SUMMARY:While emotions such as love were once considered universal, scholars in the humanities have argued that emotional states and expression are not only mediated through language, but also informed by norms that are particular to a given place and by factors such as class, gender, and sexuality. Some turn to psychology and neuroscience to substantiate these claims by demonstrating that there is no biological basis for emotion. Yet if love is not universal, does this imply a cultural determinism and civilizational hierarchies that further separate the Middle East from other global regions? How can feminist analysis of love challenge Orientalist associations of the Middle East as a space of sensuality and lust? In fact, the emphasis on the erotic harem was informed by a particularly European Christian understanding of sex as sinful, in many ways premised upon the absence of romantic love. This panel examines such politicization of love in a variety of modern and contemporary contexts.
Our papers engage with discourses about love from multiple geographic, temporal and disciplinary approaches to argue for the relevance of emotion to understanding the family, gender roles, sexuality, and the body as well as the study of social and cultural transformation, public health, science, and contemporary politics. Our work is informed by an engagement with cultural studies, feminist theory, literature, and the study of gender and sexuality. The panel brings together anthropologists and historians working on late Ottoman Istanbul, contemporary Turkey, post-colonial Tunisia and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. How are understandings of love informed by medical knowledge? How can shifting constructions of love be deployed by the women’s movement to argue for feminist politics or to challenge gender roles? How can emotions unite certain individuals as communities, or produce the diametrically opposed feelings of hatred or fear? How can love be deployed as a political tool and what is its relationship to revolution? What does a discourse on love implicate for politics in general and LGBTQ politics in particular? Collectively, our papers speak to common themes regarding the malleability of love and its enduring political, social and cultural relevance.