[P6455] Space, Place, and Textual Objects: Transforming Social Realities in the Modern Middle East

Created by Mekarem Eljamal
Friday, 12/03/21 2:00 pm


The modern Middle East, like much of the modern world, has been shaped by a series of dislocations that have disrupted social life. Textual objects—magazines created and edited by women intellectuals, city planning documents, novels and stories by exiled writers, and pamphlets distributed by anti-colonial fighters—have served as a sphere within which politicians, scholars, activists, writers, and the public have sought to understand imminent and recent social, political, and economic changes. These changes range from capitalism to urbanization, and from personal status laws to expulsions. Textual objects reflect debates fundamental to local social lives and elucidate frustrations, ideals, and aspirations that are often otherwise invisible.

To explore the relationship between textual objects and social transformations in the modern Middle East, four participants will analyze how literary texts narrate, reflect, and dictate local social transformations.

These inquiries into the relationship between the rhetorical world and transforming physical and social spaces have relevance today. Implicit in all forms of literature presented are competing visions of social justice: what is just, what is the purpose of justice, who is deserving of justice, and how do governments endeavor to build the physical world to cultivate an “ideal” society?

Panelists will address how textual objects reflect and inform social changes over time. In governmental contexts, the written word has a performative function, commanding that the physical and social worlds bend and change to mirror it. Legal codes and redevelopment plans often dictate drastic social transformation, serving as a sphere wherein ruling officials and parties can dictate alterations to physical and social realities. The juxtaposition of the imagined space depicted in legal codes and geographic space speaks to layers of ownership over society.

Social transformations are not simply the result of realities anticipated or reflected in textual objects created by governments and others in positions of power. How are social transformations challenged over time in the written world beyond legal and governmental spheres, within grassroots, local fora such as magazines, periodicals, and novels? Works by writers exiled from their nations in the twentieth century reflect the struggle of responding to social transformations across multiple languages, and when situated between old homelands and new countries of residence. Informational pamphlets distributed by the Front de Libération Nationale help construct gendered expectations in a revolutionary Algeria.

We will explore how both tangible and intangible social spaces have been transformed by forces including legal regimes, capitalism, nationalism, exile, and urbanization.


Organized under the auspices of the Arab Studies Institute


Archit & Urb Plng; Hist; Law; Archit & Urb Plng; Hist; Law; Lit; Archit & Urb Plng; Hist; Law; Lit



Carly Krakow

(London School of Economics)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Mekarem Eljamal

(Columbia University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Kylie Broderick

(University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Kylie Broderick is a Ph.D. student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is the Mellon Fellow of the History Department. Her intended dissertation will study solidarity movements among the disenfranchised during the 1940s-1980 in Lebanon,...
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Mary Smith

(Georgetown University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;