Major Themes in Contemporary Middle East
IRI – USP 2020
Dr. Karabekir Akkoyunlu
Sala A Fridays, 13:00 – 16:30
This course introduces the major themes, key actors, prevalent developments and pressing issues facing the states and societies of the modern Middle East. The historical scope of the course spans from the decline and collapse of the Ottoman Empire during the long 19th century to our turbulent 21st century. With the exception of the first two lectures, which provide a general historical background, the course is organised thematically rather than chronologically. The course takes a multi-disciplinary approach, investigating linkages between history, sociology, politics, international relations, economics and anthropology. The lectures cover topics such as the legacies of empire and colonialism; nation-building and nationalism; political Islam; geopolitics of energy; environment, urbanisation and migration; workers’, women’s and LGBTQ+ struggles; democracy and authoritarianism; the failure of the “Arab Spring”; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Kurdish question.
The large and culturally, politically and historically diverse region referred to as the Middle East has long been an object of curiosity for the outsider. During late modernity, the region evoked in the western mind a highly exaggerated and imagined sense of exoticism and mysticism, captured in the Orientalist depictions of the harem, the mysterious section of the Muslim household reserved for wives, concubines and female servants. Since the 20th century, the region has drawn international attention for its seemingly unending ethnic and religious conflicts, political upheavals and humanitarian crises. Yet popular explanations for these have often focused excessively on factors such as the role of Islam or the prevalence of oil.
The aim of this course is to give students a lucid yet nuanced and critical understanding of the region’s complexities without resorting to over-simplifications and cultural clichés. Students will be introduced to diverse perspectives, sources and accounts on the evolution of nation- states, societies and non-state actors in the region. At the same time, by employing a comparative approach and exploring common themes such as urbanisation, climate change, socio-economic inequality or democracy, the course aims to dispel the idea that the Middle East is a foreign “other”, operating in fundamentally different ways than the rest of the world.
Course Textbook & Other Sources
Louise Fawcett (ed.) International Relations of the Middle East, Oxford University Press, 2016 (4th edition).
Selected chapters, additional reading and other material will be uploaded to Moodle. Students are also encouraged to regularly follow these websites for updates, analyses and opinions: al-monitor.com, jadaliyya.com, merip.org, ottomanhistorypodcast.com.
The course will be conducted in English, including class discussions and written assignments.
Attendance + Participation (10 + 10%): Students are expected to attend and participate in all lectures, having done the assigned readings in advance and ready to engage in discussion & answer questions. As per university regulations, lower than %70 attendance is automatic failure.
Two written responses (20% each): Students will be asked to write two reflection essays (1,000 words each) in response to the lectures on Week 6 and Week 9. These will be submitted electronically before class on Week 7 and Week 10, and discussed in class after the screening of movies in these weeks.
Final Essay (40%): A 3,000-word research paper on a subject picked among a number of options provided. To be submitted electronically by midnight Friday 19 June.
Important Note on Plagiarism
Your essays will be checked for originality so please make sure to provide appropriate reference for any idea, quote or information that is not originally yours in your text. You can do this by using in-text citations or footnotes and attaching a bibliography to the end of your essay.
Any unacknowledged use of someone else’s work is considered plagiarism, which is a very serious academic offence. Plagiarising other people’s work can lead you to fail the course.
For detailed information on how to avoid plagiarism, please see the following link and feel free to contact me with any questions: