Graduate Paper Award Winners

2018 Winner

Shaherzad Ahmadi, “‘In My Eyes He Was a Man’: Poor and Working-Class Boy Soldiers in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War”

During the Pahlavi period (1925-79), working class families demanded their pubescent children conform to traditional gender roles. Aside from demanding their sons’ labor for the household, working class families also allowed boys greater autonomy to participate in traditional masculine institutions, which espoused values incongruent with the modernizing Pahlavi nation-state. Middle class families, on the other hand, more closely followed the state’s western model for childrearing. The enlistment of Iranian boys (below the age of fifteen) in the Iran-Iraq War, I argue, reflects the historically gendered responsibilities of children in working class families rather than religious radicalism inspired by the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Thus far, scholars have emphasized the Islamic fanaticism of minor volunteers; this piece, however, demonstrates that poor boys, historically more autonomous than their bourgeois counterparts, enlisted to assert their masculinity on the warfront.

2017 Winner

Pelle Valentin Olsen, “Cruising Baghdad: Desire between Men in the 1930s Fiction of Dhu al-Nun Ayyub

This article uses a queer lens to analyze two short stories of Iraqi writer Dhu al-Nun Ayyub: “The Eagles Anthem” and “How I found a Guy,” which were both in his collection Sadiqi (1938). This article is an essential contribution to the field, elaborating on positive treatments and explorations of homosexuality in interwar Baghdad. The article draws in novel ways on literary criticism as a way of illustrating the nuances and complexities in discourses on homosexuality in Iraqi literature. The article proceeds via a historical discussion of the conditions of heteronormativity in Iraqi social and political projects, as well as in Iraqi literature. Ayyub’s writings re-works this dominant trend, though few have analyzed—or even recognized—the homosocial and homoerotic elements of his stories. This article recuperates those elements of his writings that have been rendered latent in the criticism, seeking to make them explicit and demonstrate their function: “illicit and subversive modes of engaging with the militarization of masculinity.” Olsen reads these texts in new ways that celebrate “homoeroticism and love between men as democratic critique and affirmation of heterogeneity, creative and subversive self-fashioning, and vitality in an increasingly nationalist, militaries and heteronormalizing setting.” This article contributes significantly to both Arabic and Iraqi literary criticism through queer readings that further the field of gender studies, but also the larger field of of literary criticism in Middle East Studies.

2015 Winner

Emine Rezzan Karaman, “Performativity and Text: Motherhood as a Transforming Political Identity in Turkey”

This article analyzes the construction of motherhood as a form of political agency in Turkey with particular references to the Saturday Mothers and the Peace Mothers, respectively, the mothers of the disappeared and the mothers of the PKK fighters. Interviews with the Mothers of Soldiers is also part of the final analysis. Focusing on these three mother organizations, the article explores three questions. First, how has the conflict between the military/paramilitary forces and oppositional organizations transformed the lives of ordinary women across the country? Second, how have some socio-politically marked and wounded women perceived the state and responded to its violence through the identity of motherhood? And, finally, to what extend can the power of motherhood-activism, which derives from the sharing of personal experiences in the public domain as an expression of collective traumas and silenced pasts, contribute to peace-building in Turkey?

2014 Winner

Sarah Ghabrial, “A Measure of Justice: Muslim Women’s Encounters with Medico-legal Institutions in Colonial Algeria, 1870-1930”

This paper presents a social history of Muslim personal status law reform in Algeria under French-colonial rule from 1870 to 1930. This period was marked by high levels of colonial state interventionism, increased étatism in the French metropole, and legal modernization and codification projects elsewhere in the Muslim world. I trace these developments through closely-framed snap-shots of encounters between Muslim litigants – particularly women – and the colonial justice system in Algeria. Using previously untapped Algerian archives, the paper places the experiences of these litigants at the centre of analysis. By narrowing our focus to a particular kind of personal status suit – women’s divorce based on impotence and failure to consummate the marriage – this paper demonstrates the vested interest of the colonial medical establishment in the Muslim personal status legal process and the induction of new criteria for evidence based on ‘expert’ knowledge and imported epistemologies of the body. Published in Volume 12:3, 2015. 

2013 Winner

Nazanin Shahrokni, “The ‘Mothers’ Paradise’: Women-Only Parks and the Dynamics of State Power in the Islamic Republic of Iran”

Despite Iran’s geopolitical importance and mounting global concerns over its domestic and international practices, the state and its diverse mechanisms of rule have been largely neglected in mainstream sociology. To understand the state’s shifting modality of power between its 1979 establishment and 2009, this paper analyzes the development of women-only parks as a major site of gender segregation. Offering a thorough account of the formation of the first women-only park in Tehran – the Mothers’ Paradise – I contend that conceiving of gender segregation as a state project of Islamic dimensions overlooks significant shifts in state power from prohibition to production. I explore how the Islamic Republic of Iran, which thirty years ago considered women’s outdoor exercise a problem or even un-Islamic, now promotes it as a solution to women’s health problems. Published in Volume 10:3, 2014.

2012 Winner

Marie Duboc, ““Where are the Men? Here are the Men and the Women!’ Surveillance, Gender, and Strikes in Egyptian Textile Factories”

In the past decade Egypt has experienced the largest wave of labor action since the 1950s, with over two million Egyptians protesting in the workplace between 2004 and 2011. The centrality of gender in labor protests seemed obvious when in December 2006 the female workers of the Egypt Spinning and Weaving Company, the largest Egyptian textile firm, mobilized and chanted the slogan, “Where are the men? Here are the women!” to shame their colleagues into joining the strike. This article explores connections between political economy, the reorganization of work, the rise of the security state, and the redefinition of masculinity to analyze shifting gender dynamics in labor protests in Egypt. Based on an ethnographic study conducted in two textile factories of the Nile Delta region between 2008 and 2010, I argue that protest is a phase of transgression of gender relations for men and women, reflecting the impact of economic change on domestic and work spheres. The factory materializes changing gender roles and narratives through policing and surveillance of workers’ behaviors, gendered logics of social control, and the visibility of female militancy in labor protests. As a result of these transformations, women’s roles in labor protests have become part of the process of men reclaiming a masculinity humiliated by wage erosion, the transformation of labor relations, and the coercive relationship of the state to its citizens. Published in Volume 9:3, 2013.

2011 Winner

Rania Kassab Sweis, “Saving Egypt’s Village Girls: Humanity, Rights, and Gendered Vulnerability in a Global Youth Initiative”

Bridging together literature on modern governance and youth subjectivity, this article examines the globalization of female youth in contemporary Egypt through transnational humanitarian interventions. Drawing on over 27 months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Egypt and France with non-governmental organization workers and village girls, it demonstrates how humanitarian work is rendered meaningful by specific actors. Its effects coexist alongside rather than supplant other forms of sociality. In tracing the ways in which a youth habitus based on rights is “made” through the daily work of intervention, I suggest that girl initiatives of this kind constitute a transnational “regime of care” centered on the protection and politicization of particular kinds of adolescent life in Egypt and the broader Arab world. Published in Volume 8:2, 2012.

2009 Winner

Sunny Daly, “Young Women as Activists in Contemporary Egypt: Anxiety, Leadership, and the Next Generation”

Uncertainties and ambiguities are evident in discourses of contemporary women’s activism in Egypt, as are anxieties about young women’s roles in them. In spite of a tendency to take the NGO for granted as the site of activism in Egypt, this article highlights the activities of young women outside the usual structures. I describe a “leadership industry” that seeks to reproduce established models of activism, raising questions about the replicability of activist “pipelines” and calling attention to their use as a prop for unjust and inadequate social and political structures. Concurrently, young women’s Islamically inspired volunteerism presents an alternative notion of activism that turns away from liberal prescriptions. Drawing on key scholarship as well as my experiences with prominent women’s NGOs and the 2008 Women as Global Leaders Conference, I show how these trajectories produce ambiguities and assumptions about contemporary women’s activism. Published in Volume 6:2, 2010.

2007 Winner

Sarah A. Kaiksow, “Subjectivity and Imperial Masculinity: A British Soldier in Dhofar (1968–1970)”

This paper explores imperial masculinity from the perspective of a British soldier who fought against the Dhofar revolution from 1968 to 1970 while serving in the British-led Army of the Sultan of Oman. Previous writings on masculinity in the context of empire have largely focused on cultural narratives, representational ideals, and intellectual debates. This paper shifts the emphasis to the subjectivity of imperial masculinity in order to identify how a notion of “superior” manhood is sustained and negotiated amidst the demands of everyday life. Interrogating a military memoir, this paper finds that the soldier justified British imperialism in Dhofar through his implicit assumptions of “knowing more” and “knowing better” than the Dhofaris/Arabs, even concerning their own nature, desires, and interests. Using these assumptions, the soldier was able to imagine himself as an “imperial adventure hero,” allowing gendered relations of power to recoup in the face of challenges to imperial masculinity. Published in Volume 4:2, 2008.