World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


REREADING THE ''PUBLIC SPHERE'' IN THE MIDDLE EAST: PRINT CULTURE, NEW MEDIA, POP CULTURES - 2/2: Image-Making and Techniques of Consumption (109) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: TUE 20, 11.30 am-1.30pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Oriental Studies University, Naples (Italy)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Armando Salvatore

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: The ''public sphere'' has emerged as an analytical category covering a wide range of social phenomena from a variety of public contexts in the modern Middle East. A growing body of literature has been produced since the 1990s. However, while the term ‘public sphere’ has entered the conceptual apparatus of Middle East scholars, a theoretical discussion of its meaning and application, mirroring larger debates in the social sciences, has yet to emerge. So far, much attention has been paid to the growth in transnational media coinciding with an Islamic awakening during the last twenty years, which in turn has engendered theorizations of (ostensibly new) Arab and Islamic public spheres challenging the monopoly of nation states on opinion making and even politics. In these studies, the notion of a singular public sphere is often invoked as an either hopeful or menacing reality or possibility. Others have written about the emergence of modern public spheres from the late 19th century onwards. Following the cue of recent discussions moving beyond the notion of a singular Habermasian public sphere, this panel proposes to turn the focus on the function of the more malleable notion of ‘publicness’ (arguably a better translation of Habermas' Öffentlichke it than ‘the public sphere’), i.e. the transformation of social identities as a result of public interaction and the ensuing cultural change. Publicness is not limited to the self-disciplined interaction of credentialed voices geared to discuss the common good, but rather covers the more fluid process of communication that starts at the level of local cultures and popular cultures and often intercepts the marked mediated sphere of ''pop cultures''. Just as important are the less staged, culturally intimate aspects of public culture that shape behaviour ‘off stage.’ This angle circumvents the often debated tension between official publics and counter-publics (or sub-publics) and so facilitates a sharper view of the fragmentation and multiplicity of public life which increasingly characterizes the contemporary Middle East. By turning the attention from abstract ‘spheres’ to actual ways of being and going public, we wish to contribute to devising new directions for thinking about public life, popular cultures and public cultures.

Part 2. Image-Making and Techniques of Consumption
In Part 2 we will address the public sphere as a contested field shaped by disparities in access and complex, often unacknowledged, agendas for control, but also by newly emerging grassroots dynamics often aided by unexpected waves of fashion and consumption patterns. Image-making, Integration of text and images and consumption through ''meandering'' will be at the center of the five papers. More than a singular Habermasian public sphere geared to ordered understanding and rational communication, a potentially more transgressive notion of ''publicness'' will be the common object of inquiry and reflection: a publicness intended as the site where social identities are formed and transformed as a result of a variety of entanglements between authors, messages, media and audiences.

Chair: Sune Haugbolle, University of Copenhagen

Discussant: Dyala Hamzah, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin

Paper presenter: Walter Armbrust, University of Oxford, Meandering Through the Magazine: Print Culture(s) and Reading Practices in Interwar Egypt

Paper presenter: Patricia Kubala, University of California, Berkeley, Practices of Image-Making in Egypt''s Islamic Revival.

Paper presenter: Hatsuki Aishima, University of Oxford, Realism and Representation: Repentant Actors and Dramas of Piety in the Making of Egypt's Public Islam

Paper presenter: Armando Salvatore, Oriental Studies University, Naples, Singing the Umma: A Body Without Organs?

Paper presenter: Mark Levine, University of California, Irvine, Would Adorno Headbang? Extreme Music, Countercultures and the Return of Music's Aura in the Muslim World

The panel will be opened by Walter Armbrust's ‘Meandering Through the Magazine: Print Culture(s) and Reading Practices in Interwar Egypt,’ a paper that will address the Egyptian illustrated variety magazine al-Ithnayn, published in the 1930s, and analyze intricately juxtaposed images and textual contents by using concepts of ''flow'' and hypertextuality.

Patricia Kubala's ‘Practices of Image-Making in Egypt's Islamic Revival’ will provide an archival analysis of Muslim Brotherhood's periodicals as well as interviews with Cairo-based producers and audiences of Islamic satellite entertainment programming, in order to investigate the politics of constituting a virtuous Muslim public through the sensory epistemologies, pedagogical traditions, and representational ideologies that condition and enable cultures of publicness.

This paper will be followed by Hatuski Aishima's ‘Realism and Representation: Repentant Actors and Dramas of Piety in the Making of Egypt's Public Islam,’ which will address a religious musalsal featuring the life of a former Shaykh al-Azhar, 'Abd al-Halim Mahmud (1910-78) by the star actor and ''repentant artist'' Hasan Yusuf. Aishima's paper will show that the public knowledge of actors'' religious convictions is a key element in generating among the audiences a sense of realism in the roles played by ''repentant artists''.

This paper will be followed by Armando Salvatore's ’Singing the Umma: A Body Without Organs’ This study will analyze examples from Islamic pop music addressing the memory of a united, proud and powerful umma to show how this construction supports a global network of pious solidarity geared to the liberation of individual bodies from incorporation into the pervasive bio-political governance of national and global institutions: the reconstructed umma thus coming close to Deleuze and Guattari's idea of a ''body without organs''.

The panel will be concluded by the Mark LeVine's “Would Adorno Headbang Extreme Music, Counter cultures and the Return of Music's Aura in the Muslim World? LeVine's paper explores how the rise of extreme pop music scenes in the Muslim world in the last twenty years (heavy metal, hardcore rap, punk) reflects important but as yet underappreciated changes in the basic dynamics of popular culture and its relationship to religion, politics and the formation of public spheres in Muslim countries: not only in terms of the messages and meanings conveyed by these genres, but also through the dynamics of uncommodified, grass roots, DIY (do it yourself).