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Investing in Social Science Paradigms: The “Knowledge Transfer Initiative” in Bahrain


Editorial Note

Bahrain is one of the more recent Arab states to spend a portion of its oil revenues on shaping the social science paradigms in the West. As the below announcement states, the Bahrain Ministry of Culture organized its first Euro-Arab Meeting of Young Researchers in Social Sciences in coordination with the International Sociological Association and European Sociological Association and Arab Sociological Association.  Young researchers selected for the project will travel to Bahrain on an all-expense paid trip to discuss proposals for their future research.   

The Bahrain initiative is part of a new high level effort to influence Western sociology with an Arab perspective.   It follows the complaint of Sari Hanafi, a professor at the American University in Beirut and the first Palestinian Vice President of the International Sociological Association about the “lack of Arab contribution in social sciences.”  Hanafi concludes that, compared to the field of Middle East studies, where Arab and Muslim scholars predominate, sociology needs more of an “Arab contribution.“

Though positivist sociologists may take exception to having a nationally oriented perspective in social sciences, Hanafi, a leading neo-Marxist, critical scholar, views traditional sociology as the domain of Western (read capitalist, imperialist, and colonialist) hegemony.  His long list of publications is dominated by work on Israeli occupation, Palestinian refugees, and right to return.  In fact, Hanafi co-edited with Adi Ophir and Michal Givoni a book titled The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in Occupation Territories on the subject.

It is hardly surprising that, given his academic-ideological background, Hanafi wants more of an “Arab contribution” into sociology.  Hanafi understands that Western social sciences generate the type of paradigms that inform scholarly research at the more applied level.  But it is highly significant that the Kingdom of Bahrain decided to invest money in this project.  The explanation here is that, by grooming younger social science cohorts, the ‘commanding heights’ of the discipline can be infused with the so-called “Arab perspective.”  

The Bahraini project illustrates the real difficulties in contending with the anti-Israeli initiatives on campus.   While BDS is easier to define and fight, the long term paradigmatic changes in social sciences that provides the scholarly justification for BDS are more difficult to challenge. 



فراعملا لقن عو
.ب.ص ،
فتاه ،نيرحبلا ةكلمم ،ةمانملا
00973 17298829
Knowledge Transfer Project, P.O.Box 2199, Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain, Tel +973 17298829, Fax 00973 17910466

Euro-Arab Meeting for Young Researchers in Social SciencesManama, Bahrain October 19 – 25, 2015

The “Knowledge Transfer Project”, an initiative by the Bahrain Authority for Culture & Antiquities (BACA), is organizing the First Euro-Arab Meeting for Young Researchers in Social Sciences, in coordination with the International Sociological Association, European Sociological Association, and Arab Association of Sociology. The event will take place in Manama, Bahrain, from October 19 – 25, 2015.

The meeting can accommodate up to 20 young Arab and European researchers (and elsewhere, eventually) with ongoing higher education research projects (Ph.D. or Master’s) and want to have their research discussed in a public forum to further develop them. A
number of reputed Arab and non-Arab researchers, experts in framing scientific research,
will participate in the meeting.

Conditions & Procedures:
Office: (+973) 17298828
Mobile: (+973) 35145878
Fax: (+973) 17910466
- Candidate age must not exceed 33 years.

- Candidate must submit the application before May 30, 2015. Application must include the title of the research, a brief research summary, as well as his/her CV with the level of education, name of the scientific institute, and the research supervisor.
The application must also contain all contact details (postal address, email, phone, fax, etc.) to facilitate correspondence. A supporting letter may also be attached from the research supervisor.

- The “Knowledge Transfer Project” must receive a report about the research project (minimum of 15 printed pages) before June 30, 2015. The report must clearly detail the main elements of the research project: topic, plan, problem, approach used and the relevant conceptual device, etc.). The candidate may also choose to detail research challenges and include questions which he/she needs assistance in

- Applications will be reviewed by a scientific committee, after which candidates will be notified whether or not their application was accepted, before July 15, 2015.

Note: The “Knowledge Transfer Project” will cover the costs of accommodation (full board, welcoming and transport in Bahrain) of the candidates selected to participate in the meeting. The participants will cover their travel costs.

Tahar Labib
Director of the “Knowledge Transfer Project”
For correspondence, please contact:
Djilali El Mestari



Hanafi reflects on lack of Arab contribution in social sciences

Rayane Abou Jaoude| The Daily Star

BEIRUT: While Syrian-Palestinian sociologist Sari Hanafi’s election last week as the first ever Arab vice president of the International Sociological Association is a reason to celebrate, it is also a bitter reminder of the lack of Middle Eastern participation in the social sciences. While the ISA boasts up to 7,000 members, only five Arabs from Lebanese and Saudi associations attended this year’s World Congress of Sociology in Yokohama, Japan, compared to 76 from Israel, 16 from Iran and 45 from Turkey.

“It’s not cultural, it’s got nothing to do with the Arab Islamic culture, it’s something to do with the institutional culture,” said Hanafi, a professor and chair of Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Media Studies at the American University of Beirut.

He said that academic institutions needed to offer more support to those studying social sciences, and that Arabs themselves needed to be more involved in their fields of research.

“It is very rare to find people who are really relevant locally and carry out conversations with their peers in the discipline,” he told The Daily Star.

Although he acknowledged the lack of financing was another reason preventing greater participation, he said that did not need to be a hindrance. He also pointed to the fact that papers could be presented in one of three languages: English, French, or Spanish, and that papers for one of ISA’s two journals, International Sociology and Current Sociology, could be submitted in Arabic.

“There’s really no excuse ... It’s a question of resources but it’s also a question of awareness,” he said, adding that it was about promoting the importance and purpose of social sciences.

“The presence of Arabs is not only extremely important scientifically if we want to engage in science and technology in the world,” he said. “It’s also ... to say there’s a message we want to deliver to the world.”

Hanafi, also a member of the Arab Sociological Association and the Arab Council for Social Sciences, said he was hoping to bring in at least 10 Arab members during his four-year mandate.

Growing up at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus and coming from a lower middle class family, the sociologist originally enrolled to major in civil engineering at Damascus University to please his family, but decided to obtain another degree in sociology in 1987 for his own sake.

“I was at that time very politicized; I wanted to change the world,” he laughed.

Hanafi left to study in France after he got a scholarship, getting his Master’s degree from the University of Strasbourg and then his doctorate from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris in 1994.

“Why France? Because I like Michel Foucault, I like Gaston Bachelard, and I’m interested in the philosophy of science. So I completed my studies in sociology in France and now I would say I am not only incapable of changing the world, I can barely understand my surroundings,” he joked.

Hanafi said his work in France made him more aware of how the state encouraged its citizens to study and learn, how it listened to their expertise, and its support for organized discussions, all of which was largely lacking in the Arab world.

Despite having now conducted approximately 40 consultancies for NGOs and the U.N. on various topics, he said none of them were for an Arab state or organization.

“This shows that we have a real problem here, that social sciences are not taken seriously by the decision-makers,” he said.

Hanafi said conservative religious groups were looking to delegitimize the social sciences in the fear that they may show evidence contrary to their ideals.

“In times of turbulence, in times of identity crises, in times of uprisings, you need to rationalize the public’s afflictions. You need to bring expertise to that,” he said.

Yet while he can be very critical of Arab societies, he maintains a long-standing commitment to the socioeconomic rights of Palestinians refugees. Hanafi, who also holds French nationality, lived in the West Bank’s Ramallah until Israel began limiting his stays and eventually asked him to leave.

“I had barely any time to pack my stuff. I was a visiting professor for a while in France until I applied to different places and I got in at AUB. And I am so happy to be here, it’s a very interesting place to be in the Arab world,” he explained.

“There is time for research, for freedom of expression, at least at my university, but unfortunately less and less from Lebanon, which was an oasis of freedom of expression. I am very worried of the increasing censorship in Lebanon.”


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 25, 2014, on page 4.

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