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Birthing the Modern Subject: Subject Transformation in Contemporary Arab Thought

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Abstract:

This paper examines how contemporary Arab political thought analyzes the historical, socioeconomic, political and cultural constitution of Arab citizens in postcolonial times, and how that body of thought mobilizes a range of cultural resources to initiate changes in this constitution. In so doing, this paper does not only illuminate a hitherto little studied area in political thought, it also advances an argument about the role that historical traditions of thought (in this case the Islamic tradition of legal, philosophical, theological, literary, and mystic learning) play in understanding and changing the present, a field of enquiry that continues to be hotly debated in political theory.
More specifically, the paper illustrates how modern Arab political thought has been preoccupied with questions of “reform” since the early 19th century, whereby “reform” was often understood as a complex of political and social changes at whose core lays religious reform. It discusses how the increased attentiveness to radical social and economic transformation that pervaded the postwar period gave way to the conceptions of religious renewal and revival as the necessary prerequisite to political change since the 1970s. This transformation in political thought, typically traceable to the perceived success of the 1979 Iranian revolution and the rise of Islamist movements in many Arab countries, has given rise to a body of cultural and ideological critique that tries to critically examine, historicize, and in many cases build on religious thought using modern Western philosophical methods. In this vein, this paper analyzes and evaluates how a central contemporary Arab thinker, the Moroccan historian and political theorist Abdullah Laroui (b. 1933), theorizes the postcolonial Arab condition through a critical examination of the Islamic, colonial, and postcolonial constituents of that condition. It offers the first sustained interpretation of Laroui’s corpus, which spans the late 1960s till the 2000s, to track the various ways in which he diagnoses the sociopolitical problems of nascent Arab nationalism in the 1960s, and how that diagnosis and its prescribed remedy shift with the rising tides of Islamism in the early 1980s through the 2000s. More specifically, I argue that instead of “converting” to an Islamist or neo-liberal bent of thought as other Arab intellectuals have arguably done during that period, Laroui remains consistent in his political and theoretical commitment to “historicism,” the notion that historical change follows an identifiable set of historical laws that could be discerned and accelerated through human agency. The paper explains how Laroui’s commitment to historicism is based on his perception of the latter’s capacity to achieve a political modernity that was both, universal in its character and specific to its (Arab and Islamic) origins at one at the same time. Despite Laroui’s consistent advocacy for historicism, the paper traces how his attempt to birth the modern Arab political subject (that is, to initiate a mode of subjectivity premised on historicism) takes on different forms in the pre and post 1970s. It does so through elaborating the argumentative and rhetorical strategies that the post-1970s Laroui uses to inaugurate such a subject in an increasingly Islamized political milieu. As such, this paper presents an important insight into contemporary Arab trends in analyzing history and politics in the period leading up to the Arab spring of 2011, and sheds light on some of the major questions and problematics animating these uprisings.
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Daifallah, Yasmeen. "Birthing the Modern Subject: Subject Transformation in Contemporary Arab Thought" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, TBA, Philadelphia, PA, Sep 01, 2016 <Not Available>. 2017-11-28 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1126916_index.html>

APA Citation:

Daifallah, Y. , 2016-09-01 "Birthing the Modern Subject: Subject Transformation in Contemporary Arab Thought" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, TBA, Philadelphia, PA Online <PDF>. 2017-11-28 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1126916_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: This paper examines how contemporary Arab political thought analyzes the historical, socioeconomic, political and cultural constitution of Arab citizens in postcolonial times, and how that body of thought mobilizes a range of cultural resources to initiate changes in this constitution. In so doing, this paper does not only illuminate a hitherto little studied area in political thought, it also advances an argument about the role that historical traditions of thought (in this case the Islamic tradition of legal, philosophical, theological, literary, and mystic learning) play in understanding and changing the present, a field of enquiry that continues to be hotly debated in political theory.
More specifically, the paper illustrates how modern Arab political thought has been preoccupied with questions of “reform” since the early 19th century, whereby “reform” was often understood as a complex of political and social changes at whose core lays religious reform. It discusses how the increased attentiveness to radical social and economic transformation that pervaded the postwar period gave way to the conceptions of religious renewal and revival as the necessary prerequisite to political change since the 1970s. This transformation in political thought, typically traceable to the perceived success of the 1979 Iranian revolution and the rise of Islamist movements in many Arab countries, has given rise to a body of cultural and ideological critique that tries to critically examine, historicize, and in many cases build on religious thought using modern Western philosophical methods. In this vein, this paper analyzes and evaluates how a central contemporary Arab thinker, the Moroccan historian and political theorist Abdullah Laroui (b. 1933), theorizes the postcolonial Arab condition through a critical examination of the Islamic, colonial, and postcolonial constituents of that condition. It offers the first sustained interpretation of Laroui’s corpus, which spans the late 1960s till the 2000s, to track the various ways in which he diagnoses the sociopolitical problems of nascent Arab nationalism in the 1960s, and how that diagnosis and its prescribed remedy shift with the rising tides of Islamism in the early 1980s through the 2000s. More specifically, I argue that instead of “converting” to an Islamist or neo-liberal bent of thought as other Arab intellectuals have arguably done during that period, Laroui remains consistent in his political and theoretical commitment to “historicism,” the notion that historical change follows an identifiable set of historical laws that could be discerned and accelerated through human agency. The paper explains how Laroui’s commitment to historicism is based on his perception of the latter’s capacity to achieve a political modernity that was both, universal in its character and specific to its (Arab and Islamic) origins at one at the same time. Despite Laroui’s consistent advocacy for historicism, the paper traces how his attempt to birth the modern Arab political subject (that is, to initiate a mode of subjectivity premised on historicism) takes on different forms in the pre and post 1970s. It does so through elaborating the argumentative and rhetorical strategies that the post-1970s Laroui uses to inaugurate such a subject in an increasingly Islamized political milieu. As such, this paper presents an important insight into contemporary Arab trends in analyzing history and politics in the period leading up to the Arab spring of 2011, and sheds light on some of the major questions and problematics animating these uprisings.


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