Soil, Flesh, and Flows: Environmental Temporalities and Expertise in the Middle East

Recent Middle East scholarship has begun to question expertise that was given the power to shape environmental, agricultural, resource, and infrastructure development in the region. The Middle East environment has been repeatedly imagined to be degraded and in need of “repair,” and Nature ‘improvement’. Techno-political resource management programs in the region were based on temporal suppositions about the region’s past, present and future – from a ‘cradle of civilization’ and rehabilitation of ‘biblical landscapes’ to predictions about to the finiteness of water or oil resources. But in the aftermath of these interventions, damage to and destruction of human and non-human bodies have challenged the success of such development programs and hence challenged the notions underpinning them as well.

In this workshop, we ask what sort of environmental futures and pasts are envisioned, by whom, and for whom. Is environmental expertise seeking to restore a lost past, transform the present, or prevent future catastrophes? What are the epistemological, temporal, and ontological presuppositions that underlie environmental expertise in the region? We invite scholars to look at the material itself, and on its power in shaping or challenging accepted temporalities and expertise that have informed our understanding of the environments of the Middle East. For instance, how is nature produced through time conceptions? Is it the long duration or an environmental event that transforms arable land into depleted soil or dust? Furthermore, what are the implications of such analysis to social and political interpretations of cultures and nations in the region? What do the flows of water, oil, electricity, and waste tell us about the tradition-modernity divide or about the various failures of development paradigms? What is exposed through the examination of the entanglements of human and non-human’s flesh and bodies, and how do those shed light on commonly held ideas and on expert knowledge about the environment? Finally, what, if anything, can be learned anew with and about the region through this focus on environmental temporalities?