[R6394] Critical Environmental Perspectives of the MENA

Created by Gabi Kirk
Friday, 12/03/21 11:30 am


Issues of ecology, the built environment, and material infrastructures are central to historic and contemporary studies of the Middle East and North Africa. However, the biodiversity of the region conceptualized as the “birthplace of agriculture” had, in Eurocentric scholarship dating back centuries, been flattened to a homogenous and threatening desert landscape. In the past decade, scholarship across disciplines has untangled and challenged hegemonic narratives of environmental degradation or stasis, celebrating instead critical understandings of environmental change and complex relations between humans and more-than-human life. Yet environmental determinist myths persist and have been adapted for the contemporary moment by policy makers, popular media, and even scholars. Older imperialist framings of the “resource curse” of fossil fuels and environmental imaginaries of arid lands as barren and unable to support life persist. These framings, compounded by worsening local and transregional effects of climate change (drought, fire, flood), obscure rather than help solve the root causes of issues like war and refugee migration. Relatedly, the rise of “green” capitalist development throughout the region, in rural and urban spaces alike, raises questions about the messy history of ecological capitalism and the shortcomings associated with the promise of green infrastructure to fuel a sustainable future.

This roundtable brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars at different career stages to ask, what is the state of environmental studies of the MENA moving forward, and what are the theories and methods needed to deal with both the stickiness of old problems and the emergence of new ones? With a particular emphasis on scholarship informed by critical materialist lenses without neglecting the power of representation, roundtable participants will reflect on themes such as:
-The use of transregional, transnational, and transdisciplinary lenses and approaches in their own work
-Methodological opportunities and challenges for critical materialist approaches to the environment
-The persistence of old or emergence of new environmental crises in the region, and what environmental studies in the MENA can teach about the “environmental crisis” lens writ large
-The importance and pitfalls of “thinking from” the MENA region to broader global environmental conversations


Organized under the auspices of Jadaliyya Environment Page


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Jeannie Sowers

(University of New Hampshire)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Jennifer Derr

(UC Santa Cruz)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Owain Lawson

(Columbia University)
Owain Lawson is a Doctoral Candidate in History at Columbia University. He is a historian of environment, technology, and development in the twentieth-century Middle East. His dissertation examines the history of projects to develop the Litani river in...
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair;

China Sajadian

(CUNY Graduate Center)
China Sajadian is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center. Her dissertation is an ethnography of agricultural labor, circuits of debt, and gendered relations of hierarchy and interdependency among Syrian refugee-farmworkers...
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Noura Wahby

(American University in Cairo)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Gabi Kirk

(University of California, Davis)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;