Published: Wednesday, 26 Aug 2015
Author: Nicholas William Adkins
Department: Muslim Studies Center
Najib Hourani, Assistant Professor
Global Urban Studies Program
As an Assistant Professor in Anthropology and the Global Urban Studies Program, Najib Hourani's expertise on Arab world has been in high demand. With a PhD in Political Science (NYU, 2005), Dr. Hourani's historically-anchored research addresses the larger questions anthropologists ask concerning violence, war, the transformation of cities, nations, states and economies in post-colonial settings. His interests reflect his commitment to take on the most difficult challenges the peoples of the Middle East face today.
Hourani's research in Urban Anthropology, published in prominent journals such as the Journal of Urban Affairs and Human Organization, engages debates between political economy and post-structuralism, and investigates why neoliberal policies in the Arab world – such as those the World Bank advocated – fail to bring about the promised prosperity and actually strengthen decidedly anti-liberal forces, instead. To do so he examines the internal relations between political and economic logics in the production of space, place and the multiple forms of power that shoot through urban environments.
"Most often Arab and Muslim societies are understood through the lens of culture or religion" Hourani says. "These are things imagined as opposed to the rationality of modernity or of capitalism." But are they? His work on contemporary "landscapes of consumption" in Arab cities – shopping malls, heritage districts and other elite enclaves in Beirut, Lebanon and Amman, Jordan – reveals a more complex image. "These are not spaces of a universal capitalism that crushes particular local cultures and power structures. Nor are their failures, however, the result of culture corrupting 'the modern' or 'the market.'" Rather, he shows, as elsewhere in the world urban forms and processes in Arab cities are produced by and, in turn, productive of, capitalist modernity. "Arab cities are shaped by global discourses," Hourani says. "But they also shape what globalization and capitalism actually are and how they actually operate as politico-economic formations."
Hourani's research in Political Anthropology, explores civil conflict in the context of globalization through the case of the Lebanese Civil Wars (1975-90). Here too, rather than examining sectarian culture, Hourani's work, published in GeoPolitics, Middle East Policy, and most recently in Middle East Critique traces the transnationalization of Lebanon's wartime militia economy through financial networks that extended from Beirut to Europe, the Persian Gulf and the US, and explores the role how such networks – making use of sectarian discourse - perpetuated the war, and today obstruct a positive peace and democratic rule.
While Dr. Hourani delivers lectures and papers to academic audiences in the US, Europe and the Middle East, he is "committed to the land grant mission of pubic interest research" and values teaching his students and cultivating non-academic audiences in the East Lansing Area and across the state. And given events in the Middle East, demand is high. In addition to filling his courses, this demand has prompted him to organize and participate in several Muslim Studies Program conferences on campus, such as the The Lebanese Civil Wars: History, Politics, Memory program in 2014. For Hourani the most memorable related to the Arab Spring in 2012, and were organized with the student-run Arab Cultural Society. "The interest from students, faculty and the broader community was amazing. Hundreds came out. We just kept adding more chairs until there was standing room only!"
Though Hourani has contributed to MSP successes through service on the Advisory Committee, he gives credit to program faculty and the leadership of program founder Dr. Mohammad Ayoob and its current Director, Dr. Mohammad Khalil. "The Muslim Studies Program has rapidly developed into a home for serious research and teaching," he said, "and that can only happen with excellent scholars taking on the most serious issues. The success of the Program is in its people."