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Call for proposals, Special issue of Arabian Humanities n°11: Urban Images and Imaginaries:
Cities of the Arabian Peninsula through their representations

Deadline for sending proposals extended to: July 10, 2017

Guest Editors: Laure Assaf (EHESS) and Clémence Montagne (ENeC)

Four years after a special issue of Arabian Humanities tackled the subject of cities and urban dynamics in the Arabian Peninsula, the present call for papers aims to take another look at the specific urban forms of the region, this time through the lens of the images and imaginaries of the city.

Submissions are invited of articles that examine the representations sparked by these cities – whether they are projected and produced by the institutional actors of urban development, or are emerging from the shared urban practices of diverse categories of city-dwellers. Contributors can therefore focus on these images as research objects and empirical data - analyzing their models, their symbolic attributes and their underlying references. Articles can also look at the narratives in which these images are entangled, and the collective meanings they produce – in short, their imaginaries. Our purpose is to question what these urban images and imaginaries do to Arabian Peninsula cities in the contemporary period.

From a theoretical point of view, this call for papers follows the trend of critical urban studies which, in the past decade, has played a leading role in renewing research in the field of social sciences in the region (Bsheer et Warner, 2013 ; Carapico, 2004). Recent works devoted to the cities of the Arabian Peninsula have underlined how the coherence of this cultural area runs beyond the simplistic model of the “oil city” (Fuccaro, 2001). They tackled the questions raised by urban development through studying the roles of its various agents as well as the conflicts surrounding urban transformations (Al-Nakib, 2016 ; Altorki et Bagader, 2006 ; Elsheshtawy, 2008 ; Fuccaro, 2009 ; Kanna, 2011 ; Khalaf, 2006 ; Wippel et al. ed., 2014).

Researchers have thus shed light on the “counter-narratives” of the city (Al Rasheed and Vitalis, 2004). Their analyses have called into question official discourses and focused on the re-appropriations of urban space by its residents, their informal practices, their transnational connections, as well as the arts of resistance which punctuate daily life in urban societies (Beaugrand, 2010 ; Elsheshtawy, 2010 ; Le Renard, 2011 ; Ménoret, 2016 ; Moghadam, 2013 ; Vora, 2013).

With the hindsight allowed by previous works, notably their careful deconstruction of official narratives surrounding the birth and transformation of cities, we offer to focus on the mass of images produced around them and the differentiated imaginaries in which they are inscribed. Which images of the city have driven urban development in the Arabian Peninsula? How have imported models evolved through time and what models do these cities contribute to create today? How do these images relate to the imaginaries produced from within urban societies by their residents, or to those produced outside the region, by returnees, aspiring migrants, tourists and artists?

Authors can articulate their proposals around one or several of the following research themes, or propose new ones:

Embodied images

A first research theme will question how images produced by the public and private actors of urban development influence the “production of space” (Lefebvre, 1974), and how they evolve as the social and political project they represent is embodied in the materiality of the city. From the “visions” of the rulers whose hyperbolic lexicon is reproduced in the media and on advertisement hoardings, to the final development of the building site, the image of the city indeed undergoes multiple stages of transformation. Proposals can thus study the large spectrum of professionals involved in the making of these images, from models and 3D virtual images presented in real estate forums (Montagne, 2016) to the projections of future projects on large advertisement hoardings which hide construction sites (Stadnicki et Benchetrit 2014).

Projected images

Simultaneously, we will question the narrative of the city produced by such images. This narrative partakes in various and often contradictory scales, between nation building and touristic branding. If urban development in the recent cities of the Arabian Peninsula has served the projects of those who hold economic as well as political power, which are often confused, this process has taken very different forms. Among these is the image built by Western “starchitects” who describe Gulf cities – and Dubai in particular – as “laboratories” open to bold experiments, or as architectural “enchantments” (Koolhaas, 2007 ; Katodrytis, 2005). This image is somewhat contradicted by the reality of modernist cities, based on models of post-war European and North-American urbanism, which were almost already obsolete at the time of their implementation (Ménoret, 2016 ; Al-Nakib, 2016 ; Montagne, 2016). Similar paradoxes oppose the orientalist image projected by commercial resorts which commodify the regional past, to public housing projects (buyût sha'biyya) which served both to “contain” national populations and to ensure their support for the newly-formed states – but which have also produced various forms of appropriation (Cooke, 2014 ; Elsheshtawy, 2016).

Urban imaginaries

These appropriations are central to the third proposed research theme, which revolves around urban imaginaries. Indeed, the official images of the city have to be put into perspective with imaginaries born from the daily practices of the city by its residents. These imaginaries raise another dimension of urbanity: the collective meanings emerging from relations to a shared space. They are expressed in the narratives residents produce about the city, and which they spread – for example on social media. Theses narratives sometimes refer to older or lost versions of the city, borrowing the vocabulary of nostalgia in the face of fast-paced urban development (Assaf, 2017). They can also carry more directly political meanings, like the image of the Pearl roundabout in Manama, Bahrain. Destroyed by the government after the repression of the popular uprising in 2011, the roundabout has since become a symbol for political opposition, used online as well as through graffiti which re-inscribe the Pearl monument in the city’s streets.

Artistic imaginaries

Little research so far has been devoted to the artistic imaginaries of Arabian Peninsula cities. However, these representations compose an extremely rich corpus, over a long term: as early as the 1970s, movies and novels from Egypt or Kerala have given a voice to experiences of migration to the Gulf. These narratives are today prolonged through the industries of the imagination – one thinks about the economic ties linking Bollywood actors and producers to the Gulf region. They are also renewed by emerging trends of young artists, citizens and non-citizens, who grew up in these cities and shed a new light on urban experiences.

We welcome proposals from authors working in diverse fields of the humanities and social sciences. Studies based on empirical data are particularly encouraged, but shorter articles devoted to the analysis of a body of images or a cinematographic or literary work can also be welcomed. Comparative approaches with fieldworks outside of the Arabian Peninsula are also encouraged.

Article proposals, in English or French, should be sent before June 15, 2017 to the guest editors of this issue, Laure Assaf ( and Clémence Montagne (, as well as to Sylvaine Giraud (

Proposals should include:

  • the title of the article,

  • a 500-words abstract,

  • a short biography of the autor,

  • all the necessary information identifying the author: name, institutional affiliation, institutional address, telephone and e-mail.

Agenda (for a publication in Fall 2018):

  • July 10, 2017: Reception of article proposals

  • Last two weeks of July: Reply to the authors

  • November 10, 2017: First version of the complete article (max 9,000 words)

Authors are kindly asked to conform to the official guidelines of Arabian Humanities, available here or from the Editorial Secretary, Sylvaine Giraud (


Al-Nakib Farah, 2016, Kuwait Transformed. A History of Oil and Urban Life, Stanford (CA), Stanford University Press.

Al-Rasheed Madawi et Vitalis Robert, 2004, Counter-Narratives: History, Contemporary Society, and Politics in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Assaf Laure, 2017, Jeunesses arabes d'Abou Dhabi (Émirats arabes unis). Catégories statutaires, sociabilités urbaines et modes de subjectivation, Thèse de doctorat en Anthropologie, Université Paris-Nanterre.

Altorki Soraya and Bagader Abu Baker, 2006, Jidda, Umm al-rakhā wa-l-shidda. Taḥawalāt al-ḥayāt al-’usriyya bayna fatratayn, Le Caire, Dār Al-Shurūq.

Beaugrand Claire, 2010, Statelessness and Transnationalism in Northern Arabia: Biduns and State Building in Kuwait, 1959-2009, Thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, The London School of Economics and Political Science, London.

Beaugrand Claire, Le Renard Amélie and Stadnicki Roman, 2013, « Au-delà de la skyline : des villes en transformation dans la péninsule Arabique », Arabian Humanities, n°2.

Bsheer Rosie and Warner John, 2013, « Theorizing the Arabian Peninsula: Introduction to the Roundtable », Jadaliyya.

Carapico Sheila, 2004, « Arabia Incognita: An Invitation to Arabian Peninsula Sudies », Counter-Narratives: History, Contemporary Society, and Politics in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, M. Al-Rasheed et R. Vitalis éd., New York, Palgrave Macmillan, p. 11‑33.

Cooke Miriam, 2014,Tribal Modern. Branding New Nations in the Arab Gulf. Berkeley / Los Angeles / London: University of California Press.

Elsheshtawy Yasser, 2008, The Evolving Arab City: Tradition, Modernity and Urban Development, Londres, Routledge.

—, 2010, Dubai: Behind an Urban Spectacle, New York, Routledge.

Fuccaro Nelida, 2001, « Visions of the city: Urban studies on the Gulf », Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, vol. 35, p. 175‑187.

—, 2009, Histories of City and State in the Persian Gulf, Cambridge University Press.

Kanna Ahmed, 2011, Dubai, the City as Corporation, University Of Minnesota Press.

Khalaf Sulayman, 2006, « The Evolution of the Gulf City Type, Oil, and Globalization », Globalization and the Gulf, J. W. Fox, N. Mourtada-Sabbah and M. al-Mutawa éd., London; New York, Routledge, p. 244.

Koolhaas, Rem, Ole Bouman, and Mark Wigley. Volume 12: Al Manakh. Amsterdam (Netherlands): Archis, 2007.

Lavergne Marc, 2005 [1], « Sur les ailes du désir, de Koweït à Mascate », Villes et territoires du Moyen-Orient.

Le Renard Amélie, 2011, Femmes et espaces publics en Arabie Saoudite, Dalloz.

Lefebvre Henri, 1974, La production de l’espace (Anthropos).

Ménoret Pascal, 2016, Royaume d’asphalte. Jeunesse en révolte à Riyad, Paris, La Découverte.

Moghadam Amin, 2013, L’autre rive : l’Iran recomposé de Dubaï. Etude des pratiques et discours des migrants iraniens, Thèse de doctorat en Géographie et Urbanisme, Université Lumière - Lyon II, Lyon.

Montagne Clémence, 2016, Développement urbain et planification urbaine à Abu Dhabi et Dubaï. Politiques, acteurs et mobilités, Thèse en Aménagement et Urbanisme, Université Paris-Sorbonne, Paris.

Stadnicki Roman et Benchetrit Manuel, 2014, « Le sable dans les villes du Golfe : de la disgrâce à l’infiltration. » Techniques & Culture.

Vora Neha, 2013, Impossible Citizens: Dubai’s Indian Diaspora, Durham, Duke University Press.

Wippel Steffen et al. éd., 2014, Under Construction: Logics of Urbanism in the Gulf Region, Farnham Surrey and Burlington, VT, Ashgate.

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