call for papers #7

The peer-reviewed online journal “Middle East – Topics & Arguments” (META) is calling for submissions for its seventh issue, which will be entitled Culture.

The META issue “Culture” aims to critically engage with the various, often contradictory concepts of culture as used in the field of Middle Eastern Studies. The corpora of literature appropriated by the different disciplines relevant for the scope of META treat the issue in a variety of different ways, sometimes using the word "culture" as describing a universal and non-negotiable category, and often without expounding the problem of essentialisms emanating from its inherent normative quality, i.e. perceiving a culture as something either inherently bad or good, something to be desired, or something to be feared.

What we want to discuss by inviting interested scholars to contribute to this issue is exactly this quality of the term itself, its ambiguity and complexity, and its implications and dangers in public and academic discourse. Acknowledging the discourses leading to the prominence of “culture” and the so-called “cultural turn” in the humanities and social sciences in the 1970s and onwards, the editors hold the opinion that the contemporary usage of the term in the field of Middle Eastern Studies is still in large parts unclear, essentializing, and/or contestable.

The editors' approach to “culture” relies significantly on the tradition of British Cultural Studies. Culture is thus understood as dynamic, fragmented, and constantly changing. It is closely linked to communication, the crafting of practices, the ritualization of community life, and the institutionalization of a normative order as well as the resistance towards it. Culture circumscribes a terrain of political and ideological struggle in which social conventions, norms, and values are constantly being contested and (re)negotiated. In short, culture is perceived as the realm of the continuous struggle of humans to make sense of themselves and all that surrounds them in a way that involves social and political interaction with other humans in the shared habitat.

We welcome papers that address the overarching theme of the call, including those that consider, but are not limited to, the following topics and questions:

  • Cultural Politics: Pertaining to the ideological dimension of culture and the struggle for the power of interpretation: How are particular cultural representations and meanings (temporarily) naturalized? When and how are these naturalizations used for political purposes?

  • Cultural Policy: Representing the institutional and administrative dimension of culture: How do institutions of the state and civil society implement, spread, and naturalize particular meanings?

  • Geographical/Religious/Ethnic understanding of culture: What does it entail to speak of an Islamic or Arab culture? What does the fluid concept of “culture” signify in connection with a seemingly more stable term such as, for example, “Syrian culture”?

  • Forms and “qualities” of culture: What are the implications of differentiating between “low” and “high” culture or “appropriated/copied” and “original/traditional” culture? What is signified by the “popular” in “popular culture”? Is it scientifically viable to use qualitative categories of culture at all?

  • The role and position of the scholar researching culture has to be scrutinized: How is it possible to assess the cultural subjectivity of scholars in their respective research? In what sense is the cultural disposition of the researcher constitutive in developing a specific understanding of the cultural phenomena observed? What is the relation between the cultural subjectivity of the researcher, the theoretical conceptualization of culture, and the production of knowledge?

In considering these questions, this issue envisages a dialogue between the theoretical and the empirical dimension of research on culture. The theoretical perspective needs to envision the analytical applicability of its assumptions while the usage of the concept in case studies needs to elaborate on its specific theoretical understanding of culture.

The goal of this issue, then, is to contribute to the academic discourse on culture as a theoretical and analytical challenge by proposing ways to critically reflect upon the usage of culture in academic research. Contributions to this issue should be concerned with a critical discussion of the term and/or its implications, whether through the means of philosophy or by using data from field research, and whether via critical reflection or practical application in a case study.

Submissions relating to the issue’s focus topic are published in the FOCUS section and reflect original research. Articles in this section should be between 2,800 to 4,600 words. In addition to papers for the FOCUS section, we call for contributions for META's special sections:

The CLOSE UP section features a short written portrait of a person who has a special relation to the issue’s main topic, e.g. a researcher who has constitutively contributed to the field. It links that person’s biography with their contribution to the field. Article length is 1,500 to 3,000 words.

The META section also relates to the issue’s focus topic, with the papers in “meta” discussing the main topic from a theory-centered perspective. Regional scope is not limited to the Middle East, but may also consider theoretical approaches involving other world regions. Article length is 2,800 to 4,600 words.

The ANTI/THESIS section juxtaposes two rivaling positions that highlight different lines of argument, pros and cons, and/or competing narratives. These can be presented either by one author together, or by two different authors in two different articles. Article length for each paper is 1,500-3,000 words.

All articles that fall into the general framework of the journal, but do not relate to the special topic “Culture”, will be taken into consideration for the OFF TOPIC section.

Prior to developing a complete manuscript, authors are asked to submit an abstract (300 words max.), a short CV (150 words max.), and 3-5 key bibliographic sources. Please clearly indicate the research question, the method to be used, and the empirical material your research will be based on. Papers are accepted in English only.

The editors will make a preliminary decision regarding the topic’s relevance to the journal’s aims and scope and will provide suggestions for developing the manuscript. Please consult our website for further information about the journal’s concept, sections, and authors’ guidelines.

The deadline for abstract submissions is 15 January, 2016.

The deadline for article submissions is 30 April, 2016.

Proposals and manuscripts and other editorial correspondence should be sent to: