The objective of the winter school/program is to provide an in-depth and critical look at specifically selected topics in the broader study of the Middle East. For participating scholars, it provides an opportunity to network with regional scholars, gain substantive content unavailable in their home institutions and countries, and receive feedback from respected scholars.
The winter school/program is a 10 day program from Jan 3 to 13, 2021, open to advanced graduate students and early career researchers in the social sciences and humanities.
We are proposing the theme of “The State in Flux.” This theme was chosen to reflect emerging research trends in a variety of social science disciplines, and will generate a wide range of applicants. It also reflects the current challenge facing states with the Covid-19 pandemic, and its impact on their legitimacy and sovereignty as well as serving as a test of their capacity. Finally, this theme will be approached from an interdisciplinary perspective, which will enrich the winter school and participant perspectives.
Although the current configuration of Arab states and their legitimacy has been a topic of discussion in academia and in the public sphere for decades, questions related to state sovereignty and citizenship in the Arab world have become ever more pressing after the Arab Spring uprisings. The protests revealed deep seated issues of legitimacy within many states across the region, and civil conflicts which emerged following the uprisings has led to questions of state capacity, and prospects for failure/collapse. Theoretical debates concerning states’ lack of legitimacy due to their modern origin in colonial partition after the fall of the Ottoman Empire could not explain the reality of contemporary Arab states. On the other hand, it became imperative upon researchers who deal with the issues of transitions to democracy to understand state stability and legitimacy, without which such a transitions are impossible. It thus became crucial to answer questions pertaining to this subject, such as: what role the international system and changing conceptions of sovereignty have had to play in state collapse, the challenges faced by the Arab state from ethnic/linguistic/religious heterogeneity , and whether Arab regimes even had nation-building on their agenda. These answers are crucial not only from a theoretical perspective, but because they foreshadow the future of democracy in the region. These questions are also related to another debate in the research, in particular from a structural approach, as to whether these problems stem from a reality of strong societies and weak states, or rather from strong states and weak societies.
Moreover, the nature of citizenship across the region – whether in states with secessionist movements or in states with large migrant populations – is still up for question. Recent insights made by Arab academia on the question of Arab identity, statehood, and what it means to be a citizen of our region have not been adequately discussed or incorporated in Western literature. For these reasons, a graduate winter school bringing together Western and Arab scholars will bear fruitful insights.
The main subtheme of the 2021 Winter School relates to the state and sovereignty. The traditional conception of sovereignty has repeatedly been contested, with increased globalization, periodic involvement of international actors in the domestic politics of various states, the rise of violent non-state actors in certain cases, and shared challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic, which has sparked debate about where a state’s right to sovereignty may end.
In the Arab world recently, international involvement has taken on more direct forms, such as in the case of Syria with Iranian and Russian involvement, and in the cases of a number of countries in the region beholden to external powers, militarily and/or economically. The repressive apparatus of many countries would indeed not function without external support (in the form of weapon sales, spread of surveillance technology, etc). Another example is the Palestinian Authority, which continues to pursue state recognition in international venues, all while continuing to lose land and resources to the Israeli occupation. Thus, we arrive at questions such as: What does it mean to be a sovereign state in an era of increased direct international involvement? Does the definition revolve around territorial borders, or should it mean something more? Can states with weak capacity truly be sovereign? What variables are most important in explaining state formation trajectories, in the Arab world and beyond? How does that explain political development of these states and their sovereignty today, or lack thereof?
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