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    Exploratory Workshop to be held on May 23-24, 2009 at the Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin

    supported by the European Science Foundation

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Group III

The Dynamics of Identity Production


I Structures and concepts of discourses

II Traditions and conceptualizations

III The dynamics of identity production




Identity is always, inevitably a site of struggle. Its contours, if one ventures into any discourse on identity, are unstable, drawn by numerous elements configured in a myriad of ways. However, discourses on ‘Eastern’ (Middle Eastern) identity, whether ‘Western’ or, on occasion, ‘Eastern’ academic discourses on identity formation and politics are seemingly informed by a number of conceptual categories translated, adapted and adopted from ‘Western’ epistemology (cf. Group I). Terms such as ‘national’, ‘modern’, ‘post-modern’, ‘cosmopolitan’, ‘traditional’, ‘fundamentalist’ are all, one may argue, traceable to origins in ‘Western’ thought, discourses, and cultural histories implicated in the production of ‘modern’ identity (17th to the 20th centuries) in the ‘West’ (cf. Groups I & II). These terms and the conceptual categories they denote are, more importantly, identifiable, perceivable and equally productive in the Middle Eastern context, where equivalent terms may arguably be found (qawmī, adīth/ ad
āthī, mā ba‘d al-adātha, ālamī, uṣūlī). Is this a coincidence? Or, is there complacency in accepting such easy mobility of conceptual categories from one culture to another, and from one system of thought to another? Do different cultures use differing vocabulary to speak of the emergence and maintenance of identity?

This Group looks at the travels, transfers and transformations of identitarian paradigms, discourses, politics and production, across cultures and examines them in a comparative framework, as a process of ‘East’ reading and translating ‘West’ that is of itself implicated in (necessarily?) a parallel process of ‘West’ reading ‘East’. It interrogates the recurrence of these terms in discourses on Middle Eastern literature as well as Middle Eastern literary representations and asks the following questions:

·       How do epistemological and ontological frameworks and paradigms travel across cultures (and different semiological systems)?

·       What happens to these when they travel, move, come to reside, perhaps even settle in a new culture? Do they retain their original shape, and politics? Do they become ‘mythologized’, emptied of their historical context? If they do, how do the ‘local’ cultures ‘flesh out’ the ‘myths’, inhabit them, and mobilize them for ‘local’ production of individual or group identity?

·      Is identity production in the ‘East’ necessarily a ‘translation’ of ‘Western’ epistemological/ontological frameworks and paradigms? What happens during ‘translation’? What is lost and what is gained? Is translation equivalence or negotiation and transaction?

·       What are the intersections between ‘imported’ and ‘indigenous’ or ‘local’ epistemes? In what ways do ‘local’ epistemes tinker with the ‘imported’ ones?

·       How do we know the ‘local’ epistemes? Is it enough to study them in a class? Check a dictionary? Are people who live with them aware of them? Do they necessarily exist? Is it possible that the terms for identity are superfluous and unnecessary, whether in the ‘West’ or ‘East’?

·      Are ‘translations’ of ‘Western’ terms rhetorical? Are their ‘purely’ local epistemes operative in identity formation, politics and discourses?

·       Is identity production necessarily dynamic locatable at an intercultural site? Even if it is, does identity production detectable in Middle Eastern literatures follow one and the same trajectory? Or are there various patterns of identity production? What are they? Is it possible to identify, categorize and theorize them?

·         In what ways can ‘gender’ problematize these epistemes?

·         Is ‘identity’ coterminous with ‘subject’ or ‘subjectivity’?