Over the nearly two decades that they have each been conducting fieldwork in the Arabian Peninsula, Ahmed Kanna, Amélie Le Renard, and Neha Vora have regularly encountered exoticizing and exceptionalist discourses about the region and its people, political systems, and prevalent cultural practices. These persistent encounters became the springboard for Beyond Exception: New Interpretations of the Arabian Peninsula (Cornell UP, 2020), a reflection on conducting fieldwork within a "field" that is marked by such representations.
The three focus on deconstructing the exceptionalist representations that circulate about the Arabian Peninsula. They analyze what exceptionalism does, how it is used by various people, and how it helps shape power relations in the societies they study. They propose ways that this analysis of exceptionalism provides tools for rethinking the concepts that have become commonplace, structuring narratives and analytical frameworks within fieldwork in and on the Arabian Peninsula. They ask: What would not only Middle East studies, but studies of postcolonial societies and global capitalism in other parts of the world look like if the Arabian Peninsula was central rather than peripheral or exceptional to ongoing sociohistorical processes and representational practices? The authors explore how the exceptionalizing discourses that permeate Arabian Peninsula studies spring from colonialist discourses still operative in anthropology and sociology more generally, and suggest that de-exceptionalizing the region within their disciplines can offer opportunities for decolonized knowledge production.
This interview is part of an NBN special series on “Mobilities and Methods.”
Ahmed Kanna is Associate Professor of Anthropology at University of the Pacific. He is author of Dubai: The City as Corporation, and has published articles in peer-reviewed journals including Cultural Anthropology, International Journal of Middle East Studies and Journal of Urban Affairs.
Amélie Le Renard is Sociologist and Researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, and author of A Society of Young Women.
Neha Vora is Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Lafayette College, and is author of Impossible Citizens and Teach for Arabia. Follow her on Twitter @nativeinformant.
Alize Arıcan is a PhD candidate in the department of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her work focuses on urban renewal, futurity, care, and migration in Istanbul, Turkey. Her work has been featured on City & Society, entanglements: experiments in multimodal ethnography, and Anthropology News.