Publications by Faculty & Alumni

Smith, Kristin. “From Petrodollars to Islamic Dollars: The Strategic Construction of Islamic Banking in the Arab Gulf.” History and MES, 2006. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation develops an analytic framework to explain the emergence of Islamic banking: a "least likely case" of cultural persistence in the technocratic field of finance where the compulsion to standardize practices is most intense. I maintain that the origins and repercussions of Islamic finance cannot be fully understood without recognizing its character as a constructivist project. I then develop this argument by analyzing Islamic banks---their origins; their development in the Gulf States; their negotiation with global finance; and their relationship to political Islamism---through the conceptual lens of strategic constructivism.

Strategic constructivism is the act of making an institution work towards alternative political goals through symbolic action. In situations of hierarchy, creative syncretism enables agents to change the symbolic content of imposed institutions, signaling different political goals and mobilizing society to achieve them. At its most successful, strategic constructivism has the potential to remake politics by shifting the balance of power between groups. Conceptually, it provides a framework for integrating symbolic power into the study of institutions in order to generate a political theory of institutional change.

In the Arab Gulf, the strategic construction of Islamic banks enabled Islamist activists to place capital in the service of Islamic identity, transforming the oil windfall into a politically salient project. My research in Kuwait reveals how Islamic finance works on the symbolic level, empowering new agendas through earmarking, and facilitating Islamist collective action between likeminded organizations and politicians. The interplay of culture and capital is mutually reinforcing, suggesting that the liberalization of Gulf economies may actually hasten the Islamization of Gulf societies.

However, this enterprise is dependent on the acceptance of Islamic finance by state and international regulatory authorities. My research reveals a paradoxical finding: international financial institutions have helped midwife the institutionalization of Islamic financial markets. Indeed, the Islamic banks have used their endorsement to challenge the opposition of their own state authorities to the integration of religious language into financial standards. Equally surprising is the decisive role played by September 11th in overcoming these objections, paving the way for the future growth of the industry.

DeGeorges, Thomas. “A Bitter Homecoming: Tunisian Veterans of the First and Second World Wars .” History and MES, 2006. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation examines the lives of Tunisian veterans who fought for the French during the First and Second World Wars. My thesis breaks new ground in that it attempts to place the story of Tunisian veterans in the wider global context of the World Wars and decolonization. Earlier studies of Tunisian veterans, while comprehensive in some aspects, limit their inquiry to a specifically Tunisian context. My research into recently-released French archives documenting Tunisian veterans in the 1950s also contributes to the importance of my thesis. Whereas most Tunisian historians have considered the veterans as "collaborators" with the French, my research indicates that such generalizations simply do not describe the complex relationship between the veterans and French colonial rule. Rather, I argue that veterans participated in and, in some cases, seem to have organized armed resistance to French rule. In contrast to similar research on African veterans from French Equatorial Africa (AOF), my research on North African veterans reveals that the political roles open to Tunisian veterans in the post-independence period were few and far between, unlike the situation in the Ivory Coast or Mali. Finally, my limited interviews with Tunisian veterans and my use of interviews transcribed by other Tunisian scholars provide unique insights as to how veterans themselves interpreted the wartime and post-war environment.

The introduction functions as an historiographical overview positioning Tunisian veterans within the wider context of veterans' movements in France, North Africa, and elsewhere. Specifically, I pose the question of why Tunisian veterans did not become politicized as did other Arab veterans (notably in Iraq and Morocco). The first chapter deals with the establishment of the French Protectorate in Tunisia and the First World War. I explore the depth of pan-Islamic and pro-Ottoman sympathies among the troops, as well as the experience of Tunisian troops in German prisoner-of-war camps. The second chapter deals with the aftermath of the First World War and the halting efforts to define social benefits for the veterans. The veterans and their descendants use their correspondence with the French administration to negotiate benefits on the basis of their wartime sacrifices. The third chapter deals with the Second World War and the enormous upheaval of the French defeat in 1940. I use an appeal by Marshal Pétain and a Free French Franco-Arabic military journal Al-Nasr, published from 1943-1946, to detail the intense French propaganda efforts to retain the loyalty of Muslim soldiers. The fourth chapter details belated French efforts to reinvigorate their policies towards the veterans, while exploring the increased militancy of some veterans as French power waned in the late 1950s. The fifth chapter deals with the post-independence period (1956-Present) and describes how Tunisian veterans were pushed to the margins of historical memory (both in France and in Tunisia). The chapter ends with a discussion of how and why the veterans have once again emerged as a potent symbol for national unity and pride in both France and Tunisia in recent years.

Kanna, Ahmed. “"Not Their Fathers’ Days": Idioms of Space and Time in the Urban Arabian Gulf .” Anthropology and MES, 2006. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In this dissertation, my primary aims are threefold: to contribute to the anthropological and regional studies' discussion about the Arabian-Persian Gulf region; to investigate the concrete manifestations of what Mike Davis (1992) has called "the sociology of the boom"; and to develop the connection between anthropology's concerns with the concrete and everyday, and (Frankfurt School) critical theory's dialectical analysis of the processes of the "aestheticization" of the everyday.

The Arabian Gulf region has been largely ignored by scholars interested in cultural and social processes. Although there are a few notable exceptions, anthropologists, historians, and sociologists have generally conceded the debate to policy-driven scholars with rather specialized agendas focusing on the development of the "Oil State." The work here is based on approximately fourteen months' fieldwork in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Dubai is a peculiar example of boom urbanization. With a population that has increased nearly twenty-fold since the late 1960s, a majority expatriate population working in the service industries, and a national minority jealously guarding its relative wealth, the semi-independent city-state has been undergoing a rapid and radical, if not fundamental, change in its urban form and morphology. The city fathers, who form a super-elite class in control of powerful holding corporations, have been embarking upon a program of remaking the city from a regional re-export node into a world city whose image jostles the likes of Sydney, Hong Kong, and even New York.

City inhabitants, meanwhile, have not been passively going along with this program. I look, mainly, at three different groups: locals who are proponents of these changes; locals who are critical; and South Asian expatriates, the largest group in Dubai, and also one of its most politically and economically marginalized. My results point toward the important role of idioms of time and space in everyday attempts to grapple with these often traumatizing circumstances: from nostalgic idylls of "a village that is no more," to futuristic idylls of a "brave new city," to South Asians' idioms of transience and uncertainty.

Ors, Ilay Romain. “The Last of the Cosmopolitans? Rum Polites of Istanbul in Athens: Exploring the Identity of the City.” Anthropology and MES, 2006. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The city has an identity, which cannot be reduced to the identity of those currently living in the city. The link between city and identity can be explored outside the city, in the diaspora of the city, by looking at how the former residents relate to it as a source of identity.

This dissertation is an ethnography of the Rum Polites--a Greek-speaking, Christian Orthodox, Istanbul-born group of people who were displaced following a series of tragic events. Their number in Istanbul fell from over 300,000 to 2,000 during the 20th century. Today they live mostly in Athens, the location of my fieldwork (2000-2004). Employing established methods of ethnographic observation, life story, interview, archival research, and textual analysis, I delineate a distinct cultural identity of the Rum Polites in Athens. Despite their shared religion, ethnicity, and language, Rum Polites differentiate themselves from other Greeks in Greece, through a notion of cultural distinction, which is observable in their practice of everyday life, social organization, and intellectual and artistic production.

The use of two terms of self-designation, Rum (Roman/Orthodox), and Polites (urbanites/Istanbulites), indicates an identification with Istanbul, known as the City for being the symbolic capital in Greek cosmology, as well as an adherence to the grand legacy of the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, during which the Rum Polites were forming the cultural and economic elite. The claim to this glorious heritage is made through an ongoing connection to the City, which is the basis for their cultural distinction and their cosmopolitan identity.

Identification with the multicultural city both positions the Rum Polites beyond nationalist divides between Greece and Turkey, and links them to its current residents, who also yearn nostalgically for the cosmopolitan past of Istanbul. The exploration of a place from the perspective of the displaced opens up new dimensions in the understanding of concepts like minority, migrant, diaspora, and identity in the city.

Rubin, Avi. “Ottoman Modernity: The Nizamiye Courts in the Late Nineteenth Century.” History and MES, 2006. Publisher's VersionAbstract

My dissertation is an exploration of the Nizamiye court system during the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Though one of the more ambitious state projects launched in the framework of the Tanzimat reforms, the Nizamiye judicial system stands out as an understudied chapter in Ottoman history. Written from a sociolegal perspective that combines large-scale and microhistorical observations, this study approaches the law as an aspect of social relationships. It criticizes some of the major common wisdoms about the Nizamiye courts and offers alternative or complementary observations on the basis of Ottoman sources.

In the first chapter I argue that a heuristic process of legal borrowing and rationalization resulted in a syncretic judicial system which I identify as an Ottoman version of the Continental Law. The introduction of detailed procedural codes was embedded in a new "procedure ideology" promoted by the high echelons of the judicial systems.

In the second chapter I explore aspects in the division of labor between the Sharia and Nizamiye courts as a means of challenging the secular/religious divide that dominates common depictions of nineteenth century Ottoman law. Alternative explanations to the ambiguity that characterized the division of labor between the Sharia and Nizamiye lower courts are offered.

In the third chapter I explore the strategies employed by the Ministry of Justice in representing and handling issues of official discipline and systemic irregularities. I argue that the ministry's attitudes to these issues were guided by modern versions of accountability and reflexivity.

In the fourth chapter the new institution of public prosecution is examined and set against the "appearance of stateness" that was systematically produced in the period of Abdülhamid II. Civil litigation involving state agencies and private individuals is further investigated in order to offer few observations on state/law configurations in this period.

The fifth chapter is a microhistorical reconstruction of a single criminal trial that addressed a violent encounter between a group of officials and an Armenian merchant. I present several insights on continuity and change in Ottoman perceptions of law by spinning threads of meaning connecting the courtroom to both its direct and broader context.

Wilkins, Charles. “Households, Guilds, and Neighborhoods: Social Solidarities in Ottoman Aleppo 1640-1700.” History and MES, 2006. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This thesis examines the social and political transformations of the Ottoman Empire in the seventeenth century by tracing changes in the urban institutions of a provincial city. It considers the question of how, in a period of persistent warfare, urban populations reorganized local institutions in efforts to maintain social and political order. Making use of local court records and central state correspondence, the study focuses on the city of Aleppo, and investigates three basic social units---the residential quarter, professional organization, and patrimonial household---as they underwent two major developments: the diffusion of military cadres in provincial society and the regularized imposition of extraordinary taxes.

Focusing on the residential quarter, Part I demonstrates the instrumental importance of this unit in the taxation process and, challenging common assumptions, shows that the central administration remained capable of rigorous and probing cadastral surveys that are associated with "classical" sixteenth-century fiscal administration. Residents of urban quarters in turn met the demands of extraordinary taxation in a variety of ways, primarily by subsidizing tax payments for the poor, jointly managing declining properties, and establishing charitable endowments.

Part Two examines two types of professional organizations, guilds and military garrisons. The first chapter of this part considers shifting patterns of leadership and membership in four large guilds as ambitious guildsmen and merchants affiliated with military units and formed ties of clientage with soldiers. The second chapter examines the reverse process by which members of local, city-based military units became enmeshed in the social and economic life of the city. Over time, military units shifted from hierarchical organizations with unity of command to more egalitarian structures motivated by commercial interests.

Part III concentrates on one strategy of household-building among the social elite: the acquisition of slaves. Slaveholding in Aleppo was facilitated by the regular movement through the city of military cadres, who sold slaves either as a commercial venture or due to financial necessity. Valued as servants, soldiers, companions, and business agents, slaves assimilated to the households of merchants and military-administrative officials, in some cases providing critical human and material resources for the households' continuity.

New Geographies of Resistance: Urban Protest in the Seef District in Bahrain.” Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2006.
Anonymity and Identity: A Reordering of Citizenship Rights by Female Heads of Households in Cairo.” Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2006.
The Stars and Stripes in the Sublime Porte: America in the 19th Century Ottoman Empire.” Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2006.
Turkey in to the EU: Past Challenges and Future Prospects.” Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2006.
Miracle or Mirage: An Assessment of the Dubai Model of Economic Development.” Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2006.
Transcending Boundaries: Jewish and Muslim Shared Saint Veneration in Morocco.” Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2006.
The Female Body and Patriarchal Resistance in Modern Arabic Literature: A Study of Memoirs of a Woman Doctor, Woman at Point Zero, Voices, The Tent and The Story of Zahra.” Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2006.
The New Hijab? Negotiating Tradition and Identity through Dress: Fieldwork among Muslim Women in the Greater Boston Area.” Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2006.
Kastritsis, Dimitris. “The Ottoman Interregnum (1402-1413): Politics and Narratives of Dynastic Succession.” History and MES, 2005. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation is the first comprehensive study of the formative but obscure time in Ottoman history known as the Interregnum (1402–1413). The Interregnum was a period of dynastic warfare following the Battle of Ankara, in which the Ottoman Sultan Yildirim Bāyezīd I was crushed by the Central Asian conqueror Timur and his empire was dismembered. The ensuing struggles for the succession between Bāyezīd's heirs were bloody and socially divisive, making the Interregnum one of the most complex and troubled periods in Ottoman history.

Despite the fact that the Interregnum played a formative role for the later Ottoman Empire, this period has received little scholarly attention to date, and even its events are largely unknown. This is due to the extreme complexity of the period's politics, which involved many internal factions and foreign powers, as well as the varied nature of the sources available for its study. This dissertation is a detailed reconstruction of events based on the available sources, and also a study of the political culture of the period in question. Specific themes addressed include attitudes on fratricide and dynastic succession and the role of the Interregnum in the appearance of the first Ottoman historical literature in the courts of the rival princes, which reflects the unique political concerns of the time. Specifically, it is argued that two works composed in the court of the winner of the Interregnum Sultan Mehemmed I represent a deliberate attempt to justify his actions against his brothers. In order to explore this theme, extensive original translations of these works are provided, as well as of many other relevant sources. The present study will be essential reading for scholars in the broader field of Ottoman studies, since it sheds light on the politics of a formative period in Ottoman history. It will also interest historians concerned with the role of periods of political instability and civil strife in shaping the politics and historical consciousness of a society.

Othman, Aida. “And Sulh Is Best: Amicable Settlement and Dispute Resolution in Islamic Law.” History and MES, 2005. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation studies the concept of sulh , i.e. peacemaking or amicable settlement, in Islamic law. Through a survey of exegetical and legal works dating from the 8th to the 13th centuries C.E., I trace its development as one of the nominate contracts of Islamic law and one of the institutionalized methods for dispute resolution alongside qadā' ‘adjudication’ and tahkīm ‘arbitration’. I also examine the role of sulh in two different settings: the Ottoman qādī courts from the 16th to the 18th centuries C.E. and the venues for dispute resolution in the American Muslim community today.

Although sulh is commanded by the primary sources of Islamic law, it is adjudication by qādī that dominated juristic attention and contemporary studies of Islamic law. Qadā' appears as the preeminent avenue for channeling disputes according to the sharī`ah whereas sulh a mechanism operative only within the informal, private settings of Muslim social life. I find that this focus on adjudication has obscured not only the significance that Islamic law accords to sulh, but the fact that its scope extends unto the context of the courtroom. The Ottoman court records illustrate that sulh had played a considerable role in the Ottoman justice system in various jurisdictions throughout the empire during the period studied.

Although they were in favor of settlements arrived at through mutual compromise, jurists were concerned to ensure that they were equitable and in harmony with other Islamic principles. Thus, they debated when judges should encourage sulh and when he should proceed to adjudicate, and scrutinized sulh contracts to ensure they did not contravene rules on ownership and transfer of property. They also created a new role for sulh as a contract: it not only functions to terminate an existing dispute, but also to avert future conflict by regulating the use of property in neighborly and communal settings. And as the American Muslims attempt to reconcile the dual legal frameworks governing their lives in the United States today, one secular and one Islamic, and explore the alternatives provided by Islamic law for dispute resolution, their legal discourse shows that the ideals of sulh continue to rank high in the eye of the Muslim individual as well as community at large.