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  • Jessica Winegar and Amahl Bishara


The culture concept is at the core of some prominent political struggles in the Middle East. In contests over land, human rights, religious expression, material culture, development, and even economic policy, advocates shore up moral authority, co-opt or delegitimize opposition, and constitute new collectivities by drawing on the multivalent possibilities contained within the culture concept in its various historically constituted regional and global formations. As a concept that can mean both the sum of a people’s customs, traditions, ideas, etc., and the best that humans have thought and said, it contains powerful means for creating solidarities, differences, and hierarchies. Although notions of culture have long been a feature of politics in the region, most notably in nationalist movements and in the civilizing missions of colonial powers and nation-states, their proliferation and commodification over the past thirty years is notable and deserves analysis.



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End Notes

1 These papers were originally presented in a panel we co-organized for the 2008 American Anthropological Association meetings in San Francisco. The panel was co-invited by the Society for Cultural Anthropology and the Middle East Section of the association.

2 Abu-Lughod, Lila, “Writing Against Culture,” in Fox, Richard, ed., Recapturing Anthropology (Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, 1991).

3 Brown, Michael, Who Owns Native Culture? (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2003); Rosemary Coombe, “Legal Claims to Culture in and Against the Market: Neoliberalism and the Global Proliferation of Meaningful Difference,” Law, Culture and the Humanities (2005):32–55; Yúdice, George, The Expediency of Culture: Uses of Culture in the Global Era (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003).

4 For an overview of these dimensions of the culture concept, and an insightful discussion of how they were taken up and changed in a related setting (Bengal, India), see Sartori, Andrew, “The Resonance of‘Culture’: Framing a Problem in Global Concept-History,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 47(4):67699, 2005.

5 It is also important to investigate the histories of the various linguistic terms that are used to communicate notions of culture in different parts of the Middle East.

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  • Jessica Winegar and Amahl Bishara


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