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‘Bodies in Motion’ Conference Recap

This article is written by John T. Karam, Associate Professor of Latin American and Latino Studies at DePaul University in Chicago, IL.

Bodies in motion

Sponsored by the Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies at North Carolina State University, the conference, “Bodies in Motion: Middle East Migrations,” revealed not only a ship, but rather an entire caravan with ever-expanding crews under an increasingly intricate constellation of ideas and approaches. Over two intense days in late March, conference participants tracked myriad Middle Eastern immigrants as they traveled to the Americas and Africa, discussed the institutions they built and that marked them, the boundaries they both crossed and maintained, the vectors of medical control and disease flight, refugee displacement and mobilization, as well as writing and performance. The 30 or so scholars were neither plotting the same journey nor blown by the same winds. But by the time we sat down at the closing dinner (at Sitti‘s restaurant in downtown Raleigh) it was obvious, at least to me, that we are all pushing the transnational turn in area and ethnic studies. We were all engaged in theorizing a far more global Middle East than heretofore acknowledged, connected to Africa, the Americas, Australia, East Asia, the Northern Mediterranean, and elsewhere. Of course, stars and constellations are different depending on what side of the equator the seafarer is setting her or his sails. Their pattern provoked a good deal of debate and provided the proof that a sea-change is underway in Middle East studies. So, this was not only a conference that brought new knowledge about Middle East immigration to the fore, but rather it heralded the rise of a new sub-field–Middle East Migrations–within Middle East Studies. Every time I feel lost at sea from now on, I will look around to see these other sailors and ships, and I will raise my head to ponder the starry constellations that guide us. Some of the papers presented at the Conference will be published in the Khayrallah Center journal Mashriq & Mahjar: journal of Middle East migration studies.