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Elective: Cultures of Conflict in the Modern Middle East


Admission requirements

This course is only available for second year students in the BA International Studies.
The number of participants is limited to 25.


The well-known and oft-reported conflicts of the modern Middle East are the subjects of this course. We examine how theories from Cultural Studies which explore life practice and social divisions and struggles, can help us develop a better understanding of Middle Eastern conflicts beyond the familiar narratives of politicking and images of violence as depicted in the media. By studying political conflicts from the perspectives of societies, individuals and the discourses in which they participate, we shall see how conflicts and social struggles in the Middle East are expressed in many ways ranging from physical violence to choice of clothing, from mass demonstrations to the performance of hip-hop. Interpreting the messages of these expressions provides alternative ways to grasp the drivers behind current struggles and what is at stake for their participants.

The course begins by developing theoretical approaches to conflict and social struggle within the realm of Cultural Studies, and then explores how the theory can be applied to Middle East contexts via case studies of salient conflicts in the region from the twentieth century to the present.

The first half of the course studies the construction of and tensions within ethnic and national identities (particularly Persian and Arabic), the responses to the post-colonial borders imposed in the region (with emphasis on the Sahara and Palestine), the challenges of modernisation in Turkey and Iran, and the effects of globalisation in the Arab World and Islamist movements.

The second half focuses on the expressions of social division and struggle within Middle Eastern societies, relating street music and graffiti to economic and youth concerns, applying gendered discussions to social violence and the complexities of the modern, the media, justice and faith in the recent Arab-world demonstrations and wars.

Additionally, the students will work through:

  • W.C. Booth, G.G. Colomb, J.W. Williams, The Craft of Research, third edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Course objectives

The elective courses for International Studies are designed to teach students how to deal with state-of-the-art literature and research questions. They are chosen to enhance the students’ learning experience by building on the interdisciplinary perspectives they have developed so far, and to introduce them to the art of academic research. They are characterised by an international or comparative approach.

Academic skills that are trained include:

Oral presentation skills:

1. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
2. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation; b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria; c. using up-to-date presentation techniques; d. aimed at a specific audience;
3. to actively participate in a discussion following the presentation.

Collaboration skills:

1. to be socio-communicative in collaborative situations;
2. to provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position;
3. adhere to agreed schedules and priorities.

Basic research skills, including heuristic skills:

1. to collect and select academic literature using traditional and digital methods and techniques;
2. to analyze and assess this literature with regard to quality and reliability;
3. to formulate on this basis a sound research question;
4. to design under supervision a research plan of limited scope, and implement it using the methods and techniques that are appropriate within the discipline involved;
5. to formulate a substantiated conclusion.

Written presentation skills:

1. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
2. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation; b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria; c. using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques; d. aimed at a specific audience.


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website.

Mode of instruction

Seminars are held every week, with the exception of the midterm exam week. This course includes supervised research.

Course Load

Total course load for this course is 10 EC (1 EC = 28 hours), this equals 280 hours, broken down by:

  • Attending lectures: 2 hours per week x 12 weeks = 24 hours

  • Studying the compulsory literature: 90 hours

  • Cpompletion of short assignments: 30 hours

  • Researching and writing the final research essay (including initial drafts): 136 hours

Assessment method

Assessment & Weighing

Partial grade Weighing
Attendance and in-class participation 10%
Six short assignments/essays (the top five aggragated for a final mark) 30%
Final research essay (5,000 words) 60%

End grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note that the end grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Students who have been active participants in class and submitted the final paper on time, but scored an overall insufficient mark, are entitled to a resit. For the resit, students are given a chance to hand in a new version of the final paper.
In case of resubmission of the final essay (insufficient grade only) the final grade for the essay will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion. The deadline for resubmission is 10 working days after receiving the grade for the final essay.

Retaking a passing grade

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2017 – 2018.

Exam review

How and when an exam review takes place will be determined by the examiner. This review will be within 30 days after official publication of exam results.


Blackboard will be used for tutorial groups. Students are requested to enroll on Blackboard for this course, but only after correct enrolment in uSis.

Reading list

Detailed reading list for each week’s topics will be announced on Blackboard; the following texts will be used in the course and are recommended to students in advance as good introductions to major topics that will be discussed:

On identity:

  • Rodinson, Maxime, The Arabs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

  • Zia-Ebrahimi, Zia, The Emergence of Iranian Nationalism. Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2015.

On conflict generally:

  • Friedman, Jonathan (Ed.), Globalisation, the State, and Violence. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press, 2003.

  • Grossberg, L, “Identity and Cultural Studies: Is that all there is?”, Stuart Hall and Paul du Gray (Eds.), Questions of Cultural Identity. London: Sage, 1996), pp. 87-107.

  • Skocpol, Theda, Social Revolutions in the Modern World. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.

  • Tilly, Charles, The Politics of Collective Violence. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003.

On Middle Eastern cultures and conflicts:

  • Achcar, Gilbert, The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising. London: Saqi, 2013.

  • Chehabi, Houchang, “Staging the Emperor’s New Clothes: Dress Codes and Nation-Building under Reza Shah”. Iranian Studies (1993) 26.3-4, pp. 209-229.

  • Ennaji, Moha and Fatima Sadiqi (Eds.), Gender and Violence in the Middle East. London: Routledge, 2011.

  • Al-Hamamsy, Walid and Mounira Soliman (Eds.), Popular Culture in the Middle East and North Africa: A Postcolonial Outlook. London: Routledge, 2013.

  • Hamond, Andrew, Pop Culture Arab World! Santa-Barbara CA: ABC0-Clio, 2006.

  • Khalaf, Samir and Roseanne Saad Khalaf (Eds.), Arab Society and Culture: An Essential Reader. London: Saqi, 2009.

  • Khatib, Lina, Image Politics in the Middle East: The Role of the Visual in Political Struggle. London: I.B. Tauris, 2012.

  • Sabry, Tarik, Cultural Encounters in the Arab World. London: I.B. Tauris, 2010.

  • W.C. Booth, G.G. Colomb, J.W. Williams, The Craft of Research, third edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2008.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis can be found here.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


H.E.K. Omari MA

When contacting the lecturer, please include your full name, student number and tutorial group number.


The deadline for submission of the final essay is 15 June 2018.
Passing this course is an entry requirement for the thesis and thesis seminar.