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Call for Papers: Mobilities and Materialities of the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula (Kuwait, 17-19 March 2017)

[Image from official call for papers of the Gulf Studies Symposium (GSS)] [Image from official call for papers of the Gulf Studies Symposium (GSS)]

The Center for Gulf Studies at the American University of Kuwait will hold its third Gulf Studies Symposium (GSS) on 17-19 March 2017. The GSS is a meeting of worldwide Gulf scholars and researchers held biennially in Kuwait. Each symposium is based on a particular scholarly theme that is timely both to the region and to the field of Gulf studies. The theme of the 2017 GSS is "Mobilities and Materialities of the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula."


The 2017 GSS will bring together international and regional scholars to engage in an interdisciplinary discussion on the movement of people into, out of, across, and within the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula in historical and contemporary contexts, and the various material forms that enable, restrict, or are produced by these mobilities.

The Gulf and Arabian Peninsula (incorporating the GCC states, Iraq, Iran, and Yemen) has for centuries been settled, unsettled, and resettled through continuous patterns of migration and the systematic movements of people. Yet the people of this region are commonly fixed within one of two overarching sociological dichotomies: sedentary/Bedouin in relation to the citizenry (particularly before oil), and citizens/expatriates in relation to the overall population (after the advent of state citizenship laws). The two sides of each binary evoke contrasting states of mobility. Historically sedentary groups like villagers or townspeople (hadar) were tied to specific locales, while the Bedouin were nomadic tribes that wandered aimlessly across the region's deserts. In the citizens/expatriates binary, the former are depicted as settled and permanent, whereas the latter are transient and temporary "guests." In reality, these sociological groups cannot be neatly reduced to such designated states of mobility. Historically, sedentary town-dwellers were extremely mobile: trading and sailing by sea to ports across the Indian Ocean for months at a time, and regularly relocating to towns with more favorable economic or political conditions. Bedouin tribes, meanwhile, were often tied to particular territories (called diras) and inextricably connected to rulers and markets in nearby towns. In present-day contexts, Gulf citizens are also mobile and transnational: they travel several times a year, have second homes elsewhere, study abroad, and so on. And expatriates-though not granted formal citizenship or even, in some cases, permanent residency-often remain in the Gulf for decades if not generations, belying their "temporary" status. Such binaries are not constructed organically out of ostensible facts, but rather are produced, maintained, and reinscribed through overlapping state citizenship, labor, and migration regimes.

This symposium proposes new ways of thinking about the mobilities of diverse groups that go beyond the aforementioned binaries and include subjects previously elided. These may include (but are not limited to): slaves; trafficked and indentured workers; migrant or seasonal laborers; refugees, exiles, and asylees; merchants and traders; urban and real estate developers; artists and architects; militaries and diplomatic figures; students and scholars; travelers and tourists to and from the region; as well as religious figures and pilgrims. Papers may examine the processes that animate or delimit diverse forms of mobility; writings, narratives, and archives that index these mobilities; everyday power relations, governance systems, and geopolitics that configure and are reconfigured by these mobilities; the gendered nature of these mobilities; as well as their broader sociocultural, religious, economic, and environmental implications.

The continuous and systematic movement of people to, from, and within the region creates a mutually-affecting engagement with, and leaves substantial traces in, the material world. The symposium also therefore aims to examine the materialities of these mobilities. This includes the infrastructures, transportation networks/geographies, and various built environments (e.g. cities, military installations, leisure spaces) that enable, constrain, or are produced by people's movements. It also includes commodities, artworks, monuments, everyday objects, and other forms of material culture that expose (or omit) such mobilities.


We encourage scholars to use diverse and innovative methods and conceptual approaches in their work, and to avoid submitting work previously published.

Submissions should be sent by E-mail to Farah Al-Nakib ( and Geoffrey Martin ( by 15 October 2016. Please include your name, professional title, and institutional affiliation in the body, and attach your paper title and 400-word abstract as a Word document. Abstracts should relate to the general symposium theme and give some indication of sources, discipline, and methodology. Papers are reviewed blindly by a selection committee.

15 October 2016: Deadline for submissions

15 November 2016: Notification of accepted submissions

1 December 2016: Confirmation of participation

1 March 2017: Submission of full paper for circulation

16 March 2017: Arrival in Kuwait

17-19 March 2017: Symposium

20 March 2017: Departure from Kuwait

The CGS will cover the cost of airfare to and accommodation in Kuwait, as well as most daily meals.

The 2017 GSS was developed in collaboration with the George Washington University's Institute for Middle East Studies in Washington, DC, as part of a broader project focusing on "Mobilities and Materialities of the Middle East." 

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