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Imaginary Divides: The Middle East and Africa Across Empires, Oceans, and Borders


The option to register to attend will be posted soon. There will be brief intermissions from 11:00am – 11:30am (between panels 1 and 2) and 1:00pm – 2:00pm (between panels 2 and 3) to allow for a coffee break and lunch.

Conference Description

The conference interrogates the naturalized boundaries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). It seeks to understand the relationship between the region and its adjacent spaces, particularly sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean. How can we reimagine the relationship between the MENA and other alternative geographies, challenging the imagined divides between them? We bring together a diverse group of scholars to think through the entanglements between, across, and beyond categories of region, nation, and language, and to foreground the uneven power relations that exist between particular regions, and the possibilities for transcending them. To do this, we consciously invite scholars whose research may not fit perfectly within regional categories or a single discipline. The conference brings together emerging and established scholars to think through these engagements across space and time, foregrounding scholarship that has not historically been spotlighted, and creating new conversations across specializations.


1) Power Politics within the Global South

9:30am – 11:00am

This panel examines different types of interrelations, both past and present, that connect MENA and sub-Saharan Africa, and scrutinizes the asymmetrical forms of power that both animate and are produced through these interrelations.  Forms of interrelations include, but are not limited to the movement of goods and peoples, systems of governance, investment and resource extraction.

Nisreen Elamin (University of Toronto)
Mostafa Minawi (Cornell University)
Beeta Baghoolizadeh (Princeton University)
Eve Troutt Powell (discussant, University of Pennsylvania)

2) Maritime Spaces and Global Mobilities

11:30am – 1:00pm

Maritime spaces are often conceptualized as barriers that separate, or as conduits that connect the MENA and sub-Saharan Africa regions.  How significant are such spaces to the types and tenor of interrelation between these regions?  How have these interrelations and their relative significance changed historically?

Matthew Hopper (California Polytechnic)
Jatin Dua (University of Michigan)
Renisa Mawani (University of British Columbia)
Laleh Khalili (discussant, Queens College London)

3) Third Worldism and South-South Solidarity

2:00pm – 3:30pm

Panelists will explore how people in different parts of the world imagined the possibilities for solidarity across borders among dispossessed, colonized, and/or racialized subjects. Are there particularities that characterize forms of solidarity that cross-cut MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa and how are such solidarities constituted?

Paraska Tolan Szkilnik (Suffolk University)
Zachariah Mampilly (Baruch College)
Yousuf Al-Bulushi (University of California – Irvine)
Rosie Bsheer (discussant, Harvard University)