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Studies 15 November, 2021

The Omnipresence of America and the Absence of American Studies

Azmi Bishara

Azmi Bishara is the General Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS). He is also the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. A prominent Arab writer and scholar, Bishara has published numerous books and academic papers in political thought, social theory, and philosophy, in addition to several literary works, including: Civil Society: A Critical Study (1996); On the Arab Question: An Introduction to an Arab Democratic Statement (2007); Religion and Secularism in Historical Context (3 volumes 2011-2013); On Revolution and Susceptibility to Revolution (2012); The Army and Political Power in the Arab Context: Theoretical Problems (2017); Essay on Freedom (2016); Sect, Sectarianism, and Imagined Sects (2017); What is Salafism? (2018); The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Daesh): A General Framework and Critical Contribution to Understanding the Phenomenon (2018); What is Populism? (2019) and Democratic Transition and its Problems: Theoretical Lessons from Arab Experiences (2020). Some of these works have become key references within their respective field.

As part of a wider project chronicling, documenting, and analyzing the Arab revolutions of 2011, Bishara has also published three key volumes: The Glorious Tunisian Revolution (2011); Syria's Via Dolorosa to Freedom: An Attempt at Contemporary History (2013) and The Great Egyptian Revolution (in two volumes) (2014). Each book deals with the revolution’s background, path, and different stages. In their narration and detail of the revolutions’ daily events, these volumes constitute a key reference in what is known as contemporary history along with an analytical component that interlinks the social, economic and political contexts of each revolution.

This article addresses the near absence of American Studies, as an Academic discipline, and in cultural and intellectual debates on America in the Arab world. This absence prevails despite — and to a large extent due to — the overwhelming political, economic, media and cultural presence of the United States in the Arab region and the third world. It persists despite the preoccupation with the US presence and the divisive, if not contradictory love/hate feelings about it. The polarization between clichéd positions does not leave a space for an analysis of American foreign policy based on an informed critique of US domestic policies.

Critical Cultural Studies and Transnationalism approach made a difference in American Studies in the United States, but it is not of use in the American Studies outside America, where American Studies cannot be a sort of critical cultural studies. The only way to study America in the third world is to use social sciences and humanities tools to generate Area Studies of the United States. In any case, the author believes that before they were globalized, modern social sciences in general emerged as “Area Studies” of European societies — and non-European societies — by Europeans.[1]


* This study was published in the fifth issue of AlMuntaqa, a peer-reviewed academic journal for the social sciences and humanities, (pp. 81-89). You can read the full paper here.


[1] This article is an extended version of the author's keynote speech presented at the opening ceremonies of the international conference titled "From Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park: The Arab Spring and the De-Centering of American Studies," Co-organized by the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies and George Washington University, held from 8-11 January 2018.