SUMMARY:Over the past two decades, anthropologists of Islam have shown how the individual emerges from the interstice of the textual and bodily practices that constitute discursive traditions, and how those discursive traditions are refashioned by experts and lay practitioners alike in new historical contexts. Meanwhile, historians of the Middle East have challenged the givenness of nation, region, and culture as distinct vessels for framing historical research, turning their attention to the cultivation of national identities and subject formation, interregional networks of communication and mobility, and the intellectual publics and communities of practice those networks brought into being and, at least for a time, sustained. While the first delineates the bounds of the ethical, the moral, and the affective (often coterminous with the religious, i.e., Islam), the second traces, albeit in novel and illuminating ways, the well-worn transformations of the political and the economic. Rather than taking these domains as distinct, recent scholarship has emphasized their entanglement by, on the one hand, exploring the multilayered and heteroglossic nature of ethical practice and its imbrication with the political and the economic, and, on the other, unraveling the disparate sources from which discursive traditions are continuously performed and remade.
Building on this recent scholarship, this panel examines enactments of ethical possibility and political imaginary in the Middle East, past and present. The panel brings together anthropologists and historians of the Middle East whose work, while grounded empirically in a range of temporal and geographical sites, speaks to a shared set of concerns about the relationship between ethical practice, collective life, and the sociomaterial world. Through genealogy and ethnography, panelists explore how the ethical, the moral, and the affective are constituted through the interaction of subjects, discursive traditions, and the contingent historical conditions through which they take shape. Shifting away from a focus on the self-cultivation of ethical subjects within discrete discursive traditions, the panel analyzes constantly shifting ethical formations themselves as well as how they relate to each other and to the sociomaterial worlds in which they are embedded. Our primary questions are: How is the ethical delineated through acts of narration, historical, familial, or personal? How do bodily and textual practices contribute to (or disrupt) the constitution of the economic and the political? How do the sociomaterial infrastructures of collective life admit certain ethical formations while foreclosing others?