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32nd Exeter Gulf Conference - Programme now available

Liberalism and Its Paradoxes in the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula.

Event details

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The University of Exeter’s Centre for Gulf Studies invites papers for the 2022 annual Gulf Conference on the theme of Liberalism and Its Paradoxes. Within the last decade, voices from around the world have emerged to critique liberalism as the regnant ideology of the globe. Rash or relevant, these critiques agree on the unfolding ideological contestation ofsome of liberalism’s core tropes, such as multiculturalism and freedom of movement, both human and capital. The Covid-19 pandemic and political responses to it since 2020, with the generalisation of health surveillance technology, the accentuation of all forms of long-entrenched discriminations and inequalities, and the erosion of human rights and civil liberties in the name of public health, have only highlighted and accelerated the crisis of liberalism worldwide. While taking this opportunity to further crackdown on dissent, the regimes of the Arabian Peninsula are meanwhile in the midst of a self-induced reincarnation into precisely the liberal, ‘moderate’, and free-marketsocial orders that have lost currency elsewhere. This year’s Conference takes these changes as an opportunity to ask how we map such ideological dynamics in the Arabian Peninsula.

While these questions have animated debate across disciplines, commentary on the Arabian Peninsula continues to measure political and social change through such liberal tropes as freedom, neo-liberal economics, technocratic government, and the rational autonomous individual (as opposed to tribes, sects, etc.). Yet within the Arabian Peninsula itself, liberalism has undergone a profound transformation from a discourse of critique and intellectual creativity to that of conservative power itself. For instance, the states of the Arabian Peninsula have not only turned on religious authorities, but have even deployed a liberal rhetoric of religious pluralism, moderation, and individualism to combat them. They have plans to re-engineer working life around the principles of technocracy, competitiveness and deregulation, just as these neoliberal orthodoxies come under sustained attack, including for some of them by right-wing populists and ethno-nationalists.

Work on the Arabian Peninsula remains largely insulated from pressing global debates around the resurgence of Keynesian economics, the global climate emergency, conservative ideology and popular protests. This year’s Conference takes the confluence of liberalism’s global critique, and its selective embrace in the Arabian Peninsula, as the starting point to ask new questions about the region and how such a conjuncture can reconfigure cultural, political, and historical research:

  • What does the selective embrace of liberalism by regimes mean for how we theorise them?
  • How might these changes represent more than mere strategies of public image management?
  • To what extent have liberal teleologies of progress and development underwritten the dominant academic questions asked in relation to the Arabian Peninsula?
  • How can we make sense of the ideological decline of Islamism in the Arabian Peninsula?
  • Does the Anthropocene have a place in research on the Arabian Peninsula?
  • How can new global histories of liberalism, revolution or empire help re-frame the Arabian Peninsula’s history in the 20th century?
  • Does the contemporary critique of liberalism (in both politics and economics) offer an opportunity to re-evaluate what a progressive politics might look like in the Arabian Peninsula?
  • How has the Covid-19 pandemic reinstated the importance of biopower as useful lens with which to think of social and political relations in the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula?

We welcome contributions from the following disciplines:

  • Political economy
  • Political philosophy/theory
  • History (20th and 21st centuries)
  • Gender studies
  • Anthropology and sociology
  • Political science and international relations
  • Migration and diaspora studies
  • Environmental and urban studies

How to apply

Interested parties are asked to submit paper proposals (abstracts of 250-300 words), and a full CV including affiliation and contact details, before 22 April 2022 to Candidates whose abstracts are accepted will be notified by 3 May 2022.

Practical Information

All presenters whose papers are accepted for the Conference will have their accommodation arranged and paid for by the organisers, as well as all lunches and the Conference dinner. Unfortunately, we are unable to cover travel expenses to and from Exeter.

We want to make this Conference as accessible as possible for new parents, so please let us know if you require help with child-care arrangements during the Conference.


Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies