RE-imagining Cultural Histories of the Middle East and North Africa Conference
On Thursday 28 of June 2018, the Communication and Media Research Institute co-organised the Arab Media Centre’s 13th International annual conference. The other organisers were the Centre for Global Media & Communications, SOAS; Goldsmiths, University of London; and Middle East and North Africa Programme, and Chatham House.
Renowned scholar, Professor Ella Shohat of New York University, opened the conference with a keynote entitled: Situating Said’s Orientalism: Reflections – Forty Years After. The conference was also a celebration of 10 years of the Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication, co-founded and co-edited by CAMRI member and Arab Media Centre Director, Dr Tarik Sabry.
The conference, attended by scholars from the UK, the US, Italy, Germany, Denmark, and many countries from the Arab region, set off with the premise that understanding cultural histories of the Middle east and North African regions needed to begin with contextualised analysis of cultural and political practices within their local contexts, while not disregarding or ignoring the encounters with the global and international. It also began with the proposition that a historical analysis of culture and cultural practices needed to consider the relationship between structure and agency as well as lived experiences in order to provide a more critical and historically contextualised theorisation of cultural histories of the region.
The conference asked key questions about why we need to address the writing of cultural histories now and why it matters. Who are the key writers of MENA’s cultural histories? In which languages and under what social conditions were these histories written? How have these writers responded to socio-cultural, political and technological transformations in the region? Through which conceptual frameworks have they understood the region? Why have they focused on some countries and ignored others? What type of epistemologies and theorisations of ‘culture’ and ‘history’ still dominate the writing of cultural history of this region? What role have Middle Eastern and North African cultural historians played in cultural translation and subsequently in reimagining the cultural history of their region? What elements of their legacies need to be challenged; who is challenging them today, and how?
The conference brought together cultural and art historians, anthropologists, political scientists as well as media and cultural studies scholars. And engaged with important themes such as: Intellectual histories/genealogies, Histories of trade Unionism and the Left, Memory, remembering and war and Gender, race and sexuality.