The Summer Academy was organised in collaboration with Boğaziçi University, 'Europe in the Middle East - The Middle East in Europe' (EUME), a joint research program of the the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin in cooperation with the German 'Orient-Institute Istanbul', the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies in Berlin, and the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM), Leiden.
Held at the Ottoman Bank Museum in Istanbul, the academy offered an opportunity for young scholars to present and discuss their current research on cities, pluralism and cosmopolitanism. The Summer Academy was chaired by a group of prominent scholars; Asef Bayat (ISIM, Leiden), Edhem Eldem (Bogaziçi University, Istanbul), Ulrike Freitag (Centre for Modern Oriental Studies, Berlin), Nora Lafi (Centre for Modern Oriental Studies, Berlin), and Stefan Weber (AKU-ISMC, London).
The International Summer Academy was based on the theme of Living Together: Plurality and Cosmopolitanism in the Ottoman Empire and Beyond and related debates on cosmopolitanism to the historical experiences of cities in the Ottoman Empire, its successor and its neighbouring states - in the Balkans, Anatolia, and the Arab and Muslim world.
During the academy, AKU-ISMC Professor Modjtaba Sadria presented a lecture entitled ‘Cities: Social Borders, Complex Spaces and Intersections’. In addition to academic lectures and seminars, students participated in a range of excursions, including one to the Greek Orthodox patriarchate in Fener, Istanbul.
Among the sessions, three were directly related to research at AKU-ISMC (all concerning the Tripoli project). Participants discussed space, social order, consumption, and material culture as interrelated topics. Each session discussed one theme based on the context of a selected text, while overall, the focus was on the question of how social groups negotiated and constructed borders and cohesion.
Sassmannshausen and Weber introduced the first session – ‘The Spatial Turn – Space, cities, neighbourhoods and houses and a non-linear approach to history’. The session explored the analytical framework of space and asked how new perspectives on social action and trans-regional development could be developed, while approaching space as a complex venue of interaction able to challenge linear perspectives.
The second session – ‘Knowing one’s place – Approaching notions of social order and distinction’, was introduced by Papamichos-Chronakis and Bodenstein. It dealt with social categories, in particular questioning whether definitions such as ‘family’, ‘middle class’ or ‘elite’ are helpful analytical categories.
Inal and Weber presented the final session - ‘Material Culture - Habitus, taste and patterns of consumption’, which dealt with the mechanisms used to draw social borders. It investigated how social borders are articulated or constructed and their expression in social and physical space and material culture.
The diverse range of sources and approaches presented during the sessions portrayed a kaleidoscopic picture of Middle Eastern societies. Over the course of the academy, participants exchanged and sought out new methodological tools. Through this, they were able to explore processes to describe complex systems of societies in different settings, attempting to present different modes of living together.
During the sessions, the question was raised as to whether cosmopolitanism can be considered a useful tool to discuss the multilayered societies of the Middle East. Weber noted that participants rejected cosmopolitanism as a tool but understood it more as a description of 'living together'. The term as it is used today is loaded with positive views (as an ideological judgment) and can therefore hinder objective analysis.
“Defining cosmopolitanism clearly would help to attribute it as a description of certain societies. The Ottoman nineteenth century had many socially complex, multi-cultural and cosmopolitan places, spaces and social agents. Historians, as many of the participants were, describe and analyse interconnected individuals and groups and thus may use the historiographical concept of histoire croisée,” Weber reflected.
“During the presentation… most participants were more interested in the processes of social formation, distinction, integration of socially complex societies of very different social groups and their ways of negotiation and distribution of different forms of capital, following Bourdieu’s theory.”
“In their case studies, participants looked into moments of history where the local and global acted or influenced persons of different backgrounds living together and the configuration, dynamics and changes of groups, defined of different elements like class, gender, social-religious identity, etc. Others analysed how contemporary societies deal with this past: the reception and creation of histories, with implications for concepts such as 'heritage' and ideologically loaded places, developing themselves as agency over societies.”
The Summer Academy allowed scholars to explore a number of aspects related to social history and questions of spatial organisation, local agencies and vernacular modernities in the cities of the Ottoman Empire and surrounding regions. By offering perspectives of cosmopolitanism ‘from below’, the Academy helped to stimulate debates and conceptions of the contemporary city, civil society, multicultural societies, migration, and cosmopolitanism.
The Summer Academy was funded by AKU-ISMC and EUME with contribution from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. The Academy was coordinated by Georges Khalil.
Coordinator, Planning & Academic Development
Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations