Research collaborations bring together scholars with distinct positionalities, which at once enriches the research process and presents an array of power and social dynamics for team members to navigate. In this essay, Caitlyn Bolton, Mary Khatib, and Issa Ziddy provide an autoethnographic account of their joint field research in Zanzibar, reflecting on the idea of the “we” in knowledge production. The essay draws attention to previous challenges faced by team members in the Global South, the importance of time to developing solid connections between researchers, and the value of friendship as a methodology.
From Our Fellows
The SSRC has been providing funding to researchers at all stages of their academic and professional careers for more than 90 years. Through a highly competitive and rigorous peer-review process, the SSRC has awarded over 15,000 fellowships and grants to support research around the globe. From Our Fellows focuses on emerging research in the social sciences, including intersections with the humanities and natural sciences, by recipients of SSRC funding. The SSRC’s fellowships, grants, and prizes improve conditions for social science knowledge production worldwide.
Invoking the concept of the "postnormal," Aarthi Sridhar, Annu Jalais, Rapti Siriwardane-de Zoysa, and Sridhar Anantha reflect on how collaborative research can help overcome the pandemic’s limitations. Centering democracy and equity, their Southern Collective developed a range of research projects to collect emerging cultural information about life in the Indian Ocean littoral. As they demonstrate, the building of “networks of solidarity” was central to accomplishing this work and may prove critical to successful research in a postnormal world.
Environmental disasters in recent decades have drawn scholarly attention to the need to move beyond traditional area studies boundaries in order to understand the wide-reaching impacts of events like tsunamis, cyclones, and, more broadly, climate change. This essay reflects on the efforts of one research team, led by Nathalie Peutz and Alden Young, to disrupt regional divides between East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and to study climate change across the littoral states of the Red Sea arena. As the authors highlight, successful collaboration across regions and in this time of multiple crises entails the constant negotiation of constraints and disruptions.
Ten years after the overthrow of authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak, Egypt faces economic downturn and continuing support for General Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi’s authoritarian regime. In this essay, Jessica Winegar explores how “the alluring aesthetics of authoritarian populism'' contributed to a departure from the revolution’s demands. Drawing upon her research in Egypt, she examines why Egyptians, exhausted by the upheaval of the uprisings, called for stability (istiqrar). Winegar argues that Sisi’s authoritarian rule based on “masculine, military, and middle-class aesthetics” cultivated his image as a strongman and savior, enticing everyday citizens yearning for dignity, respect, and stability.
Based on his research of Syrian musical cultures, Jonathan Shannon explores what it means to conduct methodological and ethical research in contexts of turmoil and displacement. In this essay, Shannon considers how the Arab uprisings and the Covid-19 pandemic have affected ethnographic fieldwork in Syria. Shannon argues that adapting to fieldwork during these global challenges has generated a new model of research. This model centers collaboration and coproduction, opening the door for “ethnographic entanglements” to create “new forms of knowledge.”
Despite the overthrow of autocratic rulers during the Arab popular uprisings of 2010–2011, the Middle East and North Africa have experienced continued upheaval over the last decade. In this essay, Joel Beinin examines why the Arab Spring was unable to adequately address diverse economic and social issues across different nations and establish stable alternatives to their regimes. Beinin argues that “mere procedural democracy,” “rebranded neoliberal economic policies,” and disconnect between the working class and the educated urban middle class have prevented the majority population from achieving their economic, social, and cultural aims.
A decade after the 2011 Yemeni revolution, Yemen enters its seventh year in a civil-and-proxy war that has caused a severe humanitarian crisis with millions of Yemenis suffering from famine, facing internal displacement, and depending on humanitarian aid. In this essay, Nathalie Peutz reflects on the changing desires of marginalized Yemenis who, during the revolution, had protested for full citizenship rights, but now in wartime seek refugee status. As refugees describe experiencing more rights in camps than they once had in Yemen, Peutz argues that “refugee” has transformed into an ascendant status, capturing the “hopes and disappointments” of postrevolution Yemen.
Through the lens of Egypt’s “Spirit of Tahrir Square” ten years on, Yasmin Moll reflects on the intersection of Islam and creative arts, as it connects to the way Egyptians give meaning to their public and private lives and consider a “New Egypt.” Rather than proclaim that something is singularly “Islamic” or “creative” or “revolutionary,” it is more meaningful, Moll argues, to consider the shifting categories—these thick concepts—and the impact these shifts have on Egyptian lives.
A decade after the uprisings that saw the end of dictatorship in Tunisia, the promise of democracy remains unfulfilled, particularly for Tunisian women. Examining the dynamics of justice in cases of gender violence, Ola Galal looks at how Tunisian women use social media to challenge the entrenched tendencies to ignore violence against women through online campaigns like #EnaZeda. However, as Galal argues, women in rural areas seldom benefit from these digital mechanisms for redress.