Research Fellowship Programme International Workshop
 


Research Fellowship Programme International Workshop



The International Workshop was attended by both UK-based and international scholars, as well as members of AKU-ISMC faculty body.

Leading international scholars and AKDN officials gathered at AKU-ISMC on 6 May for a one-day international workshop entitled Dynamics of Networks and Institutions in Predominantly Muslim Contexts.

Held as part of the Institute's Research Fellowship Programme, the workshop provided a platform for discussion based on the research projects of the Institute's three post-doctoral Research Fellows.

The Research Fellowship Programme at AKU-ISMC has been formulated to provide a platform for dialogue among scholars working on predominantly Muslim contexts. Although the Fellows' work encompasses different time periods, languages and geographical locations, it shares a number of common themes. In particular, the Fellows' research converges on exploring the dynamics of networks and institutions of social change in predominantly Muslim contexts.

Participants in the workshop included Professors Deniz Kandiyoti and Louis Brenner of School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Dr Katerina Dalacoura of the London School of Economics and Dr Jon Wilson of King's College London, along with international academics, Professors Reinhard Schulze of the University of Berne and Professor John Schoeberlein of Harvard University.

Iftekhar Iqbal: Identity and Institutions in the Bangladeshi Public Sphere

The morning opened with a presentation by Iftekhar Iqbal, titled Identity and Institutions in the Bangladeshi Public Sphere. Focusing on Bangladesh, Iqbal's research is framed against a background of broader communitarian debates which seek to critically engage liberal civil society.

In particular, Iqbal's paper raised questions about whether any space can be examined without the temptation to seek cultural authenticity on the one hand, and attend to the lure of the state and its political machinations on the other.

AKU-ISMC Research Fellow Iftekhar Iqbal presented a paper which explored identity and institutions in the Bangladeshi public sphere.
AKU-ISMC Research Fellow Iftekhar Iqbal presented a paper which explored identity and institutions in the Bangladeshi public sphere

Iqbal argued that regardless of the nature of the state - democratic, autocratic or otherwise - all societies seek to maintain a level of autonomy from the state. However, society's quest for autonomy is informed by the contingencies of state power, rather than a communitarian essence. In such quests, the 'moral economy' of institutions appears to play a key role.

The paper articulated Iqbal's argument through the examples of the Sufi samaj (society) prior to the colonial era, reformist peasant resistance during British colonial rule and the contemporary madrasa, all of which speak of the dynamics of social autonomy. In particular, Iqbal emphasised the case study of the Sufi samaj as a civil society actor.

The discussant for the morning session, Richard Holloway (Director of Civil Society Programmes, AKDN) explained that although he appreciated Iqbal's focus on endogenous forms of civil society, further emphasis on the leaders of the Sufi samaj, as well as an exploration of the interaction between the samaj and modern civil society organisations could prove useful.

Bakary Sambe; Education at the Stake: State and Islamic actors in contemporary Senegal

For the second session, Research Fellow Bakary Sambe discussed his paper, Education at the Stake: State and Islamic actors in contemporary Senegal. Sambe argued that there is a confrontation taking place in the Senegalese education system between two different educational and cultural models; a state sponsored dominant model of the French system and a secondary model based on the 'Islamic' madrasa system which favours Arabic as its language of instruction.

This problematic legacy from the colonial era continues to affect the relationship between the post-colonial state, the Muslim elite and related organisations. In Senegal, issues of religion and politics make the issue of education a very sensitive subject. Several Islamic organisations advocate an alternative, religious model, dismissing the state system as nothing but a continuation of colonial domination.

In the discussion that followed, Schulze stressed that education is one specific form of a social construction of knowledge and that it would be misleading to refer to all forms of the social construction of knowledge in the Senegalese context as 'education'.

Although the Fellows' research explores different cultural contexts, it converges on an exploration of the dynamics of networks and institutions of social change in predominantly Muslim contexts.
Although the Fellows' research explores different cultural contexts, it converges on an exploration of the dynamics of networks and institutions of social change in predominantly Muslim contexts.

Education, Schulze explained, is a specific form of knowledge construction which places the society as actor and the nation-state as the framework. In European contexts, education has been based on the notion that society should have a common form of being educated - one which educates you for the state.

However, Sufi brotherhoods in Senegal provide an example of a different form of the social construction of knowledge. In this context, the role of education is to transmit knowledge over and over - thus creating a lineage of knowledge.

In this case, an exploration of how different strategies of constructing knowledge are transformed, and how social construction of knowledge is appropriated by the state, could prove useful.

Further questions were raised regarding vernacular Senegalese languages and their failure to feature in the socio-cultural debate between 'Arabic representing Islam' and 'French representing the West.'

Habiba Fathi; Land Reform and Emerging Interest Groups in Post-Soviet Central Asia

Habiba Fathi spoke at the afternoon session chaired by Professor John Schoeberlein, detailing her considerable primary research in the Central Asian republics, on the subject of Land Reform and Emerging Interest Groups in Post-Soviet Central Asia. She presented a comparative analysis of kinship networks, peasant associations and farmer mullahs, as 'interest groups' that have emerged as a result of large scale land reform in Post Soviet Central Asia.

The study explored social change in post-Soviet Central Asia by discussing a collective force that led to shifts in the rural landscape through the implementation of land reform in the 1990s and the 2000s. Fathi's paper looked at three different interest groups that emerged from land reform in diverse rural spaces of the newly independent states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The first of these interest groups is a Tajik kinship network, the second a peasant association composed of 53 Uzbek families and the third, a new 'class' of farmer mullahs who have been integrated into the economic sector thanks to their vote-catching affiliations in the four countries studied.

After explaining the forms of the reorganisation of rural labour in these contexts, Fathi analysed the different strategies set up by the new rural actors who belong to these solidarity groups. These strategies reveal that these members of society have the ability to adapt themselves to a new socio-economic environment by implementing various mechanisms of support to protect their own interests.

Dr Deniz Kandiyoti, the discussant for this session, initiated a conversation that indicated a need for greater understanding of the socio-economic conditions of post Soviet independence, as well as a consideration of the specifities of the land reform that occurred within each Central Asian republic.

The discussion went on to consider peasants as the 'absentees' of land reform, based on the practice of land being granted to local rural elites, rather than those qualified to manage the land. Further questions explored Fathi's description of the key actors as 'interest groups' and called for further investigation into the dynamic transformation of the role of farmer mullahs, and the alternative solutions that this could yield.

Conclusion
The workshop concluded with recognition of the shared themes of the three papers; social and cultural change and the construction of knowledge. More specifically, the papers provide the first stages in an exploration of the social and cultural transformation of what constitutes civil society .

Professor Reinhard Schulze explained that this research offers a model, implicitly, of how to deal with the 'disappearance' of civil society. The Fellows' research shows that this 'disappearance' has resulted in the emergence of new models that are competing with the classical model of civil society.

Speakers also emphasised the need for detailed enquiry about the complex process of reconstruction of post-colonial and post-Soviet national and social identities in predominantly Muslim contexts. Schulze expressed his interest in the potential for a model of research which demonstrates the relevance of the categories of analysis employed by the Fellows in a variety of cultural contexts.

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