The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies held its latest weekly seminar on Wednesday, 30 January 2019, welcoming Lebanese sociologist Marlene Nasr to present her research "Sectarianism in the Production of Knowledge about Revolutions and Conflicts in the Arab Mashreq: A Case Study of the Carnegie Endowment for the Middle East 2011-2014". She began her presentation with an overview of her experience and the relevant topics.
Nasr looked at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace — a US think tank —as a case study for how knowledge is produced about the Arab region in both Arabic and English. She chose Carnegie because it hosts the second highest number of researchers who have graduated from postgraduate degrees in social, political and economic sciences, after the Brookings institute. It is also one of the oldest institutions of its type (1910), employing local researchers who know language and culture. Their research has been published on the Foundation's websites in English, Russian, Arabic and Chinese in the regions where they have established their centers.
The principal question of this lecture pivots theoretically on the methodological conditions that the researcher should fulfil in social movements and revolutions in order for their scholarly production to contribute to helping social actors to resolve conflicts and for the movements of change to work out for the better. This paper addresses some of the broader issues of the production of knowledge in perception and impact of social reality. Empirically, the question is: to what extent do approaches pursued by Carnegie Middle East researchers regarding conflicts and revolutions in the region contribute to their institution's goals for international peace, democratization, and conflict resolution in the Arab region?
After a deep reading of the research published on the Carnegie Middle East website during the Arab revolutions (2011-2014), Nasr found that some researchers followed a different approach to the same phenomena and realities. This led to contradictory results and perceptions of reality, expectations and suggestions. Nasr's sample studies of revolutions and the fallbacks into conflict in the Arab Mashreq and Egypt was divided into three approaches. Two or one-dimensional studies are common to most researchers. The first was driven by Sectarian factors and comprised 9 papers, including 8 short articles, followed by the group driven by sectarianist factors, which comprised 5 papers (3 long studies), and the third multi-dimensional approach driven by consensual factors pursued by just two researchers (2 long studies and 1 short article).
The researcher explained that the first two approaches were rife with generalization when describing Arab societies. The second, multi-dimensional and consensual, approach worked to explore the diversity of actors and their social environment in the stages of revolutions and the fallout conflicts. They looked at different dimensions such as societal, class, tribal, regional, cultural, doctrinal, religious, sectarian, and ideological identities as well as familial, employment and economic factors. They characterized the actors with descriptions faithful to the complexities of their positions, which open the way for the understanding of their interests and the and possible future alliances based on convergent interests.
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