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Ways of Knowing: Situated and Relational Geographies of the Middle East and North Africa, Part II

Panel 044, 2018 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 16 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
The last two to three decades have seen the gradual consolidation of a distinctly interdisciplinary scholarship that explores the formation and imperatives of empire, colonialism and capitalism as constituted and contested in and through spatial practices. There is however a tendency in this literature to fall prey to methodological nationalism and to consider these formations as extraneous -that is as external forces simply falling upon and impacting on states across the region. This often leads to neglecting the deeply relational geography of these phenomena in ways that curtail the potentiality and horizons of political change. The Middle East and North Africa are not only a product of relations of power but also producers of new conditions and relations of possibility, this region is and has always been global indeed -the question remains in which ways it was global and what has changed/transformed. This panel foregrounds situated and relational spatial analyses of the Middle East and North Africa mediated by power relations that enmeshed the region with the world, always in process, constantly becoming. It considers what theoretical and methodological tools can help us advance studies that are simultaneously situated in their local, regional, and global contexts? How can these tools help us decentre and push against scripted geographies that often fall back naturally into colonial and imperial metropoles reinforcing a Euro-America imagination of geographies of power? What are the potentials and limits of building upon and further expanding well-established traditions of anti-imperialist, anti-colonial, feminist and postcolonial thought that take seriously histories and geographies of a shared world of trade, mobility and circulation? And how can these analyses be informed by collaborative and self-reflexive work committed and accountable to political struggles in the region?
Architecture & Urban Planning
Political Science
  • Dr. Nida Alahmad -- Discussant
  • Dr. Kareem Rabie -- Chair
  • Dr. Mona Atia -- Presenter
  • Mr. Omar Jabary Salamanca -- Organizer
  • Dr. Deen Sharp -- Presenter
  • Dr. Angela Joya -- Presenter
  • Dr. Andy Clarno -- Presenter
  • Dr. Angela Joya
    In the first part of the twenty first century we have witnessed a large number of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and North Africa seeking refuge in Europe and beyond. While the wars and conflict in the region has been a main driver of displacement of people, the economic imperatives associated with the globalization project have also played an important role. The latter however has not been studied sufficiently to establish the links between forced displacement in the region and the globalization project’s main architects—the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This paper seeks to examine the cases of four countries comparatively to explore whether economic reform policies of the period of liberalization (1980s-1990s) have contributed to the wave of migration from the MENA region. What this paper grapples with is seeking to understand the ways in which global power relations are reproduced through the production of dislocation and displacement of workers and peasants in the global south. Approaching the issue as such, forces us to center our analysis of the refugee/migrant crisis in the contemporary period not as a unidirectional phenomenon (from the global south to the global north) but as a closely linked product of global power relations and thus approach it through a global lens.
  • Relational poverty seeks to decenter mainstream approaches to poverty knowledge production. It asks us to rework the bounds of our thinking about poverty and focus on unequal power relations, how poverty is produced through institutions and practices and across complex geographies. It also calls for attention to the mutual production of privilege and poverty simultaneously and understanding the contour lines of global development discourses. Goal one of the sustainable development goals is to end extreme poverty using targets and metrics; an important tool in this paradigm is the poverty map. In this paper I juxtapose two case studies of poverty in Morocco and France. I deploy a relational poverty framework to explain the poverty map production process and the ways in which subjects, spaces and processes are assembled in order to fit within discrete, measurable and trackable targets that focus on income as the sole proxy for poverty. Based on interviews and fieldwork conducted in each country at the national and local scales, I argue that the current framing of poverty as a problem does little to reduce poverty but is actually a policy of dispersal. The poverty maps enable a way of knowing poverty that targets the concentration of poverty in particular places. By spreading and dispersing populations, the geographical targeting approach renders the poor invisible through a politics of displacement that fragments their communities and ignores how places have been reconfigured to fit within a post-colonial and capitalist world order. I use case studies at the municipal scale to demonstrate how local "poor" populations have responded to poverty dispersal policies and how their responses might offer an alternative politics of possibility.
  • Dr. Andy Clarno
    This paper analyses the geographies of liberation grounded in transnational networks of solidarity between Palestine/Israel and South Africa. These networks are rooted in long histories of connection between the Palestinian and South African liberation movements. And, after 1994, hundreds of Black South Africans have travelled to Palestine/Israel to stand in solidarity with Palestinians, bear witness to the occupation, or simply learn about the struggle. Two themes stand out in their testimonials: a familiarity with the situation and an insistence that the violence confronting Palestinians today is worse than what Black South Africans faced under white minority rule. In recent years, hundreds of Palestinians have also travelled to South Africa for study, solidarity, and speaking tours. After these visits, Palestinians are often buoyed by expressions of solidarity from Black South Africans and inspired by the political freedoms that they experience. Many Palestinians see in South Africa a principled rejection of settler colonialism and a model of coexistence based on a common humanity. At the same time, some Palestinians express serious concerns about the persistence of racism and inequality in South Africa after apartheid. These exchanges help situate Palestine and South Africa as central nodes within a transnational network of struggles against racism, capitalism, colonialism, and empire. This paper is based on interviews with participants in transnational exchanges – Palestinians and Israelis who have travelled to South Africa and South Africans who have travelled to Palestine/Israel – including students, artists, NGO employees, and political organizers. I supplement this data with an archive of written reports, testimonials, and news articles based on these exchanges. Analyzing the geographies of liberation grounded in these networks, I argue that South Africa has come to represent not only a model of successful struggle against settler-colonial rule but also a cautionary tale about the limitations of a purely rights-based approach to liberation.
  • Dr. Deen Sharp
    While scholarship on the relationship between war and cities is growing, urban studies scholarship has often ignored military urbanism and the ways in which violence can be embedded in the processes of urbanization. Concepts like urbicide, for example, have focused on the deliberate destruction of the built environment rather than on urbanization and military urbanism. In this paper, I draw attention to how construction and mobility through the city can also be part of conflict. In conflicts across the region, the (re)construction of the built environment is often tied by policy makers and scholars to mark the end of war and the start of a post-conflict periods. But this link can be misplaced. In Lebanon, for instance, the enclaved Beirut that emerged in the Civil War years was not only a result of destruction of the built environment but also its re-formulation through construction. The construction sector was one of the few sectors of the economy to expand during the Civil War. Furthermore, the sediments of the Lebanese Civil War were embedded in the reconstruction that followed the Ta’if Accord and in certain ways this “reconstruction” was the extension of conflict through urbanization. The (re)construction of the built environment can result in violence, displacement and social discord, more commonly associated with its destruction. the relationship between social power and urbanization in the context of conflict in the Arab world. To understand contemporary urban conflict, I argue, we must look not only to the deliberate destruction of the built environment but also its construction and the broader urbanization process. This is a pressing issue in the context of planned and active large-scale (re)construction projects in cities throughout out the region: Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq all have “reconstruction” plans that are currently being formulated or actively implemented. To understand urban violence we must come to terms with how it can be a constructive, as well as, destructive urban phenomenon.