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ACSS to Take Part in West Asia Workshop at University of Sussex

05/12/2017
As a contributing partner of the InterAsia Initiative, the Arab Council for the Social Sciences (ACSS) will take part in the West Asia Workshop, which will be held on May 16, 2017 at the University of Sussex Asia Centre (USAC).
 
A number of recent studies have drawn attention to the problematic nature of the geographical category ‘Middle East’ and sought to advance instead a growing recognition of other frames of analysis and geographic categories that this most contested of terms has helped to exclude from the regional studies literature. Some scholars have brought attention to the ways in which the notion of ‘the Middle East’ has led to the scholarly peripheralisation of borderland regions that straddle taken-for-granted culture areas (Green 2016). Other scholars have suggested that alternative geographical categories are better placed to perform helpful analytical work than that of the Middle East. In particular the notion of ‘West Asia’ is regarded as being a valuable geographical and analytical category for three reasons. Firstly, the term ‘West Asia’ corrects the Western-centric view of geography and replaces it with a vision that has more traction in the region itself (e.g. Spanta 2016). Secondly, the notion of West Asia makes it possible to bring under one frame of analysis parts of the world that enjoy long-term historic and cultural connections yet that were separated from one another as a result of the use of geographical ‘culture areas’ created in the context of the Cold War (Nunan 2011). One notable example is the Caucasus and the Levant, regions of the world that enjoy historic ties yet that under the area studies rubric of the Cold War were placed in different cultural areas: the Middle East and Eurasia (Shamey 2003). A third reason for turning to the category West Asia is because it moves away from the exceptionalism that is inherent within the notion of ‘the Middle East’ and instead highlights the need to better understand the connections, ties and circulations between this context and other parts of Asia, as well, of course, the wider world. In this sense the development of scholarship is in keeping with the rise in theorising ‘Inter-Asia’, though it is notable that West Asia has received less attention (though see Robinson 2012) in this important body of literature than other geographical spaces within the continent (including most notably the Indian Ocean and the Zomia borderlands).
 
Important issues are at stake in the use of geographical categories, and this is perhaps especially true in the case of the Middle East generally, and in the particular context of today’s world, in which geopolitical shifts are leading to new types of political, economic, religious, and cultural dynamics, as well as making the understanding of past ties and connections more and more important. At the present unique and critical juncture, there is an opportunity to explore and test the analytical value of the category of West Asia with the aim of contributing both to the study of the region per se, as well as its connections to Asia and the world more generally. 
 
The workshop aims to act as a platform for the development of an analytical framework for the use of geographical categories that could be deployed to generate new empirical material and advance medium-term research goals and design. It seeks to be a starting point for the development of a new stage of research on West Asia. The workshop also aims to provide the ground for further empirical and theoretical discussions by focusing on the relationship between West Asia and other parts of the region. Participants’ presentations will address the following questions:
 
What is the current state of scholarship on the nature of the connections between West Asia and other parts of the continent? What are the major gaps in this scholarship and how might they be addressed? What are the implications for the understanding of Asia more generally of addressing the connections and circulations between West Asia and other parts of the continent? How would the study of such connections advance the body of scholarship that defines itself as placing the connections between Asian contexts at its heat – Inter-Asia? Beyond the frame of Asia, in what ways does a focus on West Asia have implications for the category of Europe (and vice-versa)? What are the implications of the recent focus on the ‘view from the boat’ (Ho 2004) (e.g. Mediterranean studies, the Indian Ocean world) for the way in which we approach West Asia? What implications does a renewed interest in West Asia spell for the study and understanding of Europe and its constituent parts?
 
 
About the InterAsia Initiative
 
Launched in 2008 at the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), the InterAsia Initiative seeks to promote frameworks and concepts for a new generation of scholarship that reconceptualizes Asia as a dynamic and interconnected formation spanning Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East (including Turkey), and Russia. 
 
The Initiative relies on collaborative research, scholarly networking, and public policy connections to move beyond the territorial fixities of area-studies research without discounting the importance of contextually grounded, place-based knowledge.
 
To learn more about the InterAsia activities the ACSS contributes to, visit this page.
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