Lundy, Eileen T.,  and Edward J. Lundy, editors. Practicing Transnationalism: American Studies in the Middle East. U of Texas P, 2016.

Practicing Transnationalism: American Studies in the Middle East offers a historical perspective on the development of American Studies programs at Middle Eastern universities and the implications for teaching the discipline in a transnational world. As American Studies programs have been developed throughout the Middle East, scholars and practitioners have challenged the traditional theories of the discipline by incorporating a multidirectional approach in addressing the idea of Americanness and the “other.” The book centers on how western and Middle Eastern academics understand and re-conceptualize American exceptionalism under regional, social, and political influences. In addressing the complex perceptions of America in a pan-Middle Eastern context, the book reflects on the contextual constraints, cultural perceptions, and classroom encounters of American Studies programs in Middle Eastern universities. It presents chapters by various authors addressing the development of transnational American studies and the Middle East in the following sections: Questions and Challenges, Contexts and Implications, Cultural Encounters, and Classroom Encounters.

In discussing the culture, history, and politics in American Studies programs from a Middle Eastern perspective, the chapters focus their attention on a transnational shift in the teaching of the discipline. The authors structure their arguments by challenging the western hemispheric and global paradigms in American Studies. As a result, American Studies as a discipline is being described in a transnational context. Practicing Transnationalism: American Studies in the Middle East offers a fresh perspective on the development of American Studies in Middle Eastern academia by providing local and regional perspectives from scholars and students who engage in political, economic, and cultural exchanges with the United States through a variety of media. Furthermore, the book demonstrates the evolution of American Studies programs in the Middle East in the context of authoritative discourse, United States foreign policy, the teaching of cultural studies, and the perception of American imperialism. In illustrating the transnational relationship between America and the Middle East, the book explores parallels and contradictions in how American Studies has been understood by scholars and students in the discipline. Subsequent implications are highlighted and strongly argued in Patrick McGreevy’s chapter, “The American Question,” and in Neema Noori’s chapter, “The Politics of American-Style Higher Education in the Middle East.” Both chapters discuss how the development and implementation of an American Studies curriculum in the Middle East demonstrates pluralism amongst students and fragmentation due to authoritarian class structures.

McGreevy describes the evolution of the American question and the geopolitical implications for the study of the United States in the Middle East. To demonstrate the importance of discussing the American question, the author refers to the presence of the US military and to the economic and cultural interests of the United States in the Middle Eastern region. In her chapter, meanwhile, Noori describes the creation of American Studies programs throughout the Middle East and the contradictions that have emerged in efforts to implement western norms and ideologies. These efforts raise questions about the role of American academic institutions in the Middle East and how their administrators balance the upholding of western values in conservative Middle Eastern communities. The author highlights the constraints that are placed on students’ liberties and how these constraints create resentment and fragmentation in the student body and, in turn, cause disenchantment with democratic values; she concludes that this situation produces a two-tier student system that benefits the elite.

The chapter by Betty S. Anderson, “The American Liberal Education System and Its Development at the American University of Beirut,” expands on Noori’s analysis; it describes the evolutionary development of academia from the model of a liberal education in the arts and humanities to a curriculum that focuses on the sciences and innovation with more specialized majors such as engineering and economics. Anderson discusses how American academics working in American universities in the Middle East address morality, socialization, and the university’s role in the community. Institutional developments and outcomes seen in universities in the United States from the late 1800s to the middle of the 1900s were replicated in American universities in the Middle East because of the transfer of knowledge from foreign academics. These institutional developments have transcended the complex relationship between the intellectual class and students due to trans-local perceptions of the Middle East.

In “Shifting the Gorilla: The Failure of the American Unipolar in the Middle East,” Scott Lucas analyzes the Middle Eastern translocal perceptions of US-foreign policy under the Bush administration. Lucas describes the transnational relationship between the United States and the Middle East at that time as a unipolar foreign policy with an agenda that contradicted the multilateral institutional system of previous administrations. The author points out that this unipolar policy in the Middle East was created by neoconservatives of the Bush administration to push through their pro-democratic and neoliberal agenda. The policies of the Bush administration in Afghanistan and Iraq have had detrimental effects on the perception of the US imperialistic agenda by the wider Middle Eastern region. The author concludes that, despite a change in discourse during the Obama administration, Middle Eastern societies have been left questioning the role of the United States in the region.

In the chapter by Hani Ismail Elayyan, “Arabic Poetry in America,” the author examines the work of three émigré poets (Ilya Abu Madi, Riziq Hadad, and Ahmed Zaky Abushady) who have been recognized both in American and Arab cultures. Through their writings, these poets articulate their individual journeys and assimilation into the United States. Topics discussed in their poetry range from the debate on immigration, education of immigrants, work ethic and individualism, the place of women, and cultural landscapes. In discussing these topics, the poets emphasize the importance of cultural exchange and pluralism in understanding the relationship between the Middle East and America.

The chapter by David McDonald, “The Stones We Throw are Rhymes: Imagining America in Palestinian Hip-Hop,” explores the relational histories and identities of Palestinian Israelis to explain the evolution of popular culture in the Middle East. In analyzing poetry, hip-hop, and performance art, the chapter creates clear boundaries in the discursive field of political and cultural ideas and the conflict arising from the dominant regional power structures.  Furthermore, McDonald expands on Elayyan’s chapter by describing the political and cultural environment and frustrations in society that have been the foundation for the emergence of hip-hop in Palestine. The chapter analyzes the various ways America has been imagined and articulated among Palestinians living in Israel, Jordan, and the Occupied West Bank. Understanding the social spaces and the political discourse through the lens of popular culture allows Palestinians and Israelis to express their societal discontent and their aspirations for the future.

In the next two chapters, the authors provide practical examples on how to engage students in American Studies programs in the Middle East and of the political and cultural discontent that arises from America’s presence in the region. Colin Cavell’s chapter, entitled “American Studies in the Arabian Gulf: Teaching American Politics in Bahrain,” offers a personal account of teaching American politics to students in the American Studies Center (ASC) at the University of Bahrain. The chapter describes cultural and language constraints that the author experienced as a practitioner. In addressing the teaching difficulties, the chapter provides suggestions on the implementation of an American Studies program in the context of Bahrain and proposes a comprehensive curriculum in order to engage Bahraini students in Political Science.

Finally, the chapter by Edward J. Lundy, “Teaching in the Middle East: Partial Cosmopolitanism,” adds to Cavell’s chapter by recounting the author’s teaching experiences at the University of Jordan and at Bilkent University in Turkey. The author describes the engagement of students with topics such as foreign policy, security, culture, politics, and military power in the Middle East by utilizing critical thinking skills and addressing these questions in a cosmopolitan framework. The analysis of his students’ writings on geopolitical issues and Middle Eastern-American relations allows Lundy to draw theoretical and empirical parallels to his students’ global perspectives.

Practicing Transnationalism: American Studies in the Middle East illustrates a comprehensive historical account of the development of American Studies in the Middle East by describing the experiences of scholars and students and by analyzing institutional developments. As such, the book illustrates the current cultural, social, and political developments and challenges arising therefrom in teaching American Studies in the Middle East. It further shows how the region perceives the understanding of time, space, and borders which questions traditional paradigms of American Studies. As the understanding of America’s relationship with the Middle East evolves, these perspectives and analyses will allow scholars to challenge their understanding of the objects and contexts of American Studies. Scholars and practitioners interested in the development of American Studies in the Middle East and its cultural implications will benefit from reading Practicing Transnationalism: American Studies in the Middle East.


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