World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Contemporary Fieldwork in the Middle East: Practices, Possibilities and Politics (300) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: THU 22, 9.00-11.00 am

· NOT_DEFINED institution: University College Cork, UCC (Ireland)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Vivian Ibrahim

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Our panel, based on a workshop in 2009 at the School of Oriental and African Studies and organised by Dr Vivian Ibrahim, will examine the practical challenges and the theoretical considerations of conducting fieldwork in the Middle-East. Our panel will include five speakers and one chair/discussant. Three themes will be addressed. To begin with- ‘Fieldwork and Discipline’: Fieldwork in the Middle East was formerly largely the preserve of anthropology, yet now there is a huge growth of disciplines conducting fieldwork - historians, political scientists, and a variety of applied ‘studies’ -bringing with them different conceptions of fieldwork, and different requirements in terms of the data it needs to produce. This raises the questions: To what extent do different disciplines have different conceptions of fieldwork? What are the practical implications of these? Do these changes have any impact on how the ‘field’ is relating to its fieldworkers?

Chair: Dr Vivian Ibrahim, University College Cork (UCC)

Paper presenter: Ms Charis Boutieri (Princeton University), “The Transformative power of long-term presence and its risks: Notes on conducting fieldwork in Morocco” He will describe and analyse how a researcher navigates, reacts to or is complicit to various networks, and offers a point of access to the complex dealings between ideology and its ‘subjects’. Concerned with the risks of long-term presence, she suggests that the cultivation of personal bonds unsettles a clear-cut division between ‘research’ and ‘life’; this dynamic gives birth to a series of ethical dilemmas concerning the information one receives. In a context where the freedom of expression is not an acquired civil right, how do you protect interlocutors who, having known you as inevitably more than a researcher, may not always accurately assess the stakes involved in communicating politically sensitive views?

Paper presenter: Dr Lucie Ryzova (St John’s College, Oxford University), “Going through Piles of trash: A historian’s fieldwork in the informal ‘old paper’ markets of Cairo”
She will examine the informal paper market of Cairo as a site of fieldwork used over the past decade by historians. This market circulates second-hand books, periodicals, and paper ephemera coming from estate sales or sold as refuse to dealers, most of which ends up at the Sur al-Ezbekiyya, the principal marketplace. Ryzova proposes thinking about the used-paper market as a site of fieldwork in which human relations and the performance of certain roles and relationships are crucial to making the flow of certain materials possible, and furthermore, that the very modes of exchange (the roads a particular item has travelled from its user/creator through various dealers to the ‘final’ buyer) serve as a potential source of historical information.

Paper presenter: Ms. Aline Schlaepfer (University of Geneva), “Doing Oral History in the Middle East: Israel, memory and non-belonging”
She based on interviews conducted in Israel regarding the intellectual history of Jews in Iraq, Schlaepfer will analyse the broader issue of conducting oral history in the Middle East. Our final theme is ‘Fieldwork and the Economics of Academia’: What is the place of academia in the knowledge economy, as it becomes less privileged as an authoritative site of knowledge production and is sidelined in favour of think-tanks and consultant experts? What is the impact of marketing trends which capture and persuade an audience through entertainment, e.g. the rise of an entertainment academia with its thematic interests in the political exotic of sex and violence. Does this have any impact in our own contexts of conducting and then presenting field research? Do the demands of the knowledge economy- insofar as they can be said to exist -change what we look at within our field-sites, and how we come represent it subsequently?

Paper presenter: Ms. Chiara Diana, IREMAM (Aix-en-Provence, France), “Fieldwork Experience in Egypt: Using Interview as a means to enquire on Egyptian new Educational Policies”
Diana will draw attention to the ‘research by interview’ method, introducing three cases of interviewees. She will argue that information coming from different interviewees and its comparison with grey literature and government documents are a valid basis for a research corpus.