Arabic Cultural Production and the Arab Spring
In addition to the general course description, the following applies specifically to the course offered Spring 2018.
While the political uprisings of the Arab Spring in 2011 are taking a tragic turn, a wave of creativity and humor is spreading through the ‘Arab street’ and the region’s internet sphere, to the point that one could speak of a “cultural revolution” taking place in addition to and often superseding the political one. Young cultural producers are experimenting with the internet and with globally-booming genres such as dystopian novels, YouTube series and rap music, to comment on mainstream political news, mock the official discourse of the authorities, and offer alternative visions to their lived reality. Mainstream media in the West, however, continue to focus on images of violence and political extremism, and academic publications on the Arab Spring are still largely informed by an interest in political and sociological questions. As a result, the cultural production that has inspired and accompanied these events remains to be explored.
In this course, we will read, watch and listen to a range of cultural products that have inspired and accompanied the events of the Arab Spring and its aftermath. Readings of primary sources will include excerpts of dystopian novels, autofictional blogs, comic strips, songs and TV series, and social media feeds, in both Modern Standard and colloquial Arabic, published shortly before, during, and after the Arab uprisings. Secondary literature will help to develop critical perspectives on these texts and enrich their understanding by placing them against their historical background. The readings will raise a number of questions that are crucial to understanding the Middle East, and therefore will be thoroughly discussed in our seminars, among others: the relation between aesthetics and politics; the role of youth and women in the uprisings; intellectuals and their engagement with the public sphere; the impact of the internet on Arabic language and culture; the relation between social media and anti-authoritarianism; how literature and social media can provide a window into the life of ordinary citizens in the region.
- Become familiar with a highly relevant aspect of contemporary Arab cultural production
- Come to know major cultural figures and key texts of contemporary Arabic culture
- Improve your competence in the reading and interpretation of Arabic primary sources
- Receive training in the critical use of relevant secondary literature both in Arabic and in other languages
- Develop your ability to describe and summarize source material and to analyze it in line with a chosen methodological approach
- Present your own analysis in oral and written form and in a concise academic style
- Learn to evaluate each other’s work.
This course consists of 10 seminars of 90 minutes each. The seminars require active participation in both readings and discussion, following a brief introduction which is given to place assignments in an intellectual and historical context.
Compulsory tuition activities this semester: two in-class presentations, in which the student is asked to present the readings for that particular week and to lead the discussion among the students. The presentation should address: a discussion of the theme and style of the primary source assigned for that week; the historical and political context of the readings; connection to other themes discussed in class. The oral presentation must be accompanied by a hand-out including three critical questions highlighting some of the main issues in and implications of the text. These questions should help generate class discussion and debate, with the aim of training how to engage with both the readings and your peers in a public forum. You are strongly encouraged to meet with the teacher a week before your presentation to go over some of your plans, questions and thoughts regarding the presentation.
Presentations and submission of assignments must be completed and submitted within the given deadlines and approved by the teacher in order for you to take the exam.
Term paper, for the preconditions and specifications of which see the general course description. The final paper may be related to your in-class presentations, but it should not fully overlap with them. It should be based on at least one text discussed in class and one chosen independently by the student. The term paper will have to show the student’s ability to work independently on a range of Arabic texts and to engage critically with them through secondary literature. You are strongly encouraged to meet with the teacher before starting to prepare your term paper in order to discuss your selection of primary and secondary sources.