Denmark, Aarhus

Before and After the Arab Revolts 2011 - International relations in an (un)exceptional Middle East

when 21 July 2014 - 8 August 2014
duration 3 weeks
credits 9.9 EC

Where are you going to look if you want to gain an understanding of Middle East international relations? Not only in the sense of where to look in the Middle East ‘out there’. But also in terms of where are you going to look for analytical tools in academia ‘in here’? This question has been debated for a long time and the debate carries more dimensions. One dimension concerns the question about which IR-theory is best equipped to grasp the key dynamics of Middle East international relations. Is it the Realist tradition with its focus on conflict and security in the context of anarchy, is it variants of Constructivism owing to its strong attentiveness to identity or is it the Liberal tradition with its awareness of non-state actors and the interplay between international/domestic politics. Another dimension relates to the Middle East’s reputation of being the graveyard of many contemporary theories of international relations. This raises the question whether we should look at other places in academia than IR to find useful analytical tools for studying Middle East international relations such as Middle East Area Studies, the classic Orientalist tradition, Cultural Studies, Post-Colonial Studies etc. Yet another dimension concerns the more general debate on whether the Middle East constitute a region like ‘any other’ or ‘no other’ or is it rather part of an ‘imaginative geography’. This is a question that is linked to the broader issue about the (ir)relevance of cultural diversity and otherness to our study of (Middle East) international relations. In this seminar we are going to address these overlapping dimensions, which all are related to the question about how we are going to understand Middle East international relations. Thus, the overall aim of the seminar is to provide the participant with an understanding of the key dynamics in Middle East international relations, knowledge about the main cleavages in the theoretical debate about how to study international relations in this region and finally an ability to use and apply specific theories to key topics in Middle East international relations before and after the Arab revolts 2011 and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. The seminar is divided into four blocks. The first of these addresses more meta-theoretical issues concerning the ‘levels-of-analysis-problem’, the issue of ‘exceptionalism’, the Area Studies Controversy, the question about the role of culture in international relations and the general question about the study of politics in an (un)exceptionalist Middle East. The second block provides an overview of Middle East history from the age of empire till today. Based on the general debate on the (ir)relevance of cultural diversity in IR, the third block introduces a distinction between three over-all positions in the study of Middle East international relations – a ‘culture-blind’, ‘culture-blinded’ and ‘culture-sensitive’ position - and examines strengths and weaknesses of concrete theories belonging to each of these camps. The fourth and final block employ these analytical approaches to some of the much-discusses thematics relating to Middle East international relations, including whether/why the Middle East is exceptionally conflict-prone; whether/how identity politics plays a special role in the Middle East; and whether/with which implications the Middle East should be perceived as the ‘most penetrated region in the world’.

Course leader

Morten Valbjørn, Aarhus University

Target group

Master's students

Course aim

The course module offers a more extensive and more thorough analysis of a topic from within political science. To this end, the course module provides an overview and a critical discussion of the literature and the issues relevant for the topic of the seminar. After the seminar the participants are supposed to:Have acquired detailed empirical insights into key dynamics of Middle East international relations, Have gained an in-depth understanding of the key controversies as regards the general debate about a culture-blind, culture-blinded and culture attentive position to Middle East international relations, Know about specific and concrete theoretical approaches related to a culture-blind, culture-blinded and culture attentive position to Middle East international relations, Be able to use and apply these theories to key topics in Middle East international relations, Be able to evaluate the strength and weaknesses of these theories, Are able to assess to what extent the Middle East should be considered as a region like ‘any other’ or ‘no other’ and what this means for Middle East international relations.

Fee info

EUR 0: Students on a bilateral exchange programme do not have to pay. Freemovers are obliged to pay participation fees while tuition fees only apply to freemovers from countries outside the EU/EEA/Switzerland.