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In the Time of Cities: Space, Place, and Politics in the Urban Middle East


Admission requirements

Admission to (one of) the programme(s) listed under Part of in the right information bar.
If you are interested in taking this course, but NOT a student of (one of) the listed programme(s), please contact the Coordinator of Studies.


We live in an age of planetary urbanization. By 2050 it is projected that more than two-thirds of the world population will live in urban areas. The Middle East is no exception. During the twentieth century cities in the MENA region have undergone profound changes, as they grew rapidly and massively as a consequence of several impacting forces, such as settler-colonial intervention, concentration of economic production, the militarization and financialization of space, and the pressures of transnational & rural to urban migration, to name a few. This fast-paced urbanization has gone hand in hand with a major demographic change, which has translated into growing inequality, housing shortages and rising unemployment numbers. This course will explore the relationship between structural forces and urban space in the modern Middle East, drawing on scholarly research and writing, documentary films, visual art and fiction writing from the region. Using a combination of anthropological and human geography approaches, the goal is to provoke ethnographically-grounded, critical and comparative thinking about the politics, poetics and pragmatics of urban life in the contemporary Middle East. We will start from the premise that space and society are coproduced, and explore the historical, economic, social, and political factors that have shaped urban landscapes and livelihoods in the region. We will also address the question of who gets to belong in urban space and what the implications of this might be for understanding contemporary social and political change in the region. After a general introduction to urban studies and the anthropology of space and place, the course will touch on central debates about the colonial city, the divided city, national politics, the queer city, housing, sustainability, waged and unwaged labor, and hyper-consumption. It will also consider recent cultural forms such as street art, sci-fi novels and contemporary art, and explore the role of urban space for political mobilization.

Course objectives

  • Introduce the students to the genealogy of urban developments in the Middle East.

  • Familiarize students with the theories and academic debates on Middle Eastern cities, from an anthropological and human geography perspective.

  • Expose students to a range of scholarly, artistic, and popular approaches to urban space in the MENA.

  • Introduce students to the role of structural factors in the development and transformation of urban space and urban phenomena in the region.

  • Equip students with the theoretical, methodological and analytical tools for understanding political and social change in the contemporary urban Middle East.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The course is offered as part of a full-time program of studies, and therefore work commitments, holidays, or overseas travel do not constitute valid reasons for absence. The lecturer should be informed in writing of any classes to be missed for a valid reason (i.e., due to unforeseen circumstances that are beyond the student’s control, such as documented illness, family bereavement, problems with residence permits, victim of crime, or railway delays). In case of a justified absence, it is up to the Lecturer to decide whether the missed class should be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Please note that you are required to provide documentation that supports your case for absence where possible. Absence without notification and approval could result in a grade deduction, or in work not being marked and a failing grade for the course.

Assessment method

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity.
Plagiarism will not be tolerated. It is assumed that students' work is their own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations). Students may not substantially reuse any work they have previously submitted in this or other courses. Minor overlap with previous work is allowed as long as it is duly noted in citation.
Assignment(s) must be submitted to Brightspace through Turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Participation 25%
Oral presentation 25%
Final paper 50%

Students may submit a paper proposal for approval by the convenor, before the internally communicated deadline. Students who do not meet the deadline for topic proposal will lose the right to get comments. Only the final paper is graded.
Late submissions of written work will result in a deduction of paper grades as follows: 1-24 hs late = -0.5; 24-48 hs late = -1.0; 48-72 hs late = -1.5; 72-96 hs late = -2.0. Late papers will not be accepted more than four days after the deadline, including weekends. (The paper deadline mentioned in uSis is a fictional date for administration purposes only. The actual date will be communicated by the convener of the course.)
In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher.
The course is an integrated whole. All assessment parts must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


Only if the total weighted average is insufficient (5.49 or lower) and the insufficient grade is the result of an insufficient paper, a resit of the paper is possible (50%). In that case the convener of the course may assign a (new) topic and give a new deadline.
A resit of the other partial assessments is not possible.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

A definitive reading list will be made available at the beginning of the course.


Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory for:

  • MA Middle Eastern Studies students: the number of places is limited and the principle is first come, first served. Priority is given to students who started with the MA programme in 2022-2023.

  • MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) students who opt for the Research MA version of the course. The number of places is limited and the principle is first come, first served.

Students from MA programmes listed under Part of in the right information bar, need to contact their Coordinator of Studies for information on the enrolment procedure. After admission they will be registered by the Education Administration Office Vrieshof.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: De Vrieshof.