[R6534] New Books on Afghanistan: Rethinking Knowledge, Power, and Politics Historically and on the Ground

Created by Helena Zeweri
Thursday, 12/02/21 2:00 pm


In recent years, scholarship on Afghanistan has pivoted from an Orientalist approach to more pointed critiques of the geopolitical, epistemic, and imperial conditions of possibility underlying the generation of knowledge about the region. This proposed roundtable seeks to showcase what the participants locate as a turning point in the state of scholarship on Afghanistan since 2019, through a multidisciplinary perspective. This turning point is marked by the publication of new books that seek to make visible and redress this problematic epistemology by 1) tracing the politics of knowledge production about Afghanistan since the beginning of British imperialism in the early 19th century and the continuities of US imperialism in the present era; and 2) tracing the ongoing effects of militarized humanitarian and development projects on the everyday lives of multiple generations of Afghan citizens.

The roundtable will explore how Afghanistan studies is being reimagined through the use of distinct methods, including ethnographic and critical readings of the archive; deep discursive analyses of mainstream media, films, and literary representations of Afghanistan; and sustained ethnographic fieldwork within Afghanistan’s saturated development, media, and humanitarian landscape. Participants will examine how such methods allow for a more critical exploration of the following questions: How British imperial imaginaries of gender, race, and culture in the region have contributed to a geopolitical discourse that sees militarized occupation as inevitable; the entanglements between development, militarization, and media; and the role of literary and media discourse in perpetuating Orientalist narratives that produce the notion of a distinct kind of Afghan barbarism.

Through mapping the analytical interventions of recent books, the guiding questions for this roundtable will be the following: 1) How has the Western academy’s interest in Afghanistan been shaped historically by British imperial imaginaries? ; 2) How can we see the American academy’s investment in Afghanistan studies as a legacy of and inextricably linked to both this historical discourse and to the US government’s two decade long “Forever War”? ; 3) What is at stake in recreating the field of Afghanistan studies, both epistemologically and politically for those in Afghanistan and those in the diaspora?; and 4) Is it possible to produce knowledge about Afghanistan that refuses to be refracted through the American or Afghan policy-knowledge apparatus? The roundtable will begin a crucial conversation that situates Afghanistan within the broader decolonial and postcolonial turn within Middle East Studies.


Anthro; Comtns; Hist; Intl Rltns/Aff; Media Arts



Wazhmah Osman

(Temple University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Helena Zeweri

(University of Virginia)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Nivi Manchanda

(Queen Mary University of London)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Purnima Bose

(Indiana University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Alla Ivanchikova

(Hobart and William Smith Colleges)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;