up office! It only took the entire month of August. Do you like my new icon? I'm proud of it, even if the text is illegible--it's from here.)

What are you currently reading?
Turncoat, a mystery novel set in 1800s Upper Canada (what we now know as Ontario), which is largely about US/Canada tensions in the post-1812 period. Also murder. Helpfully, the Ottawa Public Library puts maple leaves on the spines of books of Canadian Interest, so I can go through the shelves and pick out genre reading that also will serve as acculturation! I'm also reading Transnationalism: Canada/US History in the 21st Century, which I picked up at the book exhibit at the American Political Science Association meeting this past weekend, as well as all the readings I'm setting for my classes (in US politics and political violence).

What did you recently finish reading?
Line and Orbit by [personal profile] dynamicsymmetry and, uh, I forget if their co-author has a journal to link to? This was my airplane/bedtime reading while I was at APSA . Space opera funtiemz, 10 out of 10, will read the sequels as fast as they write them. Also, I ended up falling into A Lexicon of Terror, about the Argentine Dirty War, and being unable to emerge until I'd read the whole thing, despite the fact that I decided about a chapter in that I wasn't going to be assigning any of it in my Political Violence class. It's an excellent read about horrible things.

What do you think you’ll read next?
I need to read Every Twelve Seconds, an ethnography of an industrial slaughterhouse, before the ILL due date hits, since I need to pick what I'm assigning for class. No clue what fiction will be next on the list...
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
Quick hits from my reading list:

Egypt, the IMF, and Europe. A policy paper by Farah Halime, whose blog is a great resource on Middle Eastern economics for folks (like me) who want to incorporate thinking on economic issues into our work without being, ourselves, experts in economics. (I am still confused how I fell into doing political economy work at this particular moment in time.) The ongoing disaster that is Egypt's economy, and how it relates to the world economic system, isn't nearing a resolution, but this paper neatly lays out what's going on in Egyptian politics and economics that's making negotiating with the IMF so difficult, and what the policy problems with loans are going to be. (It's not anti-loan or anti-IMF, but it does acknowledge the multiple issues with loans and their consequences--more reformist than radical.)

The Anatomy of Protest in Egypt and Tunisia. The Arab Barometer project is the best collection of cross-national quantitative data on public opinion in the Arab world; as a qualitative researcher, I'm always glad when someone else has collected high-quality quant data that I can use in a glancing manner when I need some of it, so I don't have to. Here, three of the researchers associated with the project lay out some conclusions about protesters in Egypt and Tunisia during the revolutions. The centrality of economic and anti-corruption concerns for protesters stands out, as does the relative lack of interest in Islamist transformation, and the lower interest in civil and political rights.

Engaging the Haitian Diaspora. The Caribbean countries are some of the most important and most-studied cases of diaspora political involvement, and the details of the Haitian diaspora's demographics recounted in this article are fascinating, and demonstrate why diaspora political and economic engagement is so important in this case. I'm also glad to see more stuff not about the Middle East coming from the Cairo Review, which is a brilliant new(-ish) journal from AUC.

What is Tuz? Storytelling from the Queer Arab Diaspora. I haven't listened to this yet--in fact, I rarely listen to podcasts and radio shows, because I am weird and prefer to assimilate new information by reading, rather than listening--but it seems really awesome. And makes me miss NYC.

Explanation is Not the Point: Domestic Work, Islamic Dawa and Becoming Muslim in Kuwait (PDF) This brilliant article by Attiya Ahmad on migrant domestic workers' conversions to Islam in Kuwait is fascinating as a piece of ethnography, and insightful as an exploration of what 'conversion' means in different cultural contexts. I'm particularly interested in it because I'm returning to an old project on the construction of an idea of preference for Muslim domestic workers in Gulf countries, and this comments interestingly on the subject in one of the footnotes. (Also, because of my obsession with everything related to Kuwait ever. KUWAIT.)
ajnabieh: Sign for a store reading "Hot Chick." (hot chick)
I have an article in the current issue of Middle East Journal which might be interesting to some of you. (I have the lead article, actually, which amuses me to no end.) "Democratic Paradoxes" is about Kuwaiti women's enfranchisement, particularly the 1999 enfranchisement by the emir, which was then retracted by the National Assembly. Essentially, I argue that this particular moment demonstrates a tension between distributing power across a variety of insitutions in a democratizing country, and increasing the number of people who are entitled to participate in the political process. Working from an analysis of 1999, I analyze subsequent ups and downs in women's political participation over the subsequent decade-and-change in Kuwait's never-boring political life. In the end, my argument is that those of us who have strong normative commitments to both women's empowerment in formal politics and to growing democratic control over governance need to be aware of moments where these two goals are in conflict, because they aren't always easily combined.

I'm overjoyed for this article to see print, not just because I like it, but because it began its life nearly a decade ago, first as a random idea floating through my head while I worked as a research assistant for the year before grad school, then as a research proposal for my first grad school seminar, then as a conference paper for my first MESA, and finally as a working paper for the past four years. It's gone through innumerable revisions, including being updated for no fewer than four new National Assembly elections (including the one in December that kept it out of the winter issue). The editing staff at MEJ was lovely throughout, and I'm glad to have had the chance to work with them--but I'm also glad to be done with this particular article. Now, finally, I am allowed to think different things about Kuwait!

You can see the whole issue here. If you want my article and can't get free access online, drop me a note and I'll send you a copy as a PDF. If you're my mother and want a physical copy with my name on the cover, go buy your own, the one I've got is mine.
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (marxist feminist)
I recently read a report by a group of Canadian academics and community activists on immigration and citizenship policy in the post-9/11 period, called Security and Immigration, Changes and Challenges: Immigrant and Ethnic Communities in Atlantic Canada, Presumed Guilty? (link to PDF). It was an enlightening report, not merely because I know next to nothing about Atlantic Canada. (Let's be real: like most North Americans, my mental image of Canada basically stops at Montreal, and east of that point I have only a vague notion of bears, trees, and Anne of Green Gables.) Much of what was in the report was profoundly similar to immigration politics and policy in the past decade-and-change in the US: Muslim and Arab communities being targeted for state surveillance, an increased securitization of migration policy, and anxiety from migrant communities about what future changes will mean for their ability to remain in Canada, or remain in status.

However, there was an angle that was new to me: the context of the US/Canada relationship. One of the major complaints of the immigrants and immigrant service organizations surveyed by the team was that Canadian immigration policy was becoming more like the US's during this decade. This was particularly disheartening because these new Canadians defined themselves as Canadians-not-Americans. Canada was not supposed to act like the US; it was supposed to prioritize human security and human rights, both in its migration policy and in its treatment of immigrants once they arrive in Canada.

The framework in which I locate my work is that of transnational migration, meaning not just migration that crosses international borders, but migration where people, ideas, and material goods flow back and forth between 'sending countries' and 'receiving countries.' However, this report suggests the importance of third-party countries to migrants' understanding of their own political movements and frameworks. They don't merely form the discourses that structure their political actions from the dialogical relationship between their experiences 'back home' and their experiences in diaspora; instead, they imagine other interlocutors against whom they define their discourses. This is new to me in the literature on transnational migration (which, incidentally, isn't the perspective this report takes--it's firmly rooted in domestic Canadian politics). I'd posit that this is because the literature on transnational migration has been largely about US/Latin America migratory circuits--and that American politics doesn't, very often, define itself against politics in other countries, certainly not the way that Canadian politics positions itself against US politics.

The report also deals in a very interesting way with how freedom is defined and understood by members of Atlantic Canadian immigrant communities; the researchers aimed to elicit meaningful definitions of freedom from their participants, and paint a picture of a very substantive working notion of freedom, which emphasizes fundamental freedoms, especially freedom of movement. It would be interesting to develop a comparative notion of how freedom is defined among dominant and subaltern communities in the US and Canada, considering how both countries make 'freedom' central to self-development.

In any case, I recommend the report if you're interested in ethnic politics in Canada, or broadening your lens on the security state and migration policy outside of either a Eurocentric or American lens. It also has an excellent methods section, which is clear, detailed, and explains enough to really ensure that readers who care about methods understand how the data was collected.
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
My review of Wendy Pearlman's Violence, Non-Violence, and the Palestinian National Movement is out now in New Political Science, the journal of the New Political Science caucus of the American Political Science Association. (Basically, it's the caucus full of people who want political science to be more about social change, more about multiple methods coexisting and the validity of qualitative methods, and less about math.)

The review is behind a paywall, but here's my basic point:

Violence, Non-Violence, and the Palestinian National Movement provides suggestive answers to two popular questions about politics: First: when do participants in social movements choose violent tactics over nonviolent tactics? Second: Why is there no “Palestinian Gandhi” or prominent nonviolent leadership in the Palestinian national movement? By taking the first question seriously, and using the logical problems of the second as a motivating force (as she shows well, there is a long history of nonviolent activism in Palestinian movements), Pearlman has written a compelling book that combines close historical documentation with a clear argument about the relationship between the internal features of movements and their tactical choices.

If you're interested in Pearlman's work, here's a video interview with her talking about it, and here's an oldish essay by her on the Middle East Channel about the possibility of a new intifada.

If anyone wants a copy of my review, I'm happy to pass it along--hit me up by PM, or email (emilyreganwills at that ubiquitous server, gmail). And if you're thinking of getting the book, it's a good read, and available for Kindle.

(I know, I know, I never write, I never call. It's been a busy couple of months lately. Hopefully I'll have news to report in the next month or so...)
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (marxist feminist)
At my local library, they're handing out Summer Reading passports. I remember those, from elementary school on: getting checkmarks for books I read, the race to read more than anyone else (yeah, I was that kid), and then, getting older, the lists of books I had to pick from in middle school and high school, all of which were severely below my reading level, and which usually got banged out in the last week of vacation, after having spent the summer curled up with more Serious Works Of Literature. (I had a thing for John Barth in high school. Don't ask me why.)

Like most academics, I think of the summers, primarily, as time to get work done without the regular stresses of the academic year. No students, no meetings, nothing to do but read, write, and research. That's a beautiful thing--especially given that, though I had no teaching commitments this past summer, I did have a number of personal things get in the way of my work.

So I'm making a summer reading list. (And a writing list, but it's more in flux.)

On it so far are:

  • Voices of the New Arab Public,, by Marc Lynch. I am happy to report that, after having wanted to read this book since it came out in 2006, and had it out from the library since January, I have finally read it. Expect a review this week, if I'm organized.
  • Peripheral Visions: Publics, Power, and Performance in Yemen, by Lisa Wedeen. I'm a Wedeen fan in general ("fangirl" might be the more appropriate term, if you catch my drift), and I read a few chapters of this before it was published, and found them incredibly exciting. She's an excellent writer, and Yemen is certainly relevant to the news these days.
  • Democracy, Human Rights and Law in Islamic Thought, by Mohammed Abed al-Jabri. Both Lynch and Wedeen draw on Habermasian frameworks in their two books above. I've been thinking about the necessity of working through questions about the Habermasian public spheres, and about al-Jabri, who also uses public sphere frameworks. There's an article in there, and I think this set of three books is going to poke it out. Inshallah.
  • At least 1-2 recent books to write reviews of.

Why the last? Well, because there was a fairly hilarious, IMHO, piece in the most recent MESA (Middle East Studies Association) newsletter, aiming to guilt us all into writing review pieces for the Review of Middle East Studies. When I say "guilt," I mean it:

Why do we write? Is it for tenure? For the tiny audience of specialists to which we each belong? ... Or, do we write in the hope that someone, somewhere will engage with our imaged worlds? And, if so, do we not then have the responsibility to read and critique the work of others in the hope that our work will receive similar attention? ... You will tell me that we have way to much to do; that there are too few of us; that reviews are undervalued by tenure and promotion committees; that print publications are headed for the trashbin of history....Perhaps. But in the meantime, think about it.

Just for you guys, I went and got it out of the recycling bin so I could transcribe that. I hope you're amused.

The thing is, I do agree with the general point: reviews are good academic citizenship. Plus, I would like to read something new, something to remind myself that I am, actually, interested in Middle Eastern politics and Things That Are Not My Dissertation. I picked up a wide variety of things in my latest library run: an edited collection on Gulf politics and a general reader on women in the UAE to go with my mild obsession with the politics of small states, an ethnography of Moroccan garment workers that seems to be marketed to a mainstream audience, and a book on marriage and the Egyptian state, which I have a suspicion will work its way onto my fall syllabi. My plan is this: if I don't feel strongly one way or another after 50 pages, I'll put them aside. If I find them horrific and disasterous, I'll write a review. If I find them amazing and brilliant, I'll write a review.

Of course, I'm planning on doing a little of that other sort of summer reading...

summer reading

(Click through for a list of titles. I picked them up yesterday. Two of them are ready to go back already. Om nom nom, books with pictures in them.)


Any recommendations for things I should be reading this summer? In either category, *g*.

Also, it's probably a little late for this, but would any of the other academic folks on my rlist want to start a false-deadlines-and-feedback writing support group for the summer? I know there are other similar things going on in blogland, but I'd be happy to coordinate a group on DW.
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (marxist feminist)
I have an ethical proposition:

If you're incapable of having sympathy for someone you're writing about--don't write about them.

Amazingly, this post isn't inspired by the recent fandom-explosion on the topic of racism and inappropriate uses of tragedy in fanfic. (If you haven't seen this, and are interested, ask away and I'll point you to the right places. It's train-wrecky to the extreme.) It's inspired by a book I just finished reading, that, for obvious reasons, I'll refrain from mentioning by name. The book is very useful to me, because it includes data on a topic I'm working on, in a time period I both wasn't personally around to see, and from a different perspective than the other things I've seen. But about twice a page, I come across a statement that makes my jaw drop--that makes me think, "Did ze really just write that?!?!?"

It's not that the statements are out-and-out *ist (where * is the identity of the folks being studied--obviously you can make a good guess based on my work). It's more that the author, as a general principle, seems to feel that the assessments that those who are politically active in the community make are "alleged" or "supposedly." Moderates "believe," while more radical groups "feel" their political conclusions. One group faces "exploitation," the other "mistreatment." They "drape their causes in the mantle" of the ideologies they use, or find it a "convenient position," rather than actually believing those ideologies are useful to explain their political problems. A group is "in principle secular and democratic," which seems to imply that they would cease to be such in practice. A particular cause is central because "clinging to [it] is comforting," not because it's an important political issue that had broader political support than any other issue. The trend here is to devalue the political opinions held by members of the group under study, to subtly suggest they're the result of paranoia, misperceptions, un-American values, or perhaps even conspiracy.

It's clear the author has a preference for which political tactic these groups should take. I don't share that preference. Nevertheless, I don't begrudge hir that preference; of course we all have political preferences on the political questions we study. If we didn't, we wouldn't be political scientists, or even political beings. But I do begrudge that, rather than stating this preference outright, the author undermined the alternate argument throughout the text. I do begrudge that the alternate viewpoints aren't given the respect of a thorough treatment. I do begrudge that the bias in the text goes entirely unmarked.

I'll admit that I had a very uncharitable reaction to the text. In particular, my response was "I should never read texts about [ethnopolitical identity A] by someone with [ethnopolitical identity B]." But that's crap, and I know it: I know plenty of people of [ethnopolitical identity B] who've written brilliant stuff on [ethnopolitical identity A]. Sometimes I disagree with it, but it's worth reading. This isn't a problem of identity, really--it's a problem of crappy writing.

I think the root of this problem is the inability to have sympathy with the subject of one's writing. Not sympathy in the meaning of pity--not to feel sorry for one's research/writing subjects--but sympathy in the sense of being able to understand what they're feeling, and looking to see their perspective. To represent what is thought, and felt, and argued, and believed heartily by the people you are writing about: this is what we are called to, as writers of fiction, as writers of nonfiction, as researchers studying human beings, whether contemporarily or historically, through their actions or their texts.

I've been doing fieldwork on the Arab-American community in New York for two years now (sidenote: TWO YEARS? REALLY? *boggles*). I don't agree with everyone I've worked with, every cause I've documented, every political perspective I've written about. I've attended protests and organizing meetings for groups whose politics I agree with only in part. But that doesn't mean I'm exempted from explaining what their politics means to them, and what claims to validity it has. If I also, either at the same time or in a different piece of writing, want to lay out my objections to their politics, I may do so--and I should do so clearly, and in an aboveboard manner. But to dismiss them so casually through my writing is to do poor research.

Manuel Castells, in his book The Power of Identity, writes the following:

[S]ocial movements must be understood in their own terms: namely, they are what they say they are. Their practices (and foremost their discursive practices) are their self-definition. This approach takes such away fromthe hazardous task of interpreting the 'true' consciousness of movements, as if they could only exist by revealing the 'real' structural conditions. As if, in order to come to life, they could necessarily have to bear these contradictions, as they bear their weapons and brandish their flags. A different, and necessary, research operation is to establish the relationship between the movements as defined by their practice, their values, and their discourse, and the social processes to which they seem to be associated.

This is my guiding principle for studying social movements: to document them as they understand themselves, first and foremost, and unpack their discourses in order to understand them. We aren't duty-bound to only study movements, communities, and subjects we agree with fully. We are duty-bound to represent our objects of study so that they might recognize themselves, and not feel dismissed, denigrated, or ignored in works that are intended to explain them to others--even if they disagree with our conclusions.
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (awda times square)
(I made myself some more icons. And yet this one came out blurry. :( Oh well.)

When I was creating the syllabus for the course I taught this semester, The Middle East in Diaspora, I struggled to find syllabi for similar courses online. Therefore, I'm putting my entire reading list online, for other scholars to be able to find later and refer to.

Here's the course description:

Migrant communities bring the politics of their homelands with them into the diaspora and create new political realities in the countries that receive them. This course traces how immigrant groups tied to the Middle East are engaged politically outside their countries of origin. What sorts of transnational political linkages have they made, and what effects do these connections have on politics back home? What sorts of communities have been built in the diaspora, and how do these communities interact with the politics of their new homes? Cases include Turks in Germany, Arabs in France, and the Israeli, Iranian, and Arab communities in the United States.

Functionally, it was a course on Arab-Americans, with comparisons made to France and, to a lesser extent, Germany. This was largely a function of my own background and linguistic competence (I speak French and not German). The last four weeks' topics were determined by the students via a poll; I wouldn't have taught the section on elections, though when I tried to find research for it I got incredibly mad about the lack of good literature on the topic.

I ordered two books for my class: Bakalian and Bozorgmehr's Backlash 9/11, and Stephen Salaita's The Uncultured Wars. If I were doing it again, I might make them buy Louise Cainkar's Homeland Insecurity as well, because I really like it, and, as you can see, we read a decent chunk of it. All other readings are given in full citation format.

14 weeks of readings on Middle Eastern migrant communities in the West )

If any of my readers are interested in any of these readings, I have most of them scanned, and can pass them along. Or if you have suggestions for future iterations, I'd love to hear them!
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
One of the pleasures of big disciplinary conferences is the collision of papers that don't necessarily have much in common. (Of course, one of the downsides of big national conferences is...being in a room with people who don't have anything to say to each other. But anyway.) At APSA, I was on a panel about race, racisms, and xenophobia, on which I presented a paper on theories of recognition, the Arab-American experience of injustice, and why we need to consider discursive misrecognition as a real field for social struggle. In classic APSA form, I, an interpretivist ethnographer presenting a paper on political theory was paired with one historian and two survey research behavioralists/political psychologists. Nevertheless, the research was all fascinating, and I was glad to be on the panel.

One of the other papers was Measuring Respondent Agreement/Disagreement with Framing Experiments: Race, Religion and Voting Against Barack Obama in 2008, which Baretto and Redlawsk presented handily. You can read their abstract and paper at the link provided, but, essentially, they tested in what ways framing Obama as pro-Muslim, pro-Christian, or pro-black influenced how people later ranked him on various measures. They found that a successful framing of him as pro-Muslim hurt his numbers, pro-Christian helped a little but a failure of that frame hurt him more, and that being pro-black actually helped his numbers. They also explored the evidence that whether or not the interviewee agreed with the framing question had an independently significant effect on their support for Obama in later questions.

I found their work extremely interesting. The idea of 'framing,' is, in many ways, the way folks who don't come from my theoretical corner talk about what I call discourse; one could gloss 'discourse,' say, as the sum total of plausible frames, a sort of grammar of possibilities for understanding a political incident. I don't think this is a perfect definition of discourse, but it works, and certainly captures much of what I mean when I say it. Part of what was so interesting about this paper was that it allowed for the possibility that individuals could either accept or reject the frame presented to them: they could either agree with the way the question positioned Obama as pro-black, pro-Muslim, or pro-Christian, or disagree with it, and that choice influenced their later answers. This really is an excellent addition to the use of framing in research.

At the same time, I found myself having any number of thoughts about the structure of the questions that Baretto et al asked. I'm an interpretivist, methodologically; that means that the questions I ask about politics have to do with meaning. And these questions seem to 'mean' a number of things to me, many of which were not intentional.

Here are the three framing questions (from page 14 of the paper):

Muslim Frame:
Because his uncle in Kenya is Muslim, and for a few years he was raised in Indonesia, a
Muslim country; how much do you think Barack Obama can sympathize with the Muslim
community in America? Is it very much, somewhat, only a little, not at all?

Black Frame:
Because he worked as a community organizer for a Black church in Chicago, and
represented a majority-Black district in the Illinois Senate; how much do you think
Barack Obama can sympathize with the Black community in America? Is it very much,
somewhat, only a little, not at all?

Christian Frame:
Because he was married in, and attended a Christian church, and has stressed his
Christian values; how much do you think Barack Obama can sympathize with the
Christian community in America? Is it very much, somewhat, only a little, not at all?

The Muslim question stopped me, every time I read it. Why? Because if you asked me that question--before the election, today, or any other day--I would answer either "very much" or "somewhat," depending on my mood. And then, if you asked me about how I felt about Obama, I would reply (again, depending on mood and recent policy decisions) fairly highly. I think it is good that an elected official be able to sympathize with the Muslim community, because I think the Muslim community has been discriminated against, and that sympathy with them might mean less systemic discrimination. Now, based on the numbers Baretto et al got, clearly I'm in the minority in this reading. But I'm not alone: on page 19, we see that 20% of those who agree with the Muslim framing rate Obama in the top quadrant in their thermometer scale, and 19% say they "often" have feelings of hope towards him or his policies.

The Christian frame also made me think. Those who agreed that Obama was sympathetic to Christians rated him reasonably highly; those who disagreed rated him very poorly on the thermometer scale at the end of the poll. My guess--and I'd have to do research to back this up, but it's got some face validity--is that those who said he was not sympathetic to 'the Christian community' had a very specific notion of who is in that Christian community. Recently in American politics, "Christians" has come to mean primarily right-leaning evangelical Protestants, and often them alone: not Catholics, not mainline Protestants, not left-leaning Christians of all denominations. Most folks who self-identify in that community are not pro-Obama, to say the least. Hearing this question, their construction of what it would take to be "pro-Christian" requires not just being familiar with the community, not just being nominally a Christian or attending a church (not a masjid or synagogue), but having a set of particular and contested religious and policy goals. Obama just doesn't. But folks who thought he was sympathetic to the Christian community probably meant another sort of Christian community. Because of these differences in the construction of the community that they are being asked about, these different answers are measuring radically different things.

In general, I'm not certain if the "sympathetic to" construction is the right one here. That element of the question is where the majority of the multiple possible readings are situated. I want to know what "sympathetic to" means, and I'm pretty sure it means different things to different interviewees. Survey researchers are not a fan of questions with so many possible readings; however, I'm of the opinion that every question is going to have multiple meanings, and that you can't escape offering complex and divergent thoughts in any of your polling information. What I do think, however, is that we need to actually explore those complexities, rather than trying (and inevitably failing) to exclude them. I think this requires research more complicated than a 20 minute phone poll. I think it requires actually asking about meaning, rather than leaving them unconstructed. That doesn't make Baretto et al's paper less interesting to me; it just opens up a new set of doors that I'd like to go down, or at least see someone else go down.


ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
Ajnabieh - The Foreigner

March 2016

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