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Asien-Orient-Institut UFSP Asien und Europa (2006–2017)

Deconstructing Hierarchies

Led by Suad Joseph (University of California, Davis), the enlightening workshop “Gendering Citizenship” (September 10, 2014) focused on the Middle East and beyond. The event was organized by the Institute for Asian and Oriental Studies – Gender Studies, the Swiss Society for Gender Studies (SGGF/SSEG), and the URPP Asia and Europe.

Deniz Yüksel

As one of the pioneers in Middle Eastern women’s and gender studies, Suad Joseph, professor of anthropology and women’s studies at the University of California, Davis, was invited to carry out a workshop at the URRP Asia and Europe and the Department of Gender Studies, Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies.

The aim of this interdisciplinary event was to bring together students and scholars from diverse disciplines such as political science, history, anthropology, Middle Eastern, and gender studies. The common ground between the projects, which involved current doctoral and postdoctoral work, was the concept of gendered citizenship as treated from diverse angles.

“Civic myths”

Divided into two parts, the workshop began with a keynote lecture by Suad Joseph, after which other participants presented and discussed their research projects. Joseph’s dense lecture pursued the central notions of the project abstracts that had been submitted by participants prior to the workshop. She thus gave an enriching overview of the theoretical and methodological dimensions of the concept of citizenship, emphasizing the idea that gender is a crucial category of the concept, despite it commonly being regarded as gender-neutral. After pointing out that citizenship is a central yet contested concept used to analyze the relationship between state and society, she insisted on the fact that analyzing citizenship is mostly about analyzing discourses and narratives, about analyzing juridical and social practices. While she emphasized the masculinization of citizenship throughout the regions of the Middle East, notions of rights also play an increasing role in terms of gender equity and equality. Moreover, Joseph made clear that gender is a central category that creates hierarchies and normalizations within citizenship, producing inclusions and exclusions as they relate to people’s belonging in a certain community as well as to power relations. Relatedly, she referred to the concept of “civic myths” that tell us “who we are” and “what we are.” She argues that a central civic myth in the Middle East is what she calls the “kin contract,” “a complex and paradoxical deployment of a care/control paradigm of extended kinship to achieve order” and to organize reproduction. Citing her study of Lebanese citizenship, she pointed out that this “civic myth inscribed a legal fiction of a kinship system based on imagined homogenous kinship groups.” [1] According to her, even though society itself undergoes constant changes, it is organized around fixed social hierarchies such as gender and age. She made clear that such hidden hierarchies and normalizations can be deconstructed through gender and are to be deconstructed in further analyses.

Efficient coaching

The second and main part of the workshop started with the task for every participant to reflect on his/her own project’s “point of departure,” the core theme or question so to speak. According to Joseph, one has to look for it “not in the question but in the answer or the hypothesis” of the research project. It was evident that Suad Joseph has rich expertise in coaching scholars efficiently. She devoted time to each project, going through it with the participant, discussing its main contours, and finding the point of departure of almost every project through applying a technique based on reducing of the project’s theme to a simple formula. The technique inspired the attending students and scholars alike, who eventually named it the “Suad Joseph Game.”

An enriching experience

These doctoral and postdoctoral research projects were quite diverse. They covered a spectrum of regional and thematic research that included a project on squatters (and hence, potentially new citizens) living at the legal margins in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan). There was also a project on Islam, pluralism, and gender within the Tunisian political party arakat an-Naha, as well as a study of the masculinity of court eunuchs in the Near East.

The workshop shed new light on the applicability of the concept of citizenship. To work with and learn from a scholar like Joseph was truly an enriching experience for those in attendance.

[1] Suad Joseph, “Civic myths, Citizenship, and Gender in Lebanon,” In: Suad Joseph (ed.), Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East, Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2000, p. 136.

(Asia & Europe Bulletin, 4/2015, p. 15)

Weiterführende Informationen


The event took place on September 10, 2014: