[-empyre-] Welcome to week 1 of February 2020 discussion: Circumventing Territorial Limitations

Dale Hudson dmh2018 at nyu.edu
Sun Feb 2 18:22:53 AEDT 2020

I am thrilled that Elizabeth (Beth) Derderian and Sean Foley have agreed to help me launch month's discussion on Why Are We Still Talking about the Middle East?

They both have done extensive research into ways that artists work around territorial limitations whilst still remaining grounded in particular cultural contexts of Saudi Arabia, UAE, and elsewhere. I’ve included their bios below the theme.

I’ve learned so much from their work, so I am excited to learn more from them and for others through comments on their posts or sharing their own research or practice.

WEEK’S TOPIC: Circumventing Territorial Limitations

While some states in North Africa, West Asia, and South Asia are savvy in shutting down the internet to subdue protests, notably Egypt and India, others have been unable to keep pace with how citizens and non-citizens mobilize digital spaces make statements that are riskier to make in physical space. 

While official state censorship garners headlines, unofficial forms self-censorship often pass unnoticed to the outside world. Various other pressures come into play such a social stigma and family status.

Social media platforms that operate online and on mobiles provide a structure for networking across territorial boundaries. Despite the built-in risk of surveillance by transnational corporations, people often use Facebook or WhatsApp to communicate across distances and divisions.

This week focuses on how to artists circumnavigate censorship, often based on laws or rules concerning broadcast and on-site performance or exhibition, by mobilizing virtual space, considering which artists feel empowered to speak directly and which artists prefer to speak indirectly or not at all.


Beth Derderian is a Postdoctoral Associate at the Council on Middle East Studies at Yale University. She has a PhD in anthropology from Northwestern University, and a Master’s in Museum and Near Eastern Studies from NYU. Her research focuses on the politics of art and cultural production in the Gulf. She was awarded a Fulbright IIE and a doctoral research grant from the Al Qasimi Foundation to conduct her field research. She also makes podcasts for AnthroPod, and co-edits the Middle East Section News on Anthropology News.

Sean Foley is a Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University, who has published extensively on Middle East and Islamic history. He is the author of Changing Saudi Arabia: Art, Culture, and Society in the Kingdom (2019) and The Arab Gulf States: Beyond Oil and Islam (2010)—both of which were published by Lynne Rienner Publishers. He has also done extensive research in Saudi Arabia and has held Fulbright grants in Syria, Turkey, and Malaysia. For more on his work, see his website, www.seanfoley.org. Follow him on twitter @foleyse.

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