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Ethnography of the Middle East

Module titleEthnography of the Middle East
Module codeARA2134
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Ross Porter (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Nomadic Bedouin tribes, urban rappers, Turkish villagers, Afghan musicians – all have welcomed ethnographers into their communities, shared their lives with them, and  thus have helped them understand more about culture, identity and more widely, what it is to be human.  We will be looking at the various theoretical positions and methodological approaches used by the ethnographers, and not least at the many challenges inherent in this type of study This is a Level 2 course but no special knowledge is needed (though it is helpful if you have a basic knowledge of the history and politics of the region commensurate with the Institute’s Level One courses). It will especially suit those planning an undergraduate dissertation involving fieldwork, but it is for anyone who wants to know more about the diversity of cultures, everyday lives and experiences of people in the Middle East.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim will not merely be to obtain information about the region, but students will be exposed to different methodological approaches and theoretical frameworks, stressing the disciplinary contributions of anthropology. Within the general context of macro processes of social change, i.e. modernization and globalization, the course will pay special attention to micro level analyses addressing specific settings, social conditions, activities and life experiences. Despite the focus on cultural particularities and diversity within the Middle East, the course is also intended to draw out broader issues, which would allow a comparative analysis with other regions in the world.  It provides a basis for anyone interested in research involving fieldwork which might include interviews or participant observation.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate specific knowledge about a variety of peoples and cultures of the Middle East, in greater detail than the very general Level 4;
  • 2. Challenge homogenizing and essentialist accounts of the region and its people, especially those of earlier Orientalists;
  • 3. Show understanding of the relationship between representations of the Middle East and preconceptions, by applying detailed knowledge and basic ethnographic theory;
  • 4. Identify different basic techniques in ethnographic fieldwork, such as participant observation, surveys, questionnaires, oral and life histories, and evaluate some of their uses in the Middle Eastern context;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Analyse and critically assess academic texts dealing with the Middle East;
  • 6. Articulate and develop a coherent argument embedded in relevant theory, applied to examples from the Middle East;
  • 7. Distinguish between some basic methodological approaches and theoretical frameworks used in the study of the Middle East;

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Demonstrate a capacity for independent study and work planning; and
  • 9. Show an ability to make an analytical and thoughtful contribution to group discussion.

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Week 1 Conceptualising the Middle East

Week 2 Orientalism and Ethnography: Natural Partners

Week 3 A Stranger in our Midst: Participant Observation, Interviews and Oral Histories

Week 4 Locations and Populations I: Rural Areas

Week 5 Locations and Populations II: Urban Spaces

Week 6 Social Hierarchies I: Family and Kinship Ties

Week 7 Social Hierarchies II: Gender Roles

Week 8 Religious Beliefs and Expressions

Week 9 Identities: Constructing Ethnicities and Selves

Week 10 Power and Authority: State and Opposition

Week 11 Modernity


Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities1111 x 1 hour lectures, which develop and explain the themes of the week
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities11Seminars will involve discussing question(s) relating to the themes of the week; students will be expected to play an active role and will sometimes be asked to explain/comment on texts. Reaction papers will be set to test that these texts have been read
Guided Independent Study50Preparation of reaction papers
Guided Independent Study78Reading, class preparation


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Reaction papers (x4)500 words4-7Written
Seminar discussions1 hour per week9Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay502,500 words1-6, 7-8Written comments and mark
5 x Reaction papers30500 words each4-7Written comments and mark
Ethnographic Book or Article review 201,000 words3-5, 7Written comments and mark


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (2,500 words)1-6, 7-81 month (date to be agreed)
5 x Reaction papersUp to 5 reaction papers (500 words each and the number depending on how many were initially submitted) on relevant articles chosen by the module tutor4-71 month (date to be agreed)
Ethnographic Book or Article reviewEthnographic Book or Article Review (1,000 words)3-5, 71 month (date to be agreed)


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Soraya Altorki and Camillia El-Solh, Arab Women in the Field: Studying your Own Society (Syracuse, Syracuse University Press, 1988).

Donna Lee Bowen and Evelyn Early (eds.), Everyday Life In The Muslim Middle East (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2002, 2nd ed.).

Dale Eickelman, The Middle East and Central Asia: An Anthropological Approach (Upper Sadder River, NJ, Prentice Hall, 2002, 4th ed).

Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History (London, Routledge, 1967).

Richard Lawless, The Middle Eastern Village: Changing Economic and Social Relations (London: Croom Helm, 1987).

Supplementary readings

Abu-Lughod, L. (1999) Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Chatty, D. (1996) Mobile Pastoralists: Development, Planning and Social Change in Oman. New York: Columbia University Press.

Deeb, L. (2006) An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi’i Lebanon. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Fernea, E. (1965) Guest of the Shaykh. Anchor Books.

Friedl, Erika (1989) Women of Deh Koh: Lives in an Iranian Village. Penguin Books, New York.

Lavie, S. (2002) The Poetics of Military Occupation. University of California Press.

Kanaaneh, R. A. (2002) Birthing the Nation: Strategies of Palestinian Women in Israel. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Özyürek, E. (2006). Nostalgia for the Modern: State Secularism and Everyday Politics in Turkey. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press

Singerman, D. (1997) Avenues of Participation: Family Politics, and Networks in Urban Quarters of Cairo. Cairo: AUC Press.

Navaro-Yashin, Y. (2002) Faces of the State : Secularism and Public Life in Turkey. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Spellman, K. (2004) Religion and Nation: Iranian Local and Transnational Networks in Britain (Studies in Forced Migration), Berghahn Books.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources


Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Ethnography; Middle East; anthropology

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date